Wednesday, February 18, 2009

photo obsessions

i'm a sucker for a new photographic obsession. last may, on a trip to singapore i bought my nikon D60 and when i got to manila and found my friends were all into lomo, i bought a couple of analog lomography cameras--a diana+ and a fisheye. soon after that, in munich, i stumbled onto a store with the lomo stuff and bought an octomat as well. that meant that i was schlepping a bag around with no less than four cameras in it at any given moment. that was madness. and it tapered off a bit (i don't carry the lomo cameras around anymore as much as i probably should). but it was mostly because i discovered through the viewfinder photography or TtV, as it's usually called around the internet. and that called for, yes, you guessed it, another camera. one which has a viewfinder large enough to use your DSLR to take a picture of that viewfinder. it helps if you mask it off somehow to make it dark enough for your DSLR to autofocus (you'd need extra arms to hold it all if you didn't use autofocus).

but, in case this is all gobbledy-gook, allow me to back up and explain.

my diana+ (and my rockin' pilgrim sunglasses)

first the lomography thing. lomography is a photo trend wherein people take old cameras made by the "lomo" people or holga or other old russian (read: soviet) cameras in general (why oh why didn't i buy some of those when i was in russia in '94?). these were cheap plastic cameras made and sold in the 50s and onward. they are extremely simple and have all sorts of light leaks and quirks which make for some really interesting and unpredictable photos. you can add to the effect by loading them with slide film (preferably expired) and then "cross-processing" it in the chemicals for regular film. you might have seen "cross-process" effects in Photoshop or Lightroom presets that are called this. they often given a bluish or reddish cast to the photos. but you can get it naturally by using an old fashioned film camera and cross-processing.

what got me intrigued about the lomo thing was an exhibition i saw in manila with displays of photos that a whole army of lomo fanatics took during one day at the wonderful serendra shopping centre at manila's fort bonifacio. the way of displaying multiples of the photos in big expanses was just so cool, as were the colors that you get using cross-processed expired slide film:

photo exhibit in manila
who wouldn't fall in love with this?

now the diana+ and the real holgas all use 120 film, but the fisheye and my octomat use ordinary 35mm film. here are some of the pictures i've taken with my lomo cameras, as well as a cheap penguin-shaped camera that came with some candy (those are funnily enough, some of the best ones).

fisheye sabin
diana+ - double exposure and film not advanced
expired slide film - cross-processed
penguin candy camera
expired slide film - cross-processed
from one shutter depression, this takes 8 photos over 2 seconds
expired 35mm slide film - cross processed
diana + - shot of cameras on the table
including the cyber-shot that's in the sony-ericsson phone
and our old SLR Canon AE-1 program (a classic)

if you want to see some really awesome lomography, check out my friend liane's photostream on flickr. she really knows what she's doing. me, i'm just playing around. some of her photos were part of that exhibit in manila that got it all started for me. 

for lomo enthusiasts, the beauty is in the unpredictability. film that doesn't advance, light leaks, double exposures. all of the "mistakes" are what makes it fabulous. and there's something really appealing in that. a chaos that i'm drawn to. plus, it's like the old days where you actually take your pictures in to be developed and have to wait for them. awesome. there's something that just feels good about waiting (however impatiently one might do that). we don't wait often enough for gratification these days.

which brings me to TtV photography. in a way, you get some of the appeal of the lomography thing...unpredictable, grainy, out-of-focus shots, but with instant gratification, since you actually take them with your DSLR.

the first camera i tried out the TtV thing with was this beauty:

and after reading a few tutorials online, i fashioned this contraption and took some pictures:

and took this:

the only editing i tend to do with TtVis cropping, because when you download your pictures, they look like this:

but otherwise, i leave them alone because what you want is the blurriness, the dirt that's on the viewfinder on the old camera and the generally speaking, the quirks. with this really old camera (it's from 1901), i love the shape of the viewfinder, but most of the "right" cameras for TtV photography are square, like it comes out with my rolleicord, which was the next acquisition. since i wanted to do "real" TtV photography. the problem is that i haven't really been able to try it out properly until yesterday because it's been so cloudy and you need good light for TtV.

