I received my Holga as a gift three months after I moved to Istanbul. With its lightweight plastic body and multicoloured flash, I felt like a whole new way of capturing this mad city was unfurling in front of me. How better to illustrate Istanbul’s mystery than with lo-fi blurred images?
Then the first two rolls I shot didn’t develop.
Thus the push and pull of elation and frustration that comes along with a Holga was present at the very beginning. I refused to give up and kept shooting and shooting until the film started yielding gifts, little squares of Istanbul life.
I try to use my Holga as an excuse to play, fiddling around with double exposures or red and blue flashes. The pictures are never sharp, never “perfect”. That’s not really the point of shooting with a Holga. The imperfection is the key – that’s where the beauty is.
With the Holga, I can catch images that my other cameras wouldn’t – a gypsy guitarist at a nighttime festival, the blur of a bird streaking across the city’s famous skyline, the doubling of Istanbul faces with Istanbul buildings. The Holga can capture the big vistas of the sprawling city, and the small moments with friends or fascinating strangers.
I like to wander through the streets of Istanbul with my little plastic box, my toy camera that always looks more toy than camera, and snap the fleeting moments that rush by in a relentless city of 15 million people. Nobody seems to notice that the thing in my hands is a camera. Its lightweight weirdness makes it almost invisible.
I have doctored by Holga in all sorts of ways; its plastic body is streaked with bright blue tape where I’ve tried to find a balance between imperfection and ruined rolls. I lost the camera strap long ago and never bothered to replace it, preferring to carry it in my hands.
Over the last four-plus years, I’ve loved and neglected my Holga, shooting with it frequently and then letting it sit untouched for months. I’ll take a quarter of the year to finish 12 frames, then I’ll rush through a few rolls in a few weeks. I still get dud rolls, where every image is blurry to the point of incomprehension. I’m not immune to those disappointments. I usually throw the camera down in frustration, before returning to it again. I can’t stay away.
The frustrations of the Holga are worth it to me because the images are truly evocative, in the way I would like all my photography to be. The hazy or multi-layered images, with streaks of misplaced light and soft edges, look the poetry I feel in Istanbul.
I am unable to tear myself away from this vast city of fallen empires, with its layers of mysteries and stories and forgotten loves. When I shoot with my Holga, the lack of sharpness seems, to me, a kind of clarity. We can look, but we can never know. The Bosphorus is too deep for that.
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