Disappeared and back again

Toy camera fans, did you hear the news? The Holga is back.

One of the first posts on this blog, seven years ago, was about a roll of Kodachrome. As Kodak was discontinuing the production of its legendary film, the last lab capable of developing its unique process was ending its work, too. So I caught the chance and shot one roll of Kodachrome myself.

That last roll was actually also my first. While for most everyone else the pull of the film was nostalgia, for me it was something I could only define as second-hand nostalgia. I didn’t have access to Kodachrome while growing up, of course, but experienced its allure as part of the allure of the American dream – yet when I was able to access it, the dream had changed. So it was both ironic and significant that for me its first use was also its last chance. It said something about social change and our relationship to the past through imaging technology.

Photography is so much about technology. Being a mechanically (re)produced art, such a big part of its meaning is the fact that its technology is not completely controlled by users (artists), but instead by an elusive entity: The Manufacturer. Part of its appeal is this relationship to it, and to the brand. So the withdrawal of the brand, when it happens, becomes an interesting case of denied desire that intensifies as much as it is final.This is what happened with Kodachrome when it was discontinued – it made the news, even while it was almost forgotten in the years just prior.

That’s the effect of finality. And it is happening all over again with the Holga camera, another beloved technology. Last fall, Freestyle announced that Tokina was shutting down its production. Not only that, but it was also destroying the molds.There were again lamentations on the death of an iconic imagemaking tool. Because of that, now the joy that it is coming back is universal. I would bet that after the announcement of the comeback the first few months of the “new Holga” will see a revived interest in the camera, if there was any lag at all.

And wouldn’t you know, there are also rumors that Kodachrome is going to be revived, too.

I won’t be speculating that the withdrawal – and the subsequent return – is just a marketing ploy. Don’t want to be cynical. But it certainly is a powerful emotional mechanism: the fear of loss that would push us to reach for the experience. It is the same feeling that makes us reminisce and mourn the death of a movie star that was all but forgotten in the public consciousness right before that. That’s also one of the reasons Vivian Maier attracted such an inordinate attention a few years ago.

The inexorable finiteness of this reproducible medium. We need to learn to let go.


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