Blame It on the Holga

holga_sm.jpgIt’s a child’s toy guaranteed to turn you into a child, tottering through the clumsy, chaotic world of the eternal amateur.








A common response to, say, a Jackson Pollock painting hanging in a museum is the famous "I could have done that," or "A child could have done that." Yes, some art, and some abstract expressionist art, has the look of accident or chance. Yes, anyone is capable of having an accident. Yes, maybe your accident will hang on a wall of fame someday, making you rich, leading some to call you brilliant, while others scoff at chance and envy your luck. Did you really mean it to come out that way? Maybe it’s best that you never tell.

When society confers attention on a happy accident, we armchair philosophers begin to wonder about fate. It could not have been great were it not for a tremor in the artist’s hand, the peculiar light of a stormy day darkening the artist’s mind, the run on blue paint that lead the artist to go with green instead, on that fateful day.

The Holga takes questions of fate to a deeper level still. This is because we know a variety of accidents await the photographer. What kind of accidents? Light leaks? Likely. A marginal device for loading the film? Check. The indignities of not having a flashbulb? Check. My complete inexperience with this primitive, often infuriating, nearly-all-plastic, pointedly cheap child’s toy of a camera? Big check.

How will the photos turn out? Total crapshoot. Unhappy accidents—unusably dark and fuzzy images—are the fault of the Holga, we say. Blame it on the Holga, that cheap plastic mockery of a camera. But the happy accidents—the encroaching darknesses that hint at the same in the world’s soul, the fuzzy face that implies the unknowable, and all manner of artsy hoo-ha—that’s not the Holga, oh no. Certainly, that must be the native genius of the photographer. Riiiiiiiiight.

I don’t want to bore you with a tale of woe from my first frustrating experience with the Holga. The highlights, briefly, include, panic that I’d exposed the film, and panic that I’d failed to properly advance each frame. Both moments of panic were, of course, completely justified.

My happy accident was that some of the images are viewable, and unbelievably, of those, some are more or less what I was "shooting for." I got lucky—let the happiness commence.

The art of children (and the mentally ill) famously captivated the painter/sculptor Jean Dubuffet. His art brut grotesqueries made many a Frenchman sniff that not only could he do better—anyone could.

The obvious rejoinder: Well then, Mr. Critic, pick up a brush—or even better, a Holga. It’s a child’s toy guaranteed to turn you into a child, tottering through the clumsy, chaotic world of the eternal amateur.

There will be accidents. There will be disappointment. But just maybe, there will be delight.

Of course, you’ll need luck for that. | Byron Kerman

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