Diana, Holga, and LOMO: Lo-Fi Toy Cameras

Cheap, Classic Film Cameras and Their Experimental Appeal

If you dig the retro, grainy, saturated look of the hipstamatic photo app for smart phones, you may be interested in the world of inexpensive, plastic medium-format film lo-fi cameras like the Holga or Diana F+. As well, photographers who want to loosen up creatively, or experiment with film might enjoy working with these lightweight, basic cameras. I obtained a Diana F+, and have enjoyed shooting some rolls of Kodak Portra 120 film around Portland, Maine.

Here's a brief run-down of some available toy cameras, and the emergence of lomography as a community and aesthetic.

LOMO & Lomography

LOMO LC-A shot by unknown LOMO enthusiast.

As I understand it, the LOMO LC-A started it all, and brought it all back. It's a Russian camera that some Austrians revived in the early nineties. They formed the Lomographic Society International, known broadly as Lomography. In their own words:

"Lomography is a globally-active organization dedicated to analogue, experimental and creative photography. With millions of followers and friends across the world, the concept of Lomography encompasses an interactive, vivid and sometimes even blurred and crazy way of life. Through our constantly expanding collection of innovative cameras, instant products, films, lenses & photographic accessories, we promote photography as an inventive approach to communicate, absorb and capture the world."

Holga

A Holga shot by Marky Ramone Go.

The Holga is the first toy camera I ever heard of. Despite sounding like a Scandinavian creation, the Holga was from China. Created by Lee Ting-mo in Hong Kong in 1981, it is largely responsible for the global swell of toy camera enthusiasts. The factory closed in 2015, and that is that. Luckily there are thousands to be found for sale, after its boom in the 2000s.

Diana

The Diana was also created in China, during the 1960s, and is now known as the Diana F+. Dianas are a little more pricey than Holgas, but they are lighter and smaller.

I own a Diana, and am very pleased with the balance it offers. Its photos have the lo-fi, bright appeal, but are often crisp and rich. The focus and colors are a little more accurate than with the Holga, but the corners are vignetted in the same manner.

It's a system camera that came with a flash, but I haven't used it. As with other toy cameras, it's all too easy to experiment with double-exposures — most of mine are accidental from forgetting to advance the frame. It’s my habit to not wind it, because of how I toss it in a backpack often, where it could fire).

It's possible to load film two different ways with a removable template. One results in 12 large square frames, the other produces 16 smaller square frames. I have yet to shoot a roll in the smaller 16 frame format.

 My gallery of successful Diana shots is below:

A Blind Sea Dog in Portland, Maine

Loretta and the Fishmonger

When I first moved to Portland, Maine in January 2014, I found part-time work on the Maine Wharf with the fishmonger George Parr and Upstream Trucking. George and his crew are a small outfit that deliver seafood to around a dozen of the most prestigious restaurants in town. Down on the waterfront, the spoils went to Loretta, a blind harbor seal, or sea dog, who always found her way back to our wharf for snacks.

Graceful and patient, Loretta would always find her snack before it drifted down too far. Usually George, his son Jimmy, the mountain Josh, or the butcher Niles would save leftovers of Arctic char for her - first hollering to get her attention, then flinging the fish rack to the water.

I grew up in the mountains down south, and the whole experience of working on the wharf with salty, hilarious characters, and delivering to bustling kitchens during winter in a hardscrabble old city like Portland was a vivid time. Loretta was a fascinating addition - she made everything special, and completes the memory in my mind's eye.

Too broke to buy a real camera, I photographed her with my iPhone 4. She was both a regular fixture, and a disappearing act, at times. We'd wonder how she'd go anywhere with purpose, lacking sight, and then make it back. She did, though, for several years.

I started working with ReVision Energy by February 2015, and haven't visited the crew much since. I heard she'd disappeared again for a long time, presumably forever.


bluefin-tuna-tail-upstream-trucking-portland-maine-wharf.jpg
upstream-trucking-portland-maine-fishmonger.jpg

Around that time I made friends with Kazeem Lawal, proprietor of Portland Trading Co., and I would stop by his store to enjoy his music taste and ever-changing selection of impeccable wares. I couldn't afford much in his store at the time, but Kazeem never minds visitors. He enjoys conversation, and one day was telling me about his idea to create a documentary series of Portland's "unsung" citizens.

I was quick to share my knowledge of George and Loretta. The story of an authentic fishmonger on the Portland waterfront who had a loyal, blind sea dog captivated Kazeem, so I said I'd make the necessary introductions (he didn't mind - he's been interviewed before).

I still visit with Kazeem from time to time, but never caught up with him about how the project went. He's busier than ever with his store, and travels regularly to seek new and different wares, but it turns out, the project got made - the first chapter, at least. Working with filmmaker Sam Brosnan, Kazeem interviewed George not long after I suggested his story, and the video they produced is very good - though Loretta isn't featured.

When I get home, I want to talk to Kazeem about his project again, to see if he wants to do more, and maybe take on another cook in the kitchen.

As for George, I should visit him too. His partner Dana Street (restaurant dynamo of Portland), has finally opened Scales. It's on the same wharf as Upstream and Bangs Island Mussels, where Three Sons Fishing used to be, and there may even be an Upstream retail space now. I'm still grateful for the all the fish guts, scallop sorting, and sub-zero boat work that keep me gainfully employed on the Maine Wharf when I was starting out in town.

Working on that wharf shaped my experience in Portland in ways I still notice, though my life has evolved beyond the circumstances of the 2014.

