Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Weekends, Dreams and other Plastic Memories - Toy Camera Show

Today I am featuring two photographers who are holding an exhibition and workshop at FotoFest 2010 on March 19 - April 11 in Houston, TX.

In conjunction with their upcoming FotoFest 2010 show, Warren and Laura are also holding a toy camera workshop and it is open to anyone, professional, amateur, even those who have never picked up a camera.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask them a few questions, and showcase some of their photos along with this post.

Laura Burlton

How did you get introduced to your first Holga and how long have you been shooting?

I was taking a photography class about ten years ago and one of the professors was showing us different types of medium and large format cameras. I was on a pretty tight budget at the time and I immediately bought two Holgas and a Lubitel. In fact I ordered one of the Holgas and the Lubitel online as soon as I got home, but was so excited to try the Holga that I called all over the city looking for one, luckily there were more camera shops then and I found one locally. So a few days later I had two!
(FWIW that professor was Amy Blakemore, who is quite well known for her Diana images. She has been a great friend and mentor to me ever since I started that class.)

What is it about the Holga that draws you to it? Why do you shoot with it?

At first I was drawn to it because it was cheap and I could shoot medium format, I also liked that the images I saw taken with it were somehow reminiscent of something taken a hundred years ago. They looked so dreamy and haunting, which was what I was going for, yet did not know how to achieve with a regular SLR. I also liked initially that it was SO simple to operate so I could concentrate on composition and subject matter alone.

Now I have the skills and equipment that I could do this all digitally, but something still brings me back to this camera. I like the fact that I only get 12 shots per roll. It seems more precious this way. I am much more careful shooting than I would be if I was shooting digitally. And it is a very light weight camera, which makes it awesome to travel with!

You shoot beautiful, intimate portraits. Is it difficult to get the children to cooperate? Do you have to be quick to get the shots you want?

Thank you.

It can be hard to get them to cooperate, but the trick is to be quick and to somehow try to engage them in the subject matter. For instance I have been reading fairy tales to my daughter every night so she can help me come up with ideas. This way she feels more like she is part of the process rather than just the model. But it must be known, she generally only lets me take 3 shots per set up. She counts the shutter clicks!

What is the shooting process like for this kind of work? Do you draw the chalk art yourself?

First I sketch ideas out on paper then decide which I think would work best in chalk, then I sketch those out. I then pick out wardrobe and do hair and makeup if needed and shoot. I usually only take 3-6 photos per vignette (with my older daughter I can take up to 6!)

I can only draw out up to 4 at a time as I only have so much space. I then wash and scrub them off and have to wait for the sidewalk to dry before I can start again.

What other cameras do you have in your arsenal?

I have quite an assortment of Holgas, Diana's and clones, various cameras made by the Lomographic Society, a Crown Graphic 4 x 5, a Mamiya c##), a Bronica ETRSi, a couple of old SLRs. a bunch of Polaroid pack film cameras and then I have a Canon 5D and a Canon 1D mk2 both of which I use for professional work.

Favourite photo film(s)?

Ilford HP5 and Delta 3200. When shooting film, I generally use BW films nowadays as color is just so expensive to process and I can do my own black and white.

I have been a loyal Ilford user since I was a kid.

Your favourite Holga photo that you've taken?

Probably it is one of the first ones I ever took. I think my oldest daughter was about 2 1/2 or 3 at the time. She looks a bit like a circus freak or something, but in any case, it was the first image I took that made me think I wanted to continue shooting. And I knew I had something the moment I took it, like it sparked a little bit of magic or something.

What inspires you?

My kids, fairy tales, books, travel, sometimes just driving to work…so many things!

Laura's Links:

Website: http://laurabrlton.com/

Blog: http://lauraburlton.com/blog

Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/lauraburlton
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=567581861&ref=profile
Twitter: http://twitter.com/lauraburlton

Warren Harold

How did you get introduced to your first Holga and how long have you been shooting?

Jack Barnosky at Sam Houston State University first introduced me to the Holga in 1992. A few of us in his Alt Process class ordered several from the Maine Photo Workshops that year. A few rolls into it and I was hooked, but I was steeped in the details of the Zone System and large format photography at the time. I continued to use it for fun but underestimated the potential for many years.

What is it about the Holga that draws you to it? Why do you shoot with it?

