In 2015, after nearly 35 years in production, Freestyle Photographic Services announced that the Holga factory had ceased operations. CEO Gerald H. Karmele stated, “Holga outlived many other cameras but, as like we have seen throughout the years, is yet another casualty of the digital age.” While the beloved Holga might be dead, many photographers continue to use plastic cameras, embracing the limited controls, fixed focal length, and imperfections that make for dreamy and unique photographs.
For the past decade, RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco has celebrated these cameras and the photographers who use them with their annual Plastic Camera Show. Conceived of by director Ann Jastrab, this year’s tenth anniversary exhibition presents 83 international artists as well as featured photographers from the past nine years of plastic camera shows including Veronika Lukasova, Aline Smithson, Michael Emery, Roy Berkowitz, Michael Borek, Thomas Alleman, Robert Holmgren, Sam Grant, Michelle Bates, James Rohan, Ernie Button, Jennifer Shaw and Gordon Stettinius.
In a time when few photographers balk at a $6,000 price tag for a DSLR, it is refreshing to see an exhibition comprised of photographs made with cameras that cost as little as $10. The photographers in this show purposely shirk the technical perfection, tack-sharp, saturated imagery from the best cameras money can buy in favor of the blur, light leaks, and sticky shutters that a $15 plastic camera and a roll of film can provide. The exhibition’s 5,000 entries prove that analogue photography is alive and well.
The names of these cameras are as imaginative as the photographers who use them, like the Diana, the Bluebird, the Brownie Hawkeye, the Sprocket Rocket, the Lomo Super Sample, and many more.
The show is bittersweet, as it will be the last exhibition at RayKo Photo Center before they close. Discussions about partnerships, mergers, co-ops, or non-profits are underway, but while RayKo may continue, Jastrab views the exhibition as a farewell.
RayKo’s 10th Annual International Juried Plastic Camera Show is on view through April 23, 2017.
Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures.