No matter how you feel about Holgas, you have to admit that they’re iconic. Whilst the factory is now well and truly shuttered, the cameras will no doubt continue to have lasting appeal and well, you never know what the future may bring.
The brand, with its various models of 35mm and medium format cameras has been an important factor in both making film photography accessible to the masses, as well as providing seemingly endless creative possibilities to many photographers. In fact, a number of the photographers featured on these pages use Holga cameras as their weapon of choice.
So what does all this have to do with today’s interviewee? You’ll just have to find out for yourself.
Over to you, Lorraine!
Hi Lorraine, what’s this picture, then?
LH: This is actually two negatives taken with Holga N models, one B&W of the gondolas in Venice, one in color of an old wall in a fort near my home. It’s an image I love for two reasons: the actual Holga that I took the gondole image with ended up falling into a canal the following day as I was trying to change the film with freezing hands, so this image was part of the last roll I ever took with it!
And I’ve been trying to replicate the look of Abelardo Morell’s tent camera images (but on the cheap!), so I started shooting just pure textures to superimpose on B&W negatives. This is the first one where it really worked.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
LH: I am an Argentinean-born-and-raised poet and photographer who has lived on Whidbey Island (Washington, USA) for donkey’s years. After several books of poetry, I wrote a book on the Holga camera, published in 2015, where I share my “bag of tricks” with different models of Holgas.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
LH: I started shooting film at age 16 in Argentina, and never stopped. I never thought of being anything other than someone with “a good eye” until my friend and mentor photographer Sharon “Shoe” Shoemaker saw some of my images by sheer chance. She got me under her wing, introduced me to medium format and gave me a Holga, suggesting I might like it.
I discovered a passion for experimentation that I had no idea was in me: funky cameras, old cameras, vintage stuff, expired film.
What drives me to keep shooting film is hard to articulate, but there is a certain depth to an image produced with film (probably a result of the physicality of film as medium, as opposed to the work of pixels on a light sensor) that I don’t find anywhere else.
I shoot with my phone and two digital cameras, as well. They are light and easy to carry on a trip. Some of my favorite film cameras, like the Yashica 124G Twin Lens Reflex, I can’t carry on trips anymore, because they have become too heavy for me. But I can take them on road trips.
Any favorite subject matter?
LH: I am an unabashed nostalgic, so anything old and decayed or old-fashioned brings me to my knees. Americana, Route 66, the old cafés of Buenos Aires, old storefronts.
I feel compelled to document the disappearing world (pre-1970s, 1980s?) before it goes. If there is wild, saturated color involved, so much the better.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
LH: I have recently started shooting instant film and I’m loving it. I have also gone back to 35mm film, to a Pentax K1000 with a 28mm lens, and I’m trying to master long exposures, night imagery, and getting the Aurora Borealis on film.
I have a long ways to go yet.
One of my abiding loves is street photography, especially when shooting from the hip. I love wading into an urban environment with vest pockets full of loaded plastic cameras, and then shoot until I’ve used up every frame.
I usually have five or six different cameras (a couple of 120 Holgas, a Sprocket Rocket, a Holga 135, and who knows what else), and I totally lose track of what I have shot with which camera. That element of randomness or grace is added on to the joy of the experience: I won’t know what I got, literally no idea, until all the film comes back from being developed.
When combining this method with travel, I feel like I’m able to be almost invisible and non-intrusive. I’m not looking for sharp perfection, I just want people in their natural environment, doing what they do daily without feeling like they are being disturbed.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
LH: The Fuji 645 (I have the one with the 55-90mm lens) and a roll of Fuji Provia 100 and one of Provia 400. This camera is stellar with slide film, and having the choice of 100 and 400 iso would cover most light situations I might encounter.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll and why?
LH: Fuji 400 NPH in 120 format. Or whatever its current iteration is, Pro 400 H. I have been a Fuji film fan since I started shooting and no film comes closer to my vision of the world than this one.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
LH: Route 66, all 2,451 miles of it! I shot most of the Mother Road (50 miles missing at either end) in 2011 and will be shooting the Texas-New Mexico-Arizona stretch again this Fall.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
LH: Oh, where to start? That you can’t get film anymore, that you can’t get it developed, that digital is better?
Yes, you can still get film, fresh or expired: use the Internet to search for places near you or places that will ship it to you.
Yes, you can still get it developed in most countries, although I know E-6 developing for slide film is not available in some places. But labs will cross process it.
Yes, it has become more expensive; if you are young and/or on a limited income, you have to learn to make every frame count. This is a GOOD thing.
Yes, digital is probably better in some instances. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
LH: I think it will become mostly a fine arts medium, but it will keep going. I can’t imagine that we will ever go back to the days of shooting everything with film, family snapshots, birthday parties and the like. After all, digital is perfect for that kind of thing. But I can’t imagine a day without film photography existing as a vehicle for many photographers’ artistic vision. Increasingly, we have had have fewer choices as to types of film, and I fear that will continue, as well as the higher prices.
Holga cameras have stopped being produced. So we will have to adapt. But I am deeply grateful to those companies that keep putting cameras and films out there (Lomography, Impossible Project, the new Agfa people) as well as to those quixotic types that find abandoned cases of film who knows where, and respool it, and sell it for barely above cost, like the Film Photography Project guys.
I have found that film photography fosters an incredible amount of generosity, of people being willing to share what they know, what they find, gallery owners that have contests and shows for wacky camera work… I apologize for “gushing,” but, really, there is such horrible news daily from all over the world and then there is this group of peaceful people who just want to keep shooting film with their cameras, and making the best images they can.
I find that absolutely lovely, and reassuring of our humanity.
~ Lorraine Healy
Several months ago I began writing a post on the importance of support but never managed to get it right…it still languishes somewhere, unfinished. Lorraine’s comment about never having thought about being anyone other than someone with a good eye gave me pause, and helped remind me of that unfinished article.
Having someone who raises a sign stating they’re your mentor is something most of us without formal photographic education will likely never experience. But that’s not to say that our lives will be bereft of mentors, or the opportunity to extend mentorship to those around us. Perhaps I should go back to the ideas raised in that article and call it SUPPORT instead.
I truly believe that it’s in our grasp and individual capability to give something back to the people around us, and I’m sick and tired of hearing about photographers – personal friends or not – being set upon by trolls, both on the Internet and real life. It’s soul destroying to see confidence unravelled at the hands of people who should probably know better and definitely wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if their own work was put under scrutiny.
What I’m trying (badly) to say is this: the next time you see someone stepping into the unknown with a new film, sharing an image or an idea, don’t be a dick about it and imagine what kind of input you’d want if your roles were reversed. Leave heavy-handed critique for private channels and above all encourage what went right and not disparage what went wrong.
This isn’t me proposing the creation of those dreaded “safe spaces”, more a request to lead with encouragement and support, rather than picking things apart because you’re having a bad day.
You can catch up with Lorraine via her website (where you can also read some of her poetry) at: www.LorraineHealy.com and you might also want to have a read of Lorraine’s Moroccan Autumn travelogue, featured right here on EMULSIVE!
Oh and please consider swinging by Amazon to check out Lorraine’s Kindle book, “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder”, a manual on the Holga camera!
Share your knowledge, story or project
The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.