A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. In this article, Healy examines the possibilities and techniques of using a Holga camera for landscape photography.
As a photographer, I have always gravitated toward the urban: cityscapes, street photography, the built world. Whenever I attempted to shoot any landscape, the results were pat, boring, cliché, juvenile—take your pick. I once spent an entire week in Kauai, Hawaii and shot not quite an entire roll of 36 exposures with my Canon A-1—not even an entire roll! When I think about it today, I want to kick myself. Na Pali, Waimea Canyon, the Wailua River? Not one decent shot. What’s more, I did not even attempt to shoot. I was so overwhelmed by what spread before my eyes that I did not even try.
When I discovered the Holga, it seemed to naturally take me to the wacky, graffiti-ed, surreal, slightly seedy areas. In an artist statement for a show, I wrote: “I want my images to be the photographic equivalent of folk art. I want the imperfect, I want bright colors, a little misalignment, evidence of a human hand. I love the art of Marc Chagall and I aspire to achieving some of his inspired vision and his exuberance.” I kept admiring great landscape photography from a respectful distance while I shot ghost signs, old trucks, and diners with my Holgas.
But landscapes kept calling. I live a five-hour drive away from one of the most beautiful landscapes ever: the Palouse area of Eastern Washington. In 2010, I decided to join a photo journey to the Palouse and shoot with everything, Holgas included. There were plenty of abandoned farmsteads, disheveled trucks, and built stuff in the places we shot, but for the first time, I tried to use the Holga the way the other photographers in the group where using their DSLRs and fabulous lenses to capture the vastness around us. Something clicked. It was not overwhelming. I could shoot square, I could make panoramas, I could create diptychs or triptychs—all with the Holga. And I could bring my vision to the same scenes everyone else was shooting and end up with an image that was thoroughly my own.
I recently discovered an article by photographer Ken Rockwell, “The Secret: What Makes A Great Photo” (you can find it on Ken’s "website"http://www.kenrockwell.com. If you find it as useful as I did, consider making a small donation to his site. This is how he makes his living.) It is Rockwell’s opinion that what makes a great photo is its underlying compositional structure. When I started looking at these Holga landscapes that I truly like and think of as good landscape photographs (not just “good Holga landscape photographs”), I realized that all of them had some elements in common.
While not necessarily aligned with the “Rule of Threes In Composition”, the images have interesting foregrounds leading into the backgrounds, strong lines (all three have pretty defined diagonals, plus two have visible horizon lines at play), and cloudy skies with some depth, creating unusual light. In the Palouse image entitled “Somewhere Between Davenport and Edwall,” the sky was out of a storybook, blue with fluffy clouds—so it was a good call to make the sky almost 2/3rds of the photograph. Plus, the examples I chose from my Palouse Holgas all play with the same almost-solid blocks of color: blue skies, yellow wheat, green grass, and the colorless brown fallow land and grey tarmac.
In these two images from the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, taken a day apart and with different films, the fence posts in the foreground provide an “entry” of leading line into the landscape. And moving into the landscape, getting close to its elements, like in the image of the birches below, allows for a more intimate, complex view—but, composition-wise, Rockwell’s idea holds true, I think: a very dominant vertical, and slightly less defined groups of strong color. It is a more cluttered vision of landscape, far from the vastness the idea of landscape photography normally conjures (think Ansel Adams). But I believe this happens anyway as you get close to nature’s building blocks, no matter what camera you use.
Today it would not occur to me to not take a Holga on a trip anywhere or to not attempt a landscape shot with one. I would love to attempt re-shooting Ansel Adam’s Yosemite icons in black and white with a Holga. Actually, that is not a bad idea for a project! I will add it to my list. Ultimately, match the Holga with the right film for the light you are dealing with and the only limits are one’s skill, talent, and imagination. As I became a better photographer, as I learned about landscape photography in general, I discovered the Holga was just as good a camera for landscapes as it was for anything else.
Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.