While roaming the Tuscan countryside this summer, we happened upon the gallery of a French photographer living in Italy, Dominique Bollanger. While we admired his silver and large platinum prints and joked the old jokes about my Holga whimsicality compared to his high precision contact prints, he whipped out a wooden 8″x10″ box and told us, “This is my Holga”. We didn’t believe him, of course. We thought it was just another Holga joke.
Turned out, it really was his “Holga”, the same camera he used to capture the iconic Italian landscapes and then make beautiful contact prints straight out of it, with no intermediate enlargements. And if you imagine the pain of carrying around a heavy wooden box up and down the idyllic hills, you get my initial reaction. A 4″x5″ large format is inconvenient enough – now 8″x10″ would be a torture. Right?
Yet, we are talking about a large format Holga with the same ease and serendipity so typical for lomography. It’s lightweight, handheld and doesn’t even need a tripod to shoot. The secret? It’s has fixed focus. And that’s what it makes it similar to Holga. If you want lightweight and a large format at that, you have to sacrifice something, like the chance to look through the ground glass before you click, the chance to focus at will and all the related feelings of being in control.
However, it is a chance worth foregoing for the benefit of a large negative. You can work with your fixed focus and learn to sense the optimal zone of focus. You can compensate with the f-stop control. You can reach a lot of high fruits by developing your intuition on this specific, very precise setting. And in addition, you’ll be able to contact print to your heart’s desires. Also, as an example, the light weight has allowed Dominique to capture unplanned scenes like cats strolling down country roads and similar Tuscan town happenstances.
Dominique had bought his camera, aptly called Hobo for its hobo-ing capabilities, from Bostick & Sullivan years ago for several hundred dollars. Alas, it is not on sale anymore. But actually, it’s not a complicated machine to make and if you know how classic cameras work, you can make one yourself, if you really want a large format Holga. You won’t get any vignetting, blur or light leaks, as the lense you’ll use will most probably not be plastic. It will be a high precision glass lens – unless you want to try to make this one yourself, too. 🙂 I might just as well try my hand at that!