The Somerville Toy Camera Fest (STCF) is an international exhibition of toy camera photography. In its inaugural year, the festival takes place over the course of two months at three locations in Somerville: Washington Street Art Center, the Nave Gallery, and the Nave Gallery Annex.
One of the reasons why I am so fond of toy camera imagery is that it reminds me of punk rock, the soundtrack of my college days. Both punk and toy camera photography convey a sense of emotional urgency using stripped down instrumentation. And both gleefully thumb their noses at the conventions of their respective mediums. The projects that I selected for juror’s awards perfectly embody these characteristics.
Perry Dilbeck’s lush images provide an intimate look at the vanishing way of life of truck farmers in the Deep South. Like the Farm Security Administration images taken during the Depression, Dilbeck’s images show the quiet dignity of people struggling to survive a hardscrabble existence. Because the Holga is such an unassuming camera, it was the perfect tool for this project.
Warren Harold’s response to seeing his son only on alternating weekends after his divorce was to photograph their time together. His images will make you smile while they break your heart. Harold’s own parents divorced when he was a young child and he barely saw his father while growing up. His portraits of his son are imbued with empathy and longing. It’s clear that Harold’s images are as much about his past as they are about his present.
Photojournalist Erin Trieb used a Holga to document the daily lives of US military troops stationed in Afghanistan. By photographing her subjects on and off the battlefield, Trieb gives us a more nuanced view of a modern-day solder’s life than is typically shown in the media. Her work contains moments of quiet anguish and even goofy horseplay interspersed with images of frenetic fighting. The soldiers in Trieb’s images seem unaware that they are being photographed, which is a credit both to Trieb’s skill and to the unobtrusive nature of the Holga camera. Although Holgas have not traditionally been used for war photography, they actually are ideal for this use because they are lightweight, inexpensive and virtually indestructible.
Beyond the camera gear used to create them, what connects all of the images in this show is that they evoked a strong emotional response that lingered long after my first glimpse. It did not matter whether I felt joy, grief, or awe as long as I found myself returning to an image again and again, much like a beloved Replacements song.
Thank you for sharing your work with me and for supporting the Toy Camera Festival.
—Isa Leshko, 2013