Arts & Culture, Went There

WENT THERE: Somerville Toy Camera Festival 2018

Showing at Nave Gallery, Washington Street Art Gallery and Brickbottom Gallery


I once read an interview with Jake Cregger (drummer in Baltimore bands Multicult and Triac) where he talked about using inexpensive and simple drumkits (including one he found in a dumpster) for the bands he performs in. Why would one of the best drummers in the game use something cheap and basic? I mean drummers are notoriously gear obsessed so what would that possibly do? Sometimes the simplification of the tools you use to create can focus you in on what really interests you.

Somerville is currently home to the 6th annual Toy Camera Festival featuring three exhibitions of photographs by artists made using toy cameras. The definition of toy camera is a bit loose to let participants fully flex their creative muscles and it also leaves some pieces up to the discretion of each years juroring artist. This year Jennifer Shaw took the helm and curated all three shows. The main rule seems to be that you can’t use a glass lens and you must document the type of camera you used which will then be judged as being “toy”. *edit from organizers, they also ask that cameras have minimal or no exposure control. So it’s more of a “show your work” than a strict set of guidelines and the work is then judged after that. All processes after you press the shutter button on the camera are fair game and all of that has lead to diverse results. In 2018 the three exhibitions take place at the Nave Gallery, Washington Street Art Gallery and Brickbottom Gallery and are each filled with a variety of intriguing and fun works made by international artists. I’d recommend hitting all three in one trip and it’s not an overload of similar work.  

It seems that when working with a toy camera, the first decision artists are making is to embrace the medium or fight against it. Do you revel in the grain, light spots and film edges or do you try and push the picture to get the nice formal results that exist easier with newer technology? Jennifer Shaw did a great job of selecting artists from both sides who traversed each path in interesting ways.

Also, at this point, I’d like to apologize that these photos-of-photos have so much reflection on them. I’m a painter not a photographer so it was a problem I had trouble solving but if you like the images, go see them in person! They’re always better that way. Exhibition runs until October 13th with viewing hours on the weekends. ( for details)


Shoulders of Giants 2
Bible Hogan
Brownie Hawkeye Flash / Fuji Pro 160c

Bible Hogan’s “Shoulders of Giants 2” captures a summer moment of a bridge jump. The plastic lens of the toy camera focuses in on the center of the photograph and blurs the surrounding area. The center of the photograph is the bottom of the bridge and the water unyet splashed. The people are blurred and indistinguishable leading you to focus in on the action, the place, the time and the future event about to take place. Like any good action memory, it feels youthful and vibrant even though you might not have been there this time. Or maybe you were, it’s hard to make out. 


Haiku 2
Adrienne Defendi
Holga Kodak Portra 400ASA

In “Haiku 2” Adrienne Defendi offers a triptych of water landscapes. I was struck by the colors she was able to get in these photos immediately. There wasn’t a lot of color in the exhibition and when it was there, the effect of the toy cameras tended to make the colors unnatural or noticeably altered but here she was able to get rich and vibrant greens, browns and blues. I think part of this may be an expertly chosen subject of a fall pallet. The plants are dead and the sky is grey so she didn’t need to push the color scheme to be especially bright. The colors all feel natural and descriptive of the subject and push the medium to make some very nice images as sea fades into air only to be disrupted by land.


C60 Spherical Camera and Photograph
Nathan Miner
Miner C60 32 Sided Geodesic Pinhole Camera / Photopaper Negative

The C60 Spherical Camera and Photograph were created by Nathan Miner and it was very interesting to see both the creation and how it was created, side by side. In this case each object enhances the other with the beautiful handmade pinhole camera that was used to make a 32 plate 360 degree photograph which the combination of focuses you in on a fascinating process and execution. Much of the exhibit piques interest by examining what can you do with materials and processes that are not on the cutting edge of technology and this piece was the most focused on that idea: using the pinhole camera process in a brand new way and creating something fresh and unique to experience without the use of modern technology.


Snowdrops, 2018
Karrie Kemperman
Pinhole Print via Handmade Camera

There were quite a few pinhole camera pieces in the exhibition and Karrie Kemperman had one of the best. As seen here with the photo and the camera she used to make it. She re-purposed a cookie tin to make a camera and used the curvature of the tin to make a wide format landscape. While working within the landscape format, she fights against the typical usage and has has no ground visible to give the viewer a point of reference. She then places flowers in the foreground to imply that surface and then has woods and buildings in the background for disorienting effect.  


What a Circus
Jean Baptiste-Morand
Diana F+ & 35mm Black / Lomo 400

Jean Baptiste-Morand fully leans into the effects of a toy camera with “What a Circus” using a mirrored image of a circus tent to give you that “life’s not right here” feeling that many of us had when being walked into that place as children. The mirroring really works and is enhanced by the differences between the top and bottom version of the images. The color flows down from dull to bright with sun spots and overexposures differentiate the two and giving you plenty to look at, contrast, and compare. The mirroring of the image creates strong diagonal compositions weaving the eye back and forth through the scenes keeping them joined and separate. 

All in all, it’s very interesting to see how people react to the limitations of the toy camera. For many of these artists, it’s their chosen medium and they’ve spent countless hours learning how to work within its limitations and harness them to get the end result they want. The constraints of the medium have focused each artist in on what really interests them about photography and distilled it down to those basic elements. Each artist in the show has walked their own path to get there and the festival has curated a very nice body worthy of the sixth year of a high level festival. For something that’s promoting itself as artists using “toys” it’s in a lot of ways the opposite; artists making art without technological toys to distract them. Make sure to visit before it closes.

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