Why I 'Toy' Around With My Photography

“My Bird Girl”  This is not the image in the Art Through the Lens show. It’s an “oldie but a goodie” from my catalog, taken with a Holga on cross-processed

“My Bird Girl”

This is not the image in the Art Through the Lens show. It’s an “oldie but a goodie” from my catalog, taken with a Holga on cross-processed

I have a photograph included in the upcoming Art Through the Lens 2019 group exhibition at the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah, Kentucky. I was asked to provide an artist’s statement. This required me to consider — once again — why a good portion of my photographic endeavors involve shooting with plastic toy cameras and then developing and printing my negatives myself. As my relationship with these low-fi rascals continues to mature, so too does my ability to express (sometimes defend) my attraction to them.

Without further ado, here is my latest take on why I toy around with this sub-sub-sub-genre of photography (they asked for no more than 150 words, and that’s exactly what I provided, wordsmith that I am):

I shoot a range of film (and digital) formats from 4x5 to 35mm, yet images captured with plastic toy cameras – 120 format Holgas and Dianas in particular – comprise a significant portion of my portfolio. I am drawn to this low-fidelity, low-tech approach because of its reductionist nature – reduced sharpness, reduced aperture and shutter control, reduced predictability, to name a few. These constraints create boundaries within which I find a rich and rewarding opportunity to render the world. Like poets who work within a rigidly defined form, like haiku, shooting with toy cameras requires discipline while offering a liberating creative freedom. By doing less, these cameras and films challenge me to do more, from taking the image, to developing the film, archivally printing the negative on fiber-based paper in my darkroom, and even to matting and framing. The limits of toy cameras make me a better – and freer – artist and artisan.

When Good Enough Has To Be Good Enough

At the intersection of being a photographer and a father who photographs lies a shot like this.

When shooting a portrait, a photographer faces multiple challenges in terms of the craft of making a photo. When you add the challenges of shooting family in general and an unwilling subject in particular, things get interesting. When you add some additional elements such as a malfunctioning camera (in this case, a fussy Russian Kiev 88 and a film back that scratched the film the entire length of the right side of all frames) and poor lighting (in this case, slow shutter speed and wide-open aperture), things can get really interesting.

What happens when all of the above challenges converge? Well, I got this photo. There is much wrong with this shot, but it’s still a memory and moment that I cherish, despite the imperfections (not the least of which is a slight focus issue). And one of only two salvageable shots from the roll.

It may not be professional. It may not be great. Hell, it’s probably not even good. But it’s still a keeper. Warts and all. And, truth be told, I love the bokeh.