Local Photographer Starts Iowa City Holga Photo Website

Todd Adamson, a local portrait photographer and sometimes Patch contributor has started a website devoted to Holga photo submissions from the area. Don't know what Holga is? Read on.


Attention all you Holga lovers, bargain bin photographers, artsy shooters, casual snappers and hipsters: now there's a website where you can share your Holga shots from the Iowa City area.

The brain child of, Todd Adamson, local professional portrait photographer and on occassion, Patch contributor, Holga Iowa City aims to be a one stop location where you can share your Holga photos with other Holga users in the area.

Want to submit a photo?  Send it to Todd at adamsonstudios@gmail.com. Or sign in and add them to our gallery.


Read on to see the appeal of Holga shooting and why Adamson started this project.

Iowa City Patch: Can you explain a little bit for people who don’t know what Holga photography is?

Todd Adamson: The Holga is a Chinese-made medium format film camera. It's a cheap, plastic piece of junk, essentially. I assume it was created to allow easy, affordable entry into medium format, back when film was the main photographic medium. Medium format film is a lot wider than the traditional 35 mm film with which most of us are familiar. The negatives can have a lot more information than 35 mm negatives, so the format allows for more resolution and larger prints. The poor quality of the Holga nullifies that advantage, of course. The lens is plastic, so weird blur and distortion are par for the course. And due to very lax production controls, cameras tend to leak light, and the flatness of the film plane is not well-controlled. 

Patch: What is the appeal of Holga photography?

Adamson: The Holga appeals to me for all the same reasons film appeals to me generally. In an age of instant gratification with digital SLR cameras, and phone-integrated cameras, we can click a button and see an image on a screen instantly. While I love that this is possible, in some ways it robs us of the emotional elixir of anticipation. With film, there’s a very real thrill upon first seeing our results, since they involve more time and effort. At a minimum, one has to shoot the whole roll, then drop it off somewhere to be developed and scanned. For me, it’s even more work, because I do much of my own developing, and also my own scanning. In the end, I have a greater appreciation for my results, because I’ve invested more heavily in them time- and work-wise.

That’s true of any film photography; but the Holga has additional uniqueness to recommend it. I think some people buy a Holga as a cheap entry into medium format, and that’s a great reason to try it out. You can pick one up for about 25 bucks. But I also believe that the flaws and ridiculous simplicity of the camera, rather than making it the failure we might have expected, have resulted in it becoming somewhat of a cultish device among certain types of recreational photographers. Lens distortions and light leaks are different for every Holga, and each one has its own character. It’s very easy to get unexpected results due to the defects, and also due to the fact that you can’t really focus accurately. And the very manual nature of the Holga opens you up to mistakes, such as double exposures, which can yield some really interesting results. So through flaw or mistake, it’s possible to get some really fascinating images. Sure, these can turn out to be ugly and confusing, or just horribly under or overexposed, out of focus, etc. But it’s also true that legitimately beautiful images can happen this way. With only two apertures, one shutter-speed, and a range of built-in defects, you’re giving up a lot of control, and I find that very attractive...in a way relaxing.

In my digital photography, I am fanatical about focus, sharpness, proper color, etc. Pulling out the Holga allows me to set aside a lot of that. And while you’re giving up a lot of control, I still think familiarity with the Holga will give you some control. You can apply your compositional instincts and timing to get you most of the way to an entertaining image. Then the Holga “character” kicks in and if you’re lucky, it adds something amazing, which you could never get through post production in an image editor such as Photoshop.

Patch: Why did you decide to start an Iowa City Holga specific photo website?

Adamson: I have a bad habit of making web sites for almost no reason at all, other than to amuse myself and hone my web design skills. It’s fun. I’ve known about Holgas forever, but I’ve never really felt inclined to give up the control I’ve become so used to exerting over my photography until recently. I started shooting film a little over a year ago, just to explore different aspects of photography (and yes, I made a web site for my film photography, too!), and have been surprised at how much I enjoy it, mainly due to the time/effort/surprise factor I mentioned above. The Holga was a natural extension of that. When I got my first images off the scanner, I liked them so much I wanted to post them somewhere, and none of my currently active sites seemed ideal, so I just made a new one.

Patch: Did you feel that Holga use would be popular enough to support a website from just one city?

Adamson: Not at all, and I’m still not convinced it will. But in reality “support” is not a meaningful term in this case, as I have no monetary goal or quantitative benchmark I’m looking to reach. It’s just sort of hobby level. But I do think that the more images I can host on the site, the more interesting it will become, and the more traffic it will get. That’s why I started soliciting work from others. Not only would it be impossible to provide a continuous stream of new images on my own, I don’t think most people could enjoy looking exclusively at my work for very long. There’s a lot of creativity out there, and if I can get other people to submit work, I think the site will be a much richer experience for anyone who wants to wade into it. My youngest son has done a few shots for the site, my wife has expressed interest in shooting some, and I have five or six other people who will be sending me work in the near future. 

Patch: Are there any rules? Do the photos have to be of Iowa City subjects, for example?

Adamson: My first hastily-conceived vision for the site was for shots from Iowa City only. But then I started asking myself ‘Will I accept submissions from Coralville or North Liberty? What about Cedar Rapids?’ It doesn’t make sense to exclude potentially interesting content because it was generated on the other side of some imaginary border. So I think I want it to include photos from the area. And for now, I’m not defining the area explicitly. But let’s say, very roughly, places in Iowa that are no farther from Iowa City than a half a tank of gas might take you. See how I’ve still left it pretty open? I don’t know what kind of car you drive. ;)

Photos can be of people, or places, or animals...nature, abstract, whatever. Just make sure you shot them with a Holga. That’s really the only official rule: use a Holga. Ultimately, I will be the one to decide which images go onto the site (for now), but I’m not planning to be particularly selective. Of course, if I start to get lots and lots of submissions, that will have to change.

Patch: When do you launch the site? How is it doing so far?

Adamson: The site is live now, though it’s mostly only my own shots. It was about three weeks ago when I put it up, and it’s already undergone a bit of revision in appearance. I haven’t even included a tracking script yet, so I have no idea how many visitors I’ve had. I suppose I should do that, eh? Maybe tonight....hopefully before this story is published! The site is already due for some reconstruction, because it’s a lot of work to create new pages and add images to it, since there isn’t a database behind it. I hope to remedy that situation in the coming weeks. If I get bombarded with Holga photos right now, I’ll be in trouble!

Patch: Do you have any goals for the site for the future?

Adamson: Two very broad goals. First, I want to bring together a collection of interesting photos from this area, and give people a new way to look at where we live. And I think there’s potential for it to develop into a nice archive of images, if participation grows.

Second, I’d like to give people an appreciation of old school photography: the anticipation of the outcome, and happy surprise of producing a really appealing work of art. Along with that, I hope people can become aware that wonderful things can happen if they set aside some of their preconceptions of what makes a great photograph. I’d also like to add that almost anyone can do this. I would love to have non-photographers get into this. All it takes is some time and a small investment for the camera, film, and developing.


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