for my rolleicord, i made a contraption out of a box that a bottle of calvados came in. i painted the inside of the box with matte black paint, then secured it at the right size around the camera with a couple of pieces of duct tape:

my rolleicord and my contraption
rolleicord with contraption in place
picture by sabin of me taking a TtV picture with my Nikon D60

with the rolleicord, my pictures look like this before i crop/straighten them:
and like this after:
it looks like i've applied all sorts of processing, but i haven't done any at all, aside from the crop & straighten. that's what's cool to me about TtV--getting the processing effects naturally. i've been a little fed up lately with some of the over-processed photography i see out there. some part of me feels it's dishonest, at the same time as i am strangely drawn to it, because it's FUN to process your photos. this way, with TtV, i can satisfy both parts of my divided personality--the naturalist and the geek who loves software and gadgetry.

the beauty is that you don't HAVE to pay $300 for a used rolleicord TLR to do TtV photography, you can pick up an argus 75 or a kodak duaflex, which is what most people out there are using. you should be able to find one at a flea market for $10-25 (they made tons of them). i have yet to try my $10 brownie 620 , but there will be other days of sunshine and i expect it will work just fine too. you also don't have to have a macro lens for your DSLR, you just have to experiment and get your contraption the right length so your kit lens will do the autofocus thing.

so, what are you waiting for?


beth said...

what a great post !
I love my duraflex and shooting TTVF !! My pics from that always turn out great and my hubby made such a perfect light contraption for it, that no extra light can get in no matter what !
He even made the edges with duck tape so that I can fold the whole thing flat while I'm out and about and then it pops open when I need it...I'll try and do a picture if you are interested in seeing it :)

and all those other cameras...WAY TOO FUN !!!

but I'm the lazy one here doing the cross processing and lomography on's just too easy and I don't have the ability to carry or purchase all those other cameras, but wow, they are so cute !!

Maria and Vincent said...

beautiful photos !

Char said...

love the tutorial - I haven't tried using the holga I recently found at a thrift store for $1.99 but I want to now that I'm getting settled in.

Barb said...

So interesting that simple handmade items, old cameras and expired film can give such an artistic looking picture. Blown up and framed in a large white matte I imagine would make some of these quite striking.

will said...

Very interesting trend. As digital and photoshop sweep the world, a retro move back to the unpredictable of junky cameras. I think things like this are the things that will do more for photography as art than a new digital with 500 pixel resolution.

tangobaby said...

Wow. This is really mindboggling. I'm still on Auto. I feel like such a slacker! I am going to read this again so it all sinks in... love all of the different cameras and styles of photos you are coming up with.

And Sabin is your photography assistant. Love that, too.

Tess Kincaid said...

Absolutely amazing! I'm so glad you explained about the cardboard roll taped to your camera. Fascinating technique.

That old camera is such a beauty!

hele said...

I love, love, love the toothy smile and the bin glowing in the sun*

will said...

Is that a mini satellite dish your wearing disguised as a ring? I'm impressed with the advanced technology! You don't work for KAOS, THRUSH or SPECTRE do you?

Dutchbaby said...

I used to have an Argus camera; we bought it with green stamps when we first came to the US. You're right, it was a junkie, very leaky camera. I wish I knew to appreciate the imperfections back then. Very interesting article.

I use mostly the "P" setting on my camera. It is automated but it allows you to choose one override at a time. I am too clumsy and too lazy to use manual. I tip my hat to all who do.

julochka said...

char--i can't BELIEVE you found a HOLGA for $1.99!!! you must be the luckiest thrift shopper in the world!!!

barb--i want to do a display along the lines of what i saw in manila with the lomo photos..using multiple copies of each picture, but i don't really have enough yet to do it.

bill--i'm totally with you on that! and yes, that ring is a mini satellite dish, so i can receive the signals from my home planet. :-)

TB--sabin makes a lovely assistant. and there's nothing wrong with the auto setting--that's why they made it, they knew what they were doing!

willow--thanks! i love the old camera too. :-) i think that's what it's mostly about for me.

hele--those teeth on the sides still aren't in! i think the big front ones are crowding them out.

dutchbaby--you should dig that old camera out again! it's cool again! this is why i tell husband we should never throw stuff away.

julochka said...


beth--we covered yours in an email! and thanks for posting your contraption! i've got to make a proper one, for sure!

maria & vincent--thank you!