The Holga 120 CFN fits firmly in the toy camera category. In this context the term is used to describe cameras that can actually take photographs, but which are ultra simple, often novelty themed devices. Toy cameras became quite trendy a few years ago, with devotees waxing lyrical about the quaint distortions and aberrations of the often plastic lenses. Design defects, such as light leaks became features to be exploited to creative effect. I have to confess that I’m quite fond of the unpredictable happy accidents that can happen with these low tech cameras. Holgas started life 40 years ago in mainland China. They were cheap to make, easy to use and were intended for the masses. Before long 35mm film gained popularity in China, and surplus Holgas were released on the global market. The colourful models with added features came much later.
A number of variants were made to cater for the needs of lo-fi enthusiasts, this example is the 120 CFN, where the CF stands for colour flash. Perhaps to emphasise that it’s not to be taken too seriously, the camera is moulded in cyan, magenta and yellow plastic, one wonders whether the designer forgot to reset the default colours on their software! A built in electronic flashgun has four different coloured filters which can be changed by rotating a large knob on the top of the camera. The absence of double exposure prevention, and the presence of a “B” setting on the shutter, allows plenty of scope for mixing multicoloured multiple exposures and light trails.
I picked mine up for very little on eBay, it was listed as “spares or repairs” as the flash was not working. Fortunately this turned out to be due to corrosion on the contacts caused by leaking batteries, and was easily solved with a bit of sandpaper, giving me a fully functioning camera.
It came in its fancy coloured packaging, which as well as instructions on how to use it, contained a roll of black electrician’s tape to cure any light leaks. If you’d been hoping to get light leaks, you’d have been disappointed, this example appears light tight, but the sticky mess, still visible despite my attempts to clean it off, show that the previous owner had a go with the tape.
Elsewhere in this issue, the benefits of photography to mental health and well-being have been discussed. Over the course of my decade long project, I had my fair share of ups and downs, and at times, the only ongoing constant in my life was my weekly cycle of selecting, loading, shooting and processing that week’s camera. Routine can be helpful in difficult times. It would be glib to suggest that using a brightly coloured camera might lift the mood, but when I used the Holga, I decided to seek out equally colourful subjects, and in doing so found a brief but welcome distraction from various woes. I couldn’t resist photographing these chairs, whose colours match those of the camera.