Holga Photographer creates artistic photos with a cheap, plastic camera

By Trevor Keller | October 24, 2023


Cameron Gillie is a photographer and camera collector. He often uses modern digital cameras in his work, but he also has a large collection of working film cameras that go back decades.

“At first I didn’t want to admit it, but I am kind of a camera collector. I’ve got a lot of cameras,” Gillie said.

Gillie’s favorite camera might be a surprise to most people.

“I’ve played around with a lot of cameras and really, I keep coming back to the Holga,” Gillie said.

The Holga is a cheap plastic film camera introduced to the Chinese public in the 1980s.

“The Holga itself is kind of a happy accident,” Gillie said, “It’s referred to as a toy camera. I don’t really like that term necessarily, but it is fun.”

Holga’s are still sold today. The entire camera is made of plastic, including the lens. Due to the cheap construction, the camera is known for taking low-quality, ethereal photos.

“The center is the only part that’s sharp. You’re really limited on your composition and the edges fall off,” Gillie said, “It has this dreamy look to it.”

That look has made it popular with Western photographers. With a photo app like Instagram, photographers use digital filters to artificially give photos this kind of dreamy look. With a Holga, the photographer can create that image organically on film. Gillie thinks the imperfections make it fun.

“This is a $40 camera that you sort of embrace those things and just go with it,” Gillie said.

Gillie teaches an annual workshop where he helps other photographers learn how to harness these imperfections. Even with all the high-end camera equipment at his disposal, he always keeps coming back to the Holga.

“It’s a serious camera. I’ve taken a lot of great photographs with the Holga. I’ve sold pictures at art fairs. Some of my favorite images are with the Holga, so it’s not a toy,” Gillie said, “The Holga is really in the end my favorite camera.”

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller is Executive Producer of “Wisconsin Life” for PBS Wisconsin. He loves photography and is always looking for a new Wisconsin park, trail or scenic overlook to explore.
2023-10-23T16:26:22-05:00Tags: , , |

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