 

Long live Loretta!

Strategic Electrification and Solar Power

An Electrifying Concept that will Save the World

It won’t be long until we power everything in the world with wind, water and sun. This is strategic electrification, and its game-changing disruptions will help us stop carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency. The sooner we adopt this strategy of progress, the sooner we see the benefits.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7  SMA Sunny Tripower inverters  flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

The Fore Street Garage solar canopy in Portland, ME has 7 SMA Sunny Tripower inverters flying high. Inverters convert DC from the solar panels to AC for usage in homes and offices.

There’s hundreds of years’ worth of coal underground for us to burn, but it’s going to stay there. We no longer need it to make electricity.

Historically, grid operators have created electricity with problematic resources like coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy – but due to the emergence of renewables and electrification, the nature of the grid has begun to change.

Electricity is becoming cleaner at an impressive rate, and the time is right to electrify everything. Whether it comes from residential solar systems or our growing asset of utility-scale renewable energy systems, clean power will flow into an increasingly electrified world of devices.

Green Pastures

The beauty of strategic electrification is that as electricity becomes cleaner, so will everything we do with it. As utilities invest more into renewable energy infrastructure, electricity will steadily use less fossil fuel per kilowatt-hour of energy produced. If we power our grid with 100% renewable energy, we can nearly eliminate greenhouse gas emissions altogether by electrifying everything under the sun.

To bolster the penetration of renewables on our electric grid, and to see the biggest benefit of electrification, we need to electrify space heating, water heating, and, especially, transportation. With today’s heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and next-generation electric cars, we already have the solutions.

The Flexibility to Give

Not only will these devices be cleaner than their predecessors, they will also be more flexible, smarter. The modern grid will become smarter, too, and increased flexibility in generation, interconnection, storage and demand response around the grid will meet the challenges of a more electrified world.

The  Brunswick Landing microgrid  in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The Brunswick Landing microgrid in Maine will demonstrate the grid of the future, accomplished by embracing new technologies and attracting renewable energy businesses who can use the microgrid to develop their businesses and beta test new technology.

The variability of certain renewable resources like wind, solar or tidal energy presents a challenge to generating power smoothly at all hours, but properly mixing those different resources from around the grid will create the flexibility needed to respond to changes in demand and supply.

Though it is also possible to import electricity across network borders to help stabilize the grid, flexible interconnection with the growing amount of residential solar electricity in our own network is the better way to meet that need. Decentralizing our grid in this way allows for power to be consumed where it is produced, lowering rates for everybody.

Battery storage is often heralded as the best solution to variable power production, and it will indeed play a part, but it is a higher priority to integrate and balance available renewable energy resources. That said, batteries are an obvious way to help, especially as their costs drop and capacities grow.

Flexi-Watts

Load flexibility, or demand response, will have a critical part of balancing a renewable energy grid, as it is the most cost effective method. Demand response programs existed in the past to balance supply and demand by prompting large, industrial customers to lower their usage at certain times of day during periods of high power prices or when the reliability of the grid was threatened.

The  Fore Street Garage  in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

The Fore Street Garage in Portland is the first such solar canopy in Maine, and produces a quarter of a neighboring hotels electricity.

Now, the world of strategic electrification has opened an unlimited number of possibilities for demand response – the internet has rendered it no harder to turn off 1,000 water heaters than it is to turn off a paper mill.  Furthermore, a smart heat pump water heater will run when there is excess solar on the grid, but not when demand is high – basically performing the same function as a battery, but at maybe 2% of the cost, since all we buy is a switch telling it to run or not.

Our devices are increasingly able to communicate across the grid and operate only when most efficient. The “flexi-watts” they run on when there’s a surplus of renewable power will enable us to keep making the grid smarter. The grid is evolving beyond supplying electricity, into a network that makes the most of its distributed energy resources.

Much like the internet changed the way we participate with our media, it’s now changing the way we interact with our budding smart grid.

A Virtuous Cycle

Traditional energy efficiency metrics, that have been improving our electronics for years now, overlook the wide range of emissions efficiencies from electricity generation. Kilowatt-hours from different sources can have vastly different emissions profiles, ranging from as much as 2 lbs. of CO2 to almost nothing.

We need to improve emissions efficiency along with energy efficiency in our shift to an environmentally beneficial grid, by expanding renewable energy.

The worthy effort to reduce usage of dirty electricity through energy efficiency programs has been the focus of our policy and incentives, but when we consider the improved emissions of renewable energy, we see that it’s better to increase the amount of electricity we use when it comes from a clean source.

Pairing strategic electrification with a cleaner, smarter grid creates a beneficial exchange that inspires more electrification and greener electricity in a virtuous cycle.

On the Verge

We stand on the verge of massive opportunities through strategic electrification, but we must recognize that those opportunities won’t be achieved through an indiscriminate focus on reducing kilowatt-hours. It’s more important we clean up our kilowatt-hours, and use them.

If regulators and legislators fail to recognize the strengths of renewables and strategic electrification in a timely manner, there could be long-term negative impacts for us and the environment. Instead they can foster long-term growth, unlocking significant economic and societal benefits by getting to work on incentives and initiatives.

The sooner this is acted upon the sooner we can see all the ways a smarter, more flexible grid can increase reliability, security, sustainability, and open new opportunities for services and business. Coal was just the beginning of our electricity – and the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can  power critical loads during grid outage .

This home in Maine has solar panels paired with a Pika Islanding Inverter and Harbor smart battery and can power critical loads during grid outage.