Share 1:43am, 30 December 2008
Holga Polka Invitational Captures St. Louis

-Forty-two local artists use a cheap, plastic camera for stunning results-

ST. LOUIS (October 31, 2008): In this age of digital photography, forty-two local artists have taken the Holga challenge. Forget about using expensive, technology-laden cameras. The Holga, categorized as a toy camera because it is made of plastic, doesn’t have any bells and whistles. Yet, the Holga has a loyal following dedicated to its signature style of shocking simplicity and unpredictable results.

“The Holga only has one f-stop,” explained Mark A. Fisher, photographer and curator of the Holga Polka Invitational. “The back of the camera might fall off if you don’t tape it on. You’ll get double exposures, either intentionally or unintentionally, if you don’t advance the film. Little about the Holga says it’s a camera, but people are still using it as another tool for creating stunning work.”

To celebrate creative Holga photography in a contemporary assortment of media types and styles, the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), located at 6128 Delmar, will host the Holga Polka Invitational from January 9, 2009 – February 22, 2009. Each of the forty-two participating artists were encouraged to experiment with alternate approaches to their own primary medium to create a variety of art – ceramics, hand made books, alternative photographic processes, printmaking, mixed media, and if all else fails, traditional photographs - based on their own Holga images. The opening reception on January 9th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. will feature a live polka band to help set the quirky atmosphere.

A handful of writers from local publications have also been invited to try their luck with the mysterious Holga. Stefene Russell of St. Louis Magazine, Alison Sieloff of the Riverfront Times, and Byron Kerman of Playback St. Louis will each take photos with a Holga for two weeks. Their results will be displayed at the Holga Polka Invitational and their experiment chronicled in their respective publications.

Holga Polka Invitational participant Tony Schanuel has been a photographer since the 1970s, but he didn’t begin using the Holga until Fisher gave him one in 2006. “I hadn’t shot film in some time,” recalled Schanuel. “I’d been using digital cameras. I have some very expensive film cameras that have been sitting on the shelf for the past seven years, and then Mark gives me this twenty-dollar plastic camera that has the lens quality of a cataract. It’s very limited in what it can do. You don’t have an incredible amount of control. Consequently, it’s a risky camera to work with.”

Despite the Holga’s flaws, or maybe because of them, Schanuel couldn’t put down his Holga. The Holga is known for producing soft-focus images, leaking light spontaneously into pictures, and casting a hazy vignette around the image without a definitive foreground or background. “It’s a strange camera and in my case it was kind of like an odd magnet,” said Schanuel, who described the camera as “fun” and “wacky.”

Schanuel said the Holga encouraged him to go back to his roots as a photographer. He found liberation in the lack of control and began to rethink subject matter. “The Holga is the perfect camera for quirky subject matter like six-foot lawn bunnies,” said Schanuel.

The possibilities are endless for the results of the 2009 Holga Polka Invitational. Since the Holga’s birth as a kitschy, mass-produced camera in Hong Kong in the 1980s, the Holga has become an additional tool for many amateur as well as professional photographers world-wide, producing wide-ranging imagery from whimsical student work to award-winning photographs. Photographer David Burnett won a top prize at the 2001 White House News Photographers’ Association’s Eyes of History contest for a photo he took with a Holga of Al Gore on the campaign trail in 2000.

Still, the Holga remains stubbornly itself. “It’s a Holga— you’re always going to have problems,” Fisher said. “If there’s nothing falling off, it’s not a Holga. They are marvelous instruments for the pure purpose of ‘seeing’. All technology is relegated to how well you apply your electrical tape and whether you remember to manually advance the film. The essence of the photographic process is distilled, producing fascinating images when placed in the hands of talented and creative artists.”

List of Holga Polka Participants
David Angell – Photographer
Tom Bremer – Photographer
Jim Brooks – Photographer
Paul Callaway – Photographer
John Cross – Painter/ Sculptor
John Dean – Landscape Painter
Valerie Dratwick – Photographer
Doug Gaubatz – Photographer
M.J. Goerke – Hand Made Books / Mixed Media
Benjamin Guffee – Painter/Photographer
David Hanlon – Photographer
Robin Hirsch – Photographer
Hilary Hitchcock – Photographer
Noah Kirby – Sculptor
Bob Kitt – Photographer
Robert Langnas – Printmaker
Jane Linders – Photographer
Donna Lochmann – Photographer
Don McKenna – Photographer
Bill Meeks – Ceramist
Janice Nesser – Mixed Media/Photographer
Marion Noll – Photographer
Alison Ouellette-Kirby – Photographer,/Sculptor/ Metal Arts
Marianne Pepper – Photographer
Joan Proffer – Painter/Photographer
Ruth Reese – Ceramics
Garrett Roberts – Photographer
Russ Rosener – Photographer
Jan Sago – Photographer
Kathleen Sanker – Photographer
Tony Schanuel – Photographer/Digital Artist
Jami Schoenewies – Painter
Michael Schoenewies – Mixed Media
Eric Shultis – Painter/Mixed Media/Photographer
Jennifer Silverberg – Photographer
Megan Singleton – Photographer,/Hand Made Paper
Brian D. Smith – Painter
Susan Hacker Stang – Photographer
Maria Sweney – Photographer
Robert M. Witte – Photographer
Kay Wood – Photographer
Barbara Zucker – Photographer

About the Regional Arts Commission
Founded in 1985, the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) is a cultural catalyst in the St. Louis area, providing financial, technical, promotional and other support for arts organizations. Directed by a board of fifteen commissioners appointed by the chief executives of St. Louis City and County, RAC is a pivotal force in the continuing development and marketing of the arts in the region. Since its inception, RAC has awarded more than 5000 grants totaling $65 million. In May 2008, 205 of the area’s arts organizations, consortiums and cultural programs, large and small, received grant awards totaling more than $3.6 million, funded by a portion of the hotel/motel room sales tax. RAC’s four-story facility including the area’s first Cultural Resource Center is located at 6128 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, Mo., 63112 in the exciting new stretch of The Loop neighborhood. Contact the organization by calling (314) 863-5811 or by visiting
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