Before There Was Instagram... There Was Holga

(Credit: Bilby/Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0)

Before Instagram came along, I knew no one who took square photos. In fact like most people I assumed the square photos on Instagram were in fact square because of the narrow width of cell phones when you hold them in portrait mode. Using a square maximizes screen space and looks interesting at the same time.

But it was more than that...

Instagram had filters too. Suddenly, those drab pictures of the Hollywood sign you took up by Griffith park now looked like an old postcard. An image from another era. It turns out there may be a reason for that.

In the 1980s, black and white 120 roll medium-format film was the film that was the most widely available in China. So, a man named T.M. Lee designed an inexpensive camera that could make use of this abundant film. However, just like the Betamax, he was too late. By the time the camera came out 35mm film was everywhere and 120 roll film virtually disappeared in China.

So, instead of the everyday Chinese citizen using the Holga to take family portraits, the camera found a home with artists abroad. Photographers fell in love with the camera's quirks. It's light leaks and soft focus were things that were desired. You could now take photos like this:

baby holga.jpg
(Credit: Adam Scott)

The colors on that photo are stunning. The crazy part is that photo looks like something you'd see on Instagram with a film filter added over it to give it the cool light leaks.

Stephen Dowling wrote a fantastic article all about the Holga and it's unfluence on modern smart phone photography. Here's an excerpt:

"The Holga's film is so large that you don't have to make prints - you can simply
make a 'contact sheet', which creates a small image the same size as the negative.
This was very common in the mid-20th Century when families could often afford film
but not prints - flick through an old family album and you'll often see these small
prints given pride of place among the pages.

When the Holga came into production, Western camera companies were making
very sophisticated cameras, with shutter speeds as fast as 1/4000 of a second and meters that ensured photos were properly exposed. The Holga had only a few
options. The shutter could be set to shoot at either 1/60th of a second or on 'B'
(bulb) - keeping the shutter open for as long as you pressed your finger down on
the trigger. The lens, a simple mechanism made from clear plastic, had only one aperture.

It was about as rudimentary as cameras could be. The Holga wasn't built to a
particularly exacting standard, so the camera wasn't always completely light-tight.
Light could leak in from all manner of gaps in the back, leaving streaks across the negative. The camera's frame advance could often be wonky, meaning images
would overlap with each other. Getting a properly exposed image without light
leaks or other mishaps was more by luck than design."

david burnett al gore.jpg
(David Burnett's dramatic photo of Al Gore speaking during the 2000 US presidential campaign Credit: David Burnett/Contact Press Images)

Holga eventually ended production in 2015, however, Los Angeles based Freestyle photographic supply company was able to obtain the original molds for the Holga and started manufacturing them again in early 2017 and sell them for $40 on their website.

Also please check out Stephen's full story on BBC.COM as it's really worth the read.

Source: BBC