I was in Venice during last year’s holiday season – a family reunion of sorts. I did not suspect that it would be the last time that I would have Kodak film processed by Wolf Camera (a local brand of the Ritz Camera empire). Admire the irony. Is there a better subject than Venice to illustrate the decline and fall of the glorious.
The weather in Venice was absolutely splendid, except for a few days of rain and fog at the end of our stay. There was so much to shoot that I felt I had no time to lose fiddling with manual (film) cameras, and I shot primarily with digital cameras and with my smartphone. After one week of robotized photography, though, I felt like using a “real” camera again, and loaded my beloved Nikon FE2 with Fuji color film and with Kodak’s chromogenic B&W film, the CN400.
After heading back home, I was immediately absorbed by the daily routine, and forgot about the rolls of film from Venice. A few week-ends ago, I finally cleaned my desk and found the unprocessed film cartridges. The following day, I stopped at a rather large Wolf Camera store which still processed film, and generally did a decent job at scanning the negatives. The day after, I heard on the radio that their parent company, Ritz, was being liquidated. I was a bit concerned for my film.
In the evening I stopped at the store (which had yellow liquidation posters all over its windows). The guys said they had not processed my film yet (by the sad look of it, it was obvious that their film processing machine had some sort of problem) and they promised they would call me when the job was done. Three days later, they had not called. I stopped by again and I was decided to ask them to give me my film cartridges back. To my surprise, the processing machine had been fixed, and my CD was ready.
I was glad to get it, but I was sad for the staff of the store. Those guys were more competent and more helpful than the average of their colleagues working in smaller Wolf stores, and I don’t know what they’re going to do now.
I live in a rather big metro area – 4 million people call it home – but with Wolf going out of business in a matter of days, we’ll be down to one single walk-in, full service camera store for the whole area.
As for Kodak, they announced a few weeks ago that they were planning on selling their consumer film business. It’s likely the buyer will have the right to use the Kodak name – at least for a few transitional years, so there will still be Kodak film on store shelves for a while, even if it will only be very remotely connected to the Yellow Grandfather.
I love Venice. It’s beautiful and weird, a world in itself. The city used to rule the Eastern Mediterranean world but today it has lost all of its influence and most of its inhabitants. It is primarily a tourist destination. But it still lives and keeps on inspiring writers, musicians and all other sorts of artists.
May film photography follow the same tracks.
And now for something completely different. My father in law gave me his old Canon A1 (pristine) as well as battered Canon FT, with an incredible 55mm f:1.2 lens. As strange as it may sound I had never owned – or even used – a Canon SLR before. I’m planning on testing them in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.
When your good friends learn that you still shoot film, and write about it, they understand they have a unique opportunity to get rid of all the – let’s be polite – worthless photo equipment they don’t use anymore and you end up with Kodak Brownies or Instamatics by the bucketload. And if your brother in law is really facetious, he brings you a brand new Holga from one of his trips in China, and since it’s a Christmas present and everybody in the family is intrigued, you buy film and start using it.
That particular camera comes in a big orange box with the rest of the “Starter Kit”. Reading the user manual, you get confirmation that the camera is “extremely low tech, and will eventually wear out”. Major design flaws are presented as unique features – the dreaded manual mentions “leaks of light, unvoluntary multiple exposures, loose connection between the film and the take up spool” among the desirable characteristics of the product. Looking for some comfort, you check a little square format book at the bottom of the box. It’s a nice paperback of 192 pages, showing 300 images taken with Holga cameras. Not something Leica or Nikon would be proud of, but interesting pictures nonetheless.
The camera’s design is very basic. It accepts 120 format roll film, has a plastic wide angle lens (60mm, F:8 or F:11) with 4 possible focus settings, and a shutter which offers a unique and unspecified speed. The camera comes with 2 user interchangeable back plates, one will give you 6×6 cm negatives with some vignetting, the other one 6×4.5cm negatives, probably with less vignetting (I don’t know, I only shot with the 6×6 plate). The “CFN” Holgas also come with an electronic flash, equipped with a turret of 4 filters (Red, Blue, Yellow and transparent) for special effects.
Using the Holga
The Holga 120 CFN needs 120 film – of course – and since Holgas are supposed to be enjoyed for their shortcomings, color film should be preferred (the plastic lens is prone to chromatic aberrations which would not be visible with black and white film).
