It is said that anyone with a “good eye” can take an excellent photograph with a simple and inexpensive camera. In her exhibition, “Adventures with Toy Cameras” now on view in the upstairs gallery at the Merritt Bookstore, Pat Ike proves that her eye is better than just good.
Starting in the 1990’s these no-frills cameras became popular because the limitations of their lenses often created optical aberrations that allowed photographers to create artistic effects.
Pat describes the images in her exhibition as “a sort of a love-of-my-life group of photos with funky cameras over the years.” The cameras Pat has collected range from the well known Diana and Holga cameras to a vintage Winpro she bought at the bottle shop for $7.00. Some of her favorites, she says “were taken with now generally unavailable disposable cameras.” Her images, for the most part landscapes and people, were taken both here in Dutchess County as well as in Africa and Europe.
I especially liked her portrait of a Masai woman – one of a series she took in Kenya with a Holga camera. Introduced and made in China in 1981, the Holga was designed to provide a mass market camera for working class Chinese. With its lack of precision, lens flare and other faults common to cheap cameras, The Holga lends an impressionistic quality to the portrait, parts of which are overexposed and slightly out of focus. However the fabrics of the woman’s costume and the beads of her necklaces and earrings are sharply rendered making them as much the focus of the picture as her face.
I also liked Pat’s photograph of an archway over a street in Sienna taken with an inexpensive disposable point and shoot camera. Only those areas that received sun light are distinct. The lens was not fast enough to capture any detail in the shadows, which both heightens the mystery of this medieval street and adds an abstract quality to the contrasting areas of light and shadow.
Pat used a disposable Kodak panoramic camera that was once available for only $10.00 to portray the sculpture, broken columns and ancient bricks of the Roman forum. The sharp contrast between light and shadow heightens the drama. The statue in the foreground in sharp focus, is a counterpoint to the soft focus of the vines and grasses that have taken root in the brick wall that forms the background of the photograph. These panoramic cameras are now very hard to find since Kodak stopped making them in 1999.
Finally the photograph of Millbrook huntsman Betsy Park and Master Farnham Collins surrounded by the foxhounds was taken with a Kodak folding autographic Brownie which was phased out in the mid 1920’s. The soft focus as well as the concentration of light in the center of the image evokes an early morning meet perhaps on a cloudy day.
For anyone interested in exploring the creative possibilities of these “toy cameras” Pat is giving a workshop on Saturday October 29 at 4:00 pm at the Merritt Bookstore. Several books about these little cameras will also be available.