The appeal for me is all in the imperfections and lack of controls. I’m a control freak and a perfectionist by nature and I spent my school years chasing the f/64 aesthetic. Working for a commercial photographer for 7 years after that then moving into a quality control position in a NASA photo lab is more of the same. Using a Holga is the opposite of those pursuits and its all about emotion for me. You still have to know light and exposure, and you have to get to know your camera, but even with all of that knowledge there are surprises in store. Light leaks, aberrations, spotty focus, all contribute to the emotion. It’s a cheap camera so I can use it in situations where I’d be scared to death to screw up an expensive camera. With a Holga I don’t think twice about holding it out the car window, walking into a swimming pool or otherwise putting it in harm’s way. The Holga lets me loosen up, roll with it, expect some problems and enjoy the results.

Your photos are always from a unique perspective - how do you capture the spontaneity and magic of childhood so well?

I don’t think I’ve ever grown up. Connecting with my son helps me understand just how much of a kid I am. I’m aware of a two-level dynamic where I’m his father but I’m also a kid, enjoying the same things he does, and I think that guides what I see and how I react. I try to be quick with the camera but there are plenty of “wait, do that again” moments. Over the years he’s gotten used to a camera in my hand so the urge to ham it up has faded. That still happens, and I’ll respond with a frame or two, but I’m biding my time; waiting for those moments in between when his guard is down or his concentration shifts and his expression is more natural. My daughter on the other hand is an entirely different story. A complete 180 in every way and right now I just can’t keep up.

Please tell me a little bit about your "Alternating Weekends" series.

I’m a child of divorce, and my first and foremost concern when I went through mine was the effect on my 3-year-old son and our relationship. I'm now remarried with a 3-year-old daughter, struggling to find a balance in our time as a family for those bi-weekly 48 hours. Alternating Weekends is an ongoing project, my attempt to capture the beauty, humor, magic and pain I find in his youth and in our relationship as father and son. Although the circumstances are completely different, I still compare and contrast our situation and environment to mine at that age. Trying to maximize our time together comes natural, an effortless but critical part of every day. I don't do it to compensate for my father's mistakes, but I see more clearly what I missed and I strive to never let him feel the vacuum I did. On the surface, these images document our time together and apart but there’s a definite reflection of myself in these moments, a lament of the relationship I never had with my dad.

What other cameras do you have in your arsenal?

My first Holga 120S from ’92 is always nearby, but I mix it up a bit with a few Diana clones: Banier, Arrow and Shakey’s. I still use my Calumet 45 for large format and plan to use it for some upcoming projects. Among others that are used but with less frequency are a Pentax K1000, Canonet QL19, Nikon F2, various Polaroid Land Cameras and last but not least are a couple of pinhole cameras made from diaper boxes and other things that accept multiple sheets of 4x5 film.

Favourite photo film(s)?

For black and white I’m still a fan of T-Max 100 and 400. For color I’m all over the place. I was lucky enough to bumble my way into a small windfall of various expired color films from the 80s and 90s, mostly Kodak, but that supply is almost exhausted. When buying fresh color film I always go Fuji.

Your favourite Holga photo that you've taken?

Never Forgets hands down. This was a turning point for me personally and artistically and was the seed for Alternating Weekends when I first saw the negative. Not only did I see my son but I saw myself in his place and as his father. A silly, plastic, upside down elephant trunk and a distracted expression, caught between laughs, transform themselves into a visual promise. I’ll never repeat my past, forget or turn away.

What inspires you?

My family is a constant source of inspiration. My kids have certainly helped me see things in new ways. Their actions, reactions, the visible wake they leave behind, all a beautiful and honest palette of patterns and ideas I can’t ignore.

As for other artists, there’s the list of usual suspects; Edward Weston, Keith Carter, Sally Mann, Meatyard and so on. But even more relevant is the work I see in the online community of photographers that has developed over the years. I’m constantly looking at other current work, especially fathers focused on kids and family. Folks like Tread, Timothy Archibald, Gordon Stettinius, Shannon Richardson and Todd Deutsch each provide a unique perspective into fatherhood that inspire me not only as an artist but as a man and a father.

Warren's Links:
Website: http://www.thatwasmyfoot.com/
Blog: http://thatwasmyfoot.my-expressions.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Thatwasmyfoot

Thank you both for taking the time to answer the questions, and providing such interesting and insightful answers! If you are in the Houston area, go check out their show and see these beautiful photos in person - I wish I could!


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