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Plastic cameras aren’t just toys for hipsters anymore

Plastic Fantastic is a show that’s needed to happen in San Diego for quite some time now.

I mean, if I see one more North Park hipster with a plastic Holga hanging around her neck, or one more Facebook update featuring someone’s photos taken by a smart-phone app that imitates the look of a toy camera, I may start violently vomiting up Polaroids one right after another until my head explodes. Not everyone can afford the best camera – it costs a lot, probably too much if you don’t do it by the Brit method. Still it’s not about the camera but the photo itself.

It’s time to step it up, move from quantity to quality and turn this trend into art.

The truth of the matter is, I actually really, really like the look of the photos produced by plastic cameras (or their digital, imitative counterparts) despite the somewhat annoying popularity of the trend. The light-leaked, screwy colored photos bring on an instant wave of nostalgia, taking me back to the days when you couldn’t walk behind a photographer and demand to see the photo she just snapped.

Patience. Surprise. Mistakes. These elements have been obliterated with the explosion of digital photography. But I’ll stop my rant here because what I think about plastic cameras and their byproducts isn’t important. What’s important is this interview I did with Joseph Bellows, the owner of a prestigious fine-art photography gallery in La Jolla by the same name.

Bellows is the curator behind the Plastic Fantastic show that’s opening at Subtext from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3.  I asked him a few questions over email and got his thoughts on the popularity of plastic cameras, his curatorial process and more:

1. Tell me what do you think about the resurgence in plastic cameras?

I’ve always been more concerned with the results than I have been with the equipment used when making a photograph. While I do appreciate technique when it come to printing, and feel the craft of making a print is very important, the lens and camera are the tools used by an artist. Just as the chisel and hammer are for a sculptor. I’ve always wondered why those that appreciate and collect fine art photography discuss cameras and lenses. Do we care which brushes are used by painters?

2. What kinds of alternative processes are represented in the show?

Unfortunately, I was unable to view the original prints when judging the work for Plastic Fantastic. I enjoy the various photographic processes, and would have liked seeing various techniques and processes. I judged the work by viewing jpegs only.

3. Tell me about your curatorial process? What were you looking for?

As I’m sure it is with anyone judging a photo show, my personal interests and experience have informed the decision-making process. I look for
interesting subject matter and good composition. If I were to have seen the original prints, I would have taken technique and presentation into
consideration as well.

4. How do you feel about all the smart-phone applications that attempt to mimic the looks and feel of plastic-camera photography and alternative processes?

Good question. I’ll have to think about this a bit more as it’s news to me. My initial reaction is that it’s clever, but not authentic. Possibly more like a reproduction than an original. When it comes to producing original works of art, why not use the advances in digital technology to create new techniques and effects, and not mimic others. Sounds like a fun application, though.