Return of the toy cameras

On June 11, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times
Michelle Bates shows off her toy camera works of art.

Michelle Bates shows off her toy camera works of art.

By Jack Adams

The Somerville Toy Camera Festival returned to Somerville, spread between five galleries, the Nave Gallery, the Nave Gallery Annex, the Brickbottom Gallery, the Somerville Museum and the Washington Street Gallery. On display are 150 Lo-Fi and Toy Camera photos taken by 99 photographers. The galleries will remain open until the last week of June.

Over 400 pieces were submitted, and the entries were whittled down to the final 150 by Somerville-based photographers Meg Birnbaum and Lee Kilpatrick. Birnbaum said they carefully reviewed every entry together while in a Panera Bread.

“I was looking or something that brings some kind of emotion, something that touches the heart. Lee I think looks for something very different, more aesthetic,” said Birnbaum. “We traded a few, I’ll give you this if you give me that, but we literally talked about every image, so it was really an interesting process.”

Several of the photographers came to the opening at the Washington Gallery Reception on June 7, Including Sarah Bradach, a student as Wellesley High School. Her submission was called Untitled, and was a picture of her younger sister layered under a picture of a lake.

“The bottom layer is a photo that I took of my younger sister, I actually got her – she’s lying in the bathtub, and I put flowers around her head, and painted her face white, and then the second photo is actually a picture of a lake,” said Bradach.

She said she made the photo for a class at her high school, and it was part of a series of layered photos.

Another toy camera aficionado enjoys the photos.

Another toy camera aficionado enjoys the photos.

I just kind of want it to be haunting, and then with the water it’s kind of creepy, it looks kind of like she’s dead,” said Bradach. “I just like creating emotions, and I feel like people can in some sense sympathize with feeling like you’re drowning, feeling like you just sunk in the water. It’s that feeling where you wish you could just look that peaceful but you feel like you’re drowning.”

Another photographer who has their work displayed in the Washington Street Gallery is Hilary Hughes. Her piece is titled Union Fire, a sort of abstract picture of someone holding a torch, but only barely in the frame.

“I did that a couple of months ago, I think it was the Union Square Fire Festival, so I was there with my Canon Rebel, but I have a Holga lens for it, so I was there in the afternoon taking pictures of the fire spinners, because I like the fact that it creates more darkness in the picture; fire tends to stand out more,” said Hughes.

She said she mostly shoots digital, but occasionally will use the quirkier, less predictable Holga Lens. A Holga is a popular brand of toy camera.

Birnbaum said she photographs with both her digital SLR and a Holga. Several years ago she did a series where she took pictures of festivals, using the Holga. She said because the camera is so inconspicuous, people were less intimidated by her presence, an aspect of the Holga that she really likes.

“It’s really a crap shoot. I shoot a lot with [the Holga] and sometimes I throw away a whole roll, but when you get one that’s good, it’s like, so good,” said Birnbaum.

Lee Kilpatrick, the other judge, said he typically likes to shoot people with his toy camera.

“In general, my subject matter is people, usually candid — I call it candid documentary fine art photography, because it’s always un-posed, although some people think that it is set up,” said Kilpatrick.

On Saturday and Sunday, Michelle Bates, a Seattle-based photographer with a book about toy cameras called Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity, gave a workshop on toy camera use. Several of her works are on display and for sale at the Nave Gallery, including a series she did on abandoned parade floats in Israel.

Toy camera photographers Meg Birnbaum and Lee Killpatrick.

Toy camera photographers Meg Birnbaum and Lee Killpatrick.

 ~Photos by Jack Adams


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