Michelle Bates has been making serious (and fun) photographs with inexpensive plastic Holga cameras since 1991, when she discovered them at The Maine Photographic Workshops.

Since then, she has become an expert and well-respected evangelist for Holgas and other "toy" cameras. She has just published a book, and now teaches workshops around the world, including an upcoming stint at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York City.

Her Holga photographs have been exhibited in galleries in New York (the ICP bookstore gallery and E3), and throughout the US, as well as shows in Italy, Japan and Israel. One photo graced the cover of a pop-music album. Newspapers and magazines have printed her editorial photographs in all of their glorious and quirky "Holga-ness".

She prints her Holga photos to accentuate the non-rectilinear vignette shapes created by the plastic lens. She does this by using a hand-cut oversized negative carrier that follows the edges of the image. Then she usually trims the edges of her prints, leaving a ragged frame of white to further emphasize the unique shape.

In her book, which is as much a how-to as it is a forum for creative inspiration, she highlights the work of 33 other artists who use Holgas (or other plastic cameras) to make their art. Michael Ackerman loves to move around to blur his moody images. Pauline St. Denis shoots with color transparency film, and only advances the film partially for each of several over-lapping exposures — and she does this using a professional strobe. The results? Wild photos that fashion advertisers just love. Others use the partially-advanced film technique to create one long series of overlapping images the length of the entire roll, which can then be printed as wall-size murals.The variety of creative pursuits inspired by Holgas seems endless.

Michelle Bates and I met in Portland, Oregon during the wonderful Photolucida Festival, and recorded this audio interview for Lens Culture in the midst of all the noise of the surrounding portfolio reviews. She's a compelling speaker, and after listening to her, and seeing some of the remarkable work that is being done with cheap ($25) cameras, you may want to run out and try one yourself.

— Jim Casper






Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity

by Michelle Bates
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Focal Press

Kent Nunamaker, creator of the Snapdragon 4x5 pinhole camera, wrote this brief review about the book:

"Without a doubt, the best all-around guide to plastic camera photography available. Well written, beautifully illustrated, informative yet entertaining. Michelle Bates has done a great job. If you're just curious, she will inspire you. If you're into the plastic fantastic, she'll motivate you. And if you've been doing this stuff for years, she'll make you feel good about yourself. It's about time somebody did it, and I don't think anyone could have done it better."