From Diana to Pinhole Cameras at The Somerville Toy Camera Festival


Lauren McMahon, Self-Portrait – 8×10 pinhole camera. Image courtesy of the artist.

As the saying goes, it’s not the camera you use, it’s what you do with it that matters. At the Somerville Toy Camera Festival, this saying rings true again and again as the artists selected to participate in the exhibition prove that you can still make a good photograph without needing professional equipment.

For those of us who have yet to get on the toy camera train, it all started in the 1960s at the Great Wall Plastic Factory in Hong Kong, China where the famous Diana camera was born. The Diana—an inexpensive, plastic-bodied and plastic lens camera took the United States and England by storm (and also every Somerville Toy Camera Festival it seems). Fully functional cameras with limited controls, toy cameras are infamous for their light leaks and poor quality lenses that produce vignettes and blurring many of us only experience through Instagram filters.

Spread across three galleries in Somerville—The Nave Gallery Annex, Brickbottom Gallery and Washington Street Arts Center—this year’s Somerville Toy Camera Festival has on view more than one hundred images made by eighty-six artists from across the country (including a handful of international artists). Since 2003, the Somerville Toy Camera Festival has proven that our fascination with plastic cameras has never really fallen out of favor—and that’s a good thing, given that much of the work on view is always impressive.

Among the many highlights at the Brickbottom Gallery include Brian Franczyk’s untitled images made with a Vermeer pinhole camera, Sarah Holbrook’s “Ann on the Dock” and Bill Franson’s “Senior Citizens.” Caroline Nicola’s wonderfully evocative portrait of a man in profile, brought to mind the early days of Daguerreotype photography. Julia Curl, Lys Guillorn, Michelle Hogan, Kathleen Donohoe, Atsuko Morita and Lisa Lindamood were some of the ladies whose work stood out.

The fun continues over at the Nave Gallery Annex in Davis Square where among the highlights of the works on view include Christopher Turner’s “Bottled Liquors” made with a Lomography Sprocket Rocket camera, Gregory Russo’s “Stripes” and Michael Weitzman’s “Hey Joe.” Lauren McMahon’s hauntingly beautiful, pinhole camera self-portrait is definitely worthy of your attention.

I can think of only a handful of exhibits in the Boston area that are as exciting and playful as the Somerville Toy Camera Festival. You can catch the exhibits at the Nave Gallery Annex and the Washington Street Arts Center until October 1st and at the Brickbottom Gallery until October 15th

Header Image of a Diana Camera by James Whitesmith on Flickr used under the Creative Commons License.