Toy cameras aren’t necessarily toys. Sure, a number of them were originally designed for children, boasting vibrant colors and made completely out of plastic, but these suckers are, in fact, fully functional cameras with few or no controls, that create photographs with some, dare I say, unique characteristics. With digital photography and programs like Photoshop and Instagram becoming fashionable, it’s become so much easier to produce perfect shots. Pretty much anyone with a DSLR these days, is a ‘photographer’. But there are many photography enthusiasts out there who don’t necessarily want ‘perfect shots’.
Enter the toy camera. The simple, no-frills lenses mounted on these toy cameras are abounding with all sorts of optical aberrations — light leaks, severe vignetting, blur, uneven sharpness across the frame, color that shows that things are definitely not right in the lenses’ color capture. And, perhaps ironically, this is precisely why so many photographers, even some professionals, are fascinated with toy cameras. Point, shoot and take a chance. Sometimes you succeed with a shot that stuns; or one that doesn’t. Perfection isn’t on the menu.
“I think one of the things that is happening as the world continues to move towards more digital, artists are looking for a better way to express themselves and kind of develop a look that is more unique to them, which is harder to do with a digital camera,” explains director of the Nave Gallery and Nave Annex in Somerville, Susan Berstler. “A lot of people that are using DSLRs just keep them on automatic, so of course their pictures are going to look like everyone else’s.”
Berstler, who has long been heavily involved with ARTSomerville, not to mention her extensive career as a visual artist and photographer, will bring back The Somerville Toy Camera Festival for a second year with opening receptions at galleries all over the city this weekend. Berstler and Co. are definitely not strangers to the alternative process, film directed, toy camera arena, having hosted smaller film-based events in the past and for several years, but the now annual Somerville Toy Camera Festival proves an entirely new type of photography exhibition curating alternative process, film, and toy camera photography from artists from 7 countries and 26 states, and at five different galleries throughout Somerville.
“It’s going to be three days of total toy camera fun,” says Berstler. “Our jurors, Meg Birnbaum and Lee Kilpatrick, curated an amazing roster of artists and toy camera photographers from around the world, not to mention we have toy camera aficionado Michelle Bates, who wrote the critical textbook on plastic cameras, doing a workshop, hosting a free lecture talk, and sticking around for a book signing.”
The roots of Somerville’s first every festival dedicated specifically to toy camera photography can be traced back to Berstler’s dream of her and her photography buddies taking over the entire city with their alternative process images.
“A couple years ago, I just started thinking how cool it would be to have an event where a number of galleries could work together and host one huge event,” says Berstler. “Last year was the festival’s first year and it was at the two Nave Gallery spaces and the Washington Street Gallery. This year when I started thinking about it, I knew I really wanted to get Brickbottom Gallery involved.”
With over 100 artists exhibiting photography – including three images from students from a local high school in Wellesley – the work being exhibited is all over the place. “Our jurors attempted to kind of group things according to gallery, so you’ll see one of the galleries will be showing mostly botany and architecture shots, whereas another will focus mainly on people as subjects and images that have a sort of sweetness to them,” says Berstler.
And what better place to hold such a funky festival than Boston’s artistic mecca, Somerville.
“The art scene in Somerville is just amazing and lends itself so well to a festival like this,” says Berstler. “I can run a gallery here and know all the other people that run galleries here. There’s a certain type of networking that goes on here in Somerville that gives way to collaboration with other artists and gallery directors. It’s kind of unusual for galleries to work together like this, but here in Somerville it’s always very clear that it’s a good idea to work together.”