Recently published via Lulu, the vanity publisher for the 21st Century, is The Toycam Handbook (“Better living through plastics”), a joint effort by members of toycamera.com (tc). For $30, you receive 112 pages (approx. 1/4” thick at 9x6” size) of specs, tips and thoughts on using “toy” (plastic) cameras. Throw away that full frame DSLR! Become a bohemian hippy iconoclast! Or something.
The book is professionally bound and presented, but that’s all Lulu’s work. The actual contents are somewhat rougher, or perhaps I should say charmingly amateurish and in keeping with the toycam philosophy. The pages look like they came straight from Word. Editorial control is good but not great. That said, there’s plenty here worth a gander.
Leading off with descriptions of many of the cameras most commonly found in junk shops, eBay auctions and overpriced in trendy gallery shops, the book goes on to cover basic usage, clever modifications or tricks (e.g. pinholes, panoramics and close-up work) and finally brief interviews with each of the contributers, setting out their individual philosophies on toydom. This last section is probably the most interesting and to be honest, it’s a shame there weren’t more personal stories and less technical stuff. The latter is, almost inevitably, less comprehensive and helpful than most other sources of the same information. For example, the section on loading 120 film is so vague as to be essentially useless (“insert cardboard strips”? where??), and I wouldn’t like to start developing film using the brief guide presented here. Then again, this “pile in and don’t care if your first few attempts result in disaster” is also very much in line with toycam principles. Let the accident participate, as someone famous once said. If you want some examples, many of the articles have been reproduced from the web site so look there.
It’s also a minor shame that the page on the Holga, along with the Lomo probably the archetypal toy camera, is so poorly edited and uninformative in comparison with the rest of that section.
On the plus side, there are lots of kooky, weird, wonderfully blurry and badly coloured photographs scattered throughout, including examples of each of the reviewed cameras. Reproduction quality isn’t outstanding, but then again the original quality probably wasn’t all that to begin with (which is, of course, entirely the point). What shines through is the sheer creativity of the intent behind them. If they don’t have you rushing to join in the fun, you should probably go back to your Ansel Adams books.
An interesting, laudable experiment and a pleasant book to browse through, particularly if you’re feeling jaded by over-saturated, perfectly sharp and boringly precise photography.
Did you know: for the price of the Nikon D2x, you could buy over 200 Holgas. And your pictures would be better!