By Puloma Ghosh
Somerville, MA – The Somerville Toy Camera Festival, spanning through five different galleries across Somerville, shows how one can make art just by playing around. Now in its second year, the Toy Camera Festival exhibits the potential of toy cameras when placed in the right hands.
The Brickbottom Gallery (1 Fitchburg St.) in south Somerville is currently host to an array toy camera photographs by artists all across the nation. Most of the work uses Holga medium format plastic cameras, and various pinhole cameras. The subjects vary from nature, people, abstract close-ups, and urban landscapes, but the nature of the toy cameras gives every piece a soft, surreal look to them, as if snapshots of a dream.
“La Porte des Étoiles” and “Aube Lunaire” by Romary Daval, both taken with a film canister pinhole camera, show scenes of passing night. A distant tree line is overlain with a pattern of bright turquoise, blue, and white stripes that curve in an arch over the landscape. The image gives movement to a very still scene, the stripes reminiscent of the motion of the planets and stars across the sky as the world turns.
Brett Henrikson’s “Transcendence #1” on the other hand shows movement using the Holga’s multiple exposure feature, with over lain images of a an unfolding hand in a silver gelatin print. The image is faded to almost white, giving it a dusty, nostalgic look. It captures the softness of the gesture with the ghostly feeling of a distant memory.
Matthew Albritton’s “Keizoku wa chikara nari (Perseverance is Strength)” is also soaked in nostalgia. The unique print is several feet long, displayed like an open scroll, and shows a wooden train track, mirrored at the center. At the top a figure walks into the distance alone, and at the bottom, upside down, are two parents and their child, walking hand in hand into the other direction. The photo is taken using a Lomo Spinner, a 36-degree panoramic camera, while gave Albritton the ability to look at both sides of the train tracks in a single print.
While adults took all the images in the Brickbottom Gallery, the Somerville Museum (1 Westwood Rd.) is exhibiting the work of middle and high school students who took part in a toy camera workshop prior to the festival. All of the photos were taken with little Philips digital keychain cameras, and although the large size of some of the prints highlights the low quality of the camera, the potential of the students is not lost. Christopher Maffucci-Fitanides’ close-up of a sign stretching upwards into the clouds is taken from a thoughtful perspective, giving the photograph depth and showing the vastness of the sky.
The Nave Gallery Annex (53 Chester St.) adds to the festival with more photographs taken all over the country, and some from abroad. Chuck Baker’s “Stadelmaier in Neerbosch,” taken in the Netherlands, portrays a snowy church by combining two separate prints. The cold tone of the shadows and highlights of this black and white photograph impart the chill of a snowy day in the Netherlands, and the forlorn atmosphere is intensified by the detachment created by the two unaligned prints.
The Somerville Toy Camera Festival is a unique display of the ability of artists to work with any medium. Although these cameras were first created more for novelty than for art, the artists exhibiting in the festival have shown that they can be used to capture scenes with a full range of shapes, lines and feeling.
(The Somerville Toy Camera Festival continues through June 28 at The Brickbottom Gallery, Nave Gallery (155 Powderhouse Blvd.), Nave Gallery Annex, Somerville Museum and Washington Street Art Center (321 Washington St.) in Somerville, Mass. On Sunday, June 22, from 3 – 4 p.m., the Brickbottom Gallery will host “One Word: Plastics!” a panel discussion on making art with toy cameras. For more details, visit somervilletoycamera.org.)