Plastic Cameras: Lo-Fi Photography in the Digital Age [Book Review]
Years ago a cinematographer friend told me of a dinner he once had in Paris with a Mr Cooke. Mr Cooke of the famed British optical firm Cooke, Taylor and Hobson.
During the meal Mr Cooke explained that he spent most of his waking and working hours designing lenses to perform with maximum sharpness and minimum degrees of aberration to achieve the perfect capture of the photographic image. In spite of these heroic efforts he spoke with some level of bitterness that certain cinematographers persisted in covering his carefully crafted lenses with all sorts of rubbish, grease and diffusers to degrade, soften and generally muck up the performance of these precisely manufactured optics … all in the pursuit of artistic expression!
Just as the plastic cameras described in this book do today!
Author Gatcum is of the opinion that digital photography and the associated image editing software has made it so much easier to produce perfect shots … but there are many enthusiasts out there who don’t necessarily want ‘perfect shots’. It’s at this point in the argument that plastic cameras and their ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic enter the discussion.
You have only to flip through the images in the book to enjoy the thrills and spills that plastic cameras can create! Images with severe vignetting, extreme aberrations, uneven sharpness across the frame, colour that shows that things are definitely not right in the lenses’ colour capture. For not right, read very right in the vocab of the adventurous photographer!
From my own experiences with early Diana cameras and more recent LOMO replicas you have to take a chance, sometimes succeeding with a shot that stuns! Or that doesn’t! Perfection is not on the menu! Chance is the name of the game!
The story really starts with the original Diana, made by the Great Wall Plastics factory in Hong Kong in the 1960s and first sold for about a dollar. By the 1970s the resourceful and wise out there quickly saw the Diana’s potential and snapped them up from junk shops to began using them for creative photography. These days the original $1.00 Dianas sell on eBay for $50 plus.
By 2007 the Lomography company saw an opportunity and cleverly re-manufactured the Diana and its sub models, selling them for prices approaching $100, complete with all their imperfections.
These days we’re spoilt for choice. The book lists dozens of crazy models, all available from companies such as Lomo and the like.
Like the magnificent 120 format Holga and its variations. These include the Holga 120 TLR, the Holgaroid, the Holga 120 3D, Holga PC pinhole camera. Also in 35mm: Holga 135 TLR.
Lomo of course markets a wide variety of models: the 35mm based LC-A, the Lomo Smerna duet of models, with one sporting a flash socket. Plus many, many more.
And a long list from other makers: Blackbird; Recesky TLR; Halina Panorama; Twinkle 2; Split-Cam; Robot 3; Action 4; Agat 18k; Ikinimo 110 … the list goes on.
Then the game got clever: you can now buy Holga lenses that fit current DSLR models such as Olympus and Panasonic Four Thirds format models.
There are even apps that digitally replicate the look and feel of plastic cameras!
The book is a ball of fun and even if you never buy a plastic camera to pursue the path of erratic photographic capture you will enjoy the ride as you thumb through its pages.
Footnote: these days the name Cooke appears on high level lenses used still in feature film and TV series photography. They’re highly regarded and no doubt are frequently plastered with layers of Vaseline, parachute silk, ripstop nylon etc!
Author: G Gatcum.
Publisher: Ammonite Press.
Distributor: Capricorn Link.
Length: 192 pages.
ISBN: 978 1 90770 840 4.
Price: “Get a price on Plastic Cameras at Amazon (currently 22% off)