RayKo:Tell us about the first time you picked up a camera. What was it like?
JH: Probably the very first time was when I was kid and picked up a Polaroid camera that my mom had but I never had my own camera until I was 19 when I bought my first SLR camera, a Nikkormat. I was in college living in downtown Albany New York and mostly took pictures of my friends. I still have that camera.
RayKo: Youre teaching a Plastic Camera Class this fall. What initially drew you into plastic camera photography? What are some of the breakthroughs you have had over the years regarding this medium?
JH: I first bought a plastic camera, a Holga, because I had invested in a Mamiya medium format camera which was major at the time. I was looking for something to fool around with that would be really basic but still give me a large negative. I thought it would be a challenge to think of something interesting to do with it. So I bought a Holga and I think it sat in a closet for about a year. And then the cooperative gallery that Im involved with in San Francisco was having a group show called San Francisco. I got the idea to try to shoot some pictures with the Holga that would be a rebuttal of the typical cheesy pictures that you see in gift shops. I would say that I had a breakthrough as soon as a got back the 1st roll of film and saw my results. I had asked the lab to push the film and the color saturation was great. I loved the whole look and the way your eye was drawn to the center of the frame where the focus is sharpest and I loved the vignetting that occurred. This began a project that took 3 years to complete with the culmination of my book 7 Squared, 49 Pictures of San Francisco.
RayKo: In your book, 7 Squared 49 Pictures of San Francisco, you use a Holga to shoot San Francisco and talk about the unexpected surprises and retro appearance it produces. Can you tell me more about how these qualities resonate with the subject matter youve shot?
JH: The most unexpected surprise that happened with that particular project was the way the black border came out. I had stuffed some bubble wrap in the empty spaces on the inside of the camera and then taped black cardboard on top of it to prevent any possible light leaks and when I got the first roll back, there was this uneven fuzzy border around the frame that was really unique. So I left it and hoped it would stay intact for the rest of the project (which it did). That, along with the intense color saturation of having the lab push the film gave it a sort of retro look that I was aiming for, similar to the look of a Polaroid photo. I challenged myself to shoot iconic pictures of San Francisco that would look different, quirky, taken from unusual angles. Some of the subject matter would only be recognized by locals such as the Whiz Burger but is iconic in its own right. San Francisco is a beloved city that prides itself on its independent quirkiness and anything goes tolerant attitude. So using a plastic camera that isnt quite perfect fits in with the whole vibe that exists here. And the square format is a statement in and of itself when photographing a city that is anything but square (except in geographical terms)!
RayKo: With the recent popularity of Instagram and other digital photography platforms that mimic plastic camera aesthetics, what elements of plastic camera photography do you feel still hold an edge over this digitization?
JH: Of course, Ive played around with Instagram and its really fun and it opens up a whole new world of creativity for people who had no experience with or even knew what a plastic camera was. But there are a number of reasons why you just cant beat the experience of using a real plastic camera. One of the big differences is the lack of immediate gratification or anticipation that comes when waiting for your film to be processed. When working with film, you cant just click away or apply a zillion different filters to it, and hope something good comes out of ityoure forced to creatively think about and try to visualize how you want your final image to appear. I generally look at my subject matter through the viewfinder at many varying angles before I decide on the one that looks right to me. There are also a number of ways to manipulate the camera to achieve customized effects that a generic iPhone
app cant do. Such as making a mask to produce a fuzzy border as I mentioned before or exploiting the lights leaks that can occur to splash unpredictable color streaks on your image. Your choice of film, time of day and processing can affect the way you final image comes out. You can experiment with double images, multiple images and overlapping images creating diptychs, triptychs and panoramas. You can create your own unique look that wont be quite like any other.
RayKo: What are you currently working on and where can people see you work?
JH: Currently Im working on a series that are nature based that Im shooting on land in the Sierra Foothills. Theres a beautiful creek on the property that runs into a river and the series is going to be abstract and mostly focused around the creek and the water. I regularly show my work at City Art Gallery in San Francisco and Im in The Marketplace
Lately, because Ive been shooting mostly color so Ive been using the digital lab a lot at RayKo, especially the film scanners
and digital printers
. But Im also working on a photogram series in black and white so Ive been using the wet darkroom
to tone the prints and the flatbed scanners to make a digital archive of them since theyre one of a kind. But that being said, Ive spent many hours in the B&W wet darkroom since I have and still shoot black and white with film.