Finding color film in 120 rolls proved very difficult. If 35mm film is still easy to find (even in supermarkets or in the little stores attached to many hotels), the same can not be said for 120 roll film. Only stores dedicated to professional photographers still have a few references. I bought a few rolls of Kodak’s Portra 400 NC film. Loading the camera is a difficult task, but in all honesty I’m not used to roll film and I would also have suffered with a more high end camera.
In the street, the camera attracts lost of attention. People notice the bright red color (Holgas are also available in black, kaki and in a unique blue and yellow combination), and are intrigued by the cheap aspect of the camera. It looks like a toy, and people are surprised to see an adult using it.
The camera has very few controls and is easy to use, with a decent viewfinder and relatively smooth commands, and provides a user experience very similar the “boxes” that Kodak used to sell before the launch of the Instamatic cameras.
Having the rolls processed proved as difficult as buying the film in the first place. Costco and the proximity drugstores don’t process anything larger than 35mm film, and the rolls had be sent to a professional lab (some of them charge up to $20.00 per roll). When you receive the pictures, you discover the “Holga paradox”: you’re not attracted to the almost “normal” images, but by the most severely flawed. The pictures with the fewer technical faults are just bad (with vignetting and all sorts of aberrations), while some of the images plagued with the worst of the problems (involuntary multiple exposures, light leaks) have a surrealist quality that the most creative of the photographers would struggle to get from a digital picture processed in Photoshop.
Holga, what for?
“Normal” photographers are supposed to spend thousands of dollars in the equipment which will help them produce pictures as perfect as possible from a technical point of view – in focus, sharp, with the right exposure, no vignetting, no distortion, and no chromatic aberration.
Deviations from the norm of the technically perfect picture are supposed to be voluntary, in order to convey an emotion or a message. They’re not supposed to have been brought randomly by a poorly designed camera.
Holgas don’t follow the rule. They’re not “normal”, and they’re not what “normal” photographers would be looking for. Their results are totally unpredictable. When nothing went really wrong, the results are dull. It’s only when they are massively flawed that the pictures start being surprising and interesting.
Using a Holga reminded me of the “Exquisite Corpse” creativity method used by the Surrealist movement at the beginning of the XXth century. With a Holga you will rely on chance to create something new and different. Using the bright red Holga, I started believing that chance could be an artist on its own right. And you end up loving that little camera for that very reason.
More about Holga cameras
A few decades ago, photographers in Austria discovered the “Lomos” (copies of Cosina point and shoot cameras made in the USSR), and liked the – flawed – pictures made by those very imperfect little cameras so much that they launched the “lomography” movement. They started distributing the “Lomos” in Austria and Germany, and progressively added other cameras from Eastern Europe and China to their catalog. Lomos and Holgas are now widely distributed, and can also be purchased directly from the Lomography web site, where a red Holga 120 CFN can be found for $75. That’s a lot of money for such a low tech object. Bargain hunters can also find Holgas on eBay, for far less.
Cynics will say that the initiators of the Lomography movement found a way to get rich selling Soviet surplus to the rich photographers of the West, and philosophers that they showed that chance and chromatic aberrations could be more creative than would be artists obsessed with technical perfection.
The weather was very bad in north Georgia last week-end for the Petit LeMans race. So bad that the race had to be interrupted.
America LeMans events are still managed by people who love motorsports and respect the fans. The starting grid remains open to the public until the least ten minutes preceding the race start. A good opportunity to test the Kodak Ultramax 400 with a Nikon FA body and the Nikkor AF 24mm lens.
The film was processed and scanned by Costo on Noritsu equipment, and delivered on a CD-ROM for less than $5.00.
Costco saved each image as a 3088×2048 jpeg (equivalent to 6MPixels). Image crop and minor adjustments (sharpness) were performed in Lightroom 2.
Located at the very center of Paris, and linking the right and left banks of the Seine with the western end of the “Ile de la Cite”, the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is the oldest bridge of Paris. It was built at the end of the XVIth century, under the reign of Henri IV whose equestrian statue dominates the area. A public garden lies below the bridge. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Paris. A (relatively) quiet place in a big city.