One man's trash, as the saying goes, is another man's treasure.
Don't worry, I'm not about to critique Monica Lewinsky's return to TV. Rather, I'm thinking of the phenomenon of toy-camera photography, a cult pursuit the fruits of which are currently on display in two different local art exhibits: Toy Camera Visions, viewed through May 4 at Crealdé School of Art, and Alternative Processes: Photography, which begins a three-week run Friday, March 15, at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts.
Both shows feature images generated by some of the cheapest, least professional equipment in photographic history. Crealdé instructor John Clark, whose work is included in the school's "Toy Camera Visions," is merely one modern-day devotee of cameras like the Diana, a promotional model that was manufactured in the 1960s by the Great Wall Plastic Factory of Kowloon, Hong Kong, and sold here at a low, low price of 75 cents.
"They were just garbage," Clark says in obvious admiration. "They had lumps of plastic for the lens."
So why use them for anything save a doorstop? Because, he explains, they are capable of producing some arresting photographs. "Nostalgic" and "dreamlike" are two words Clark uses to describe the soft-edged pictures taken by the Diana and its Eastern European relative, the Holga -- which was marketed in the 1980s after its now-discontinued predecessor began to command big bucks on the collector's market.
Clark's own fascination with cheapie photo-craft began 10 years ago, when he was merely a student at Crealdé. His teacher, Linda Carpenter, accidentally brought in a photograph she had shot with a Diana, and one look at it set Clark off on an extended quest to find a little plastic beauty of his own. But it wasn't until two years ago that good fortune (and some yard-sale-scouring friends) gifted him with three Dianas. Now, he estimates, he shoots more pictures with the Hong Kong specials than with his expensive, 35 mm equipment. That must be why he can frequently be seen carrying a roll of black electrician's tape.
"You have to be careful to make sure they don't fall apart," he says. "And you have to put a wedge of paper in the camera to serve as a spring."
According to Clark, the toy-camera movement constitutes a philosophical revolt against the prevailing, high-tech wisdom that expensive equipment and film are prerequisites for artistic merit. Also, it's just good exercise.
"Learning to work with the limitations of the toy camera has allowed me to work at a much higher level with my sophisticated equipment," he says.
In the current Crealdé show, Clark's work shares space with that of his old mentor, Linda Carpenter. Included is the Carpenter piece that started it all for his former student: a photograph of a pond with some aquatic plants growing in it.
Though Clark also has images in the Mount Dora exhibit, none of them is of the toy-camera variety: To reinforce the show's wider theme of "alternative" photographic processes, Clark has contributed physically altered Polaroids and photos made from chemically altered negatives. The show's toy-derived component is supplied solely by fellow enthusiast Lisa Kedro Jennings, who presents selections from her series "Holga Forays."
"Lisa wanted her toy-camera photography in the show," Clark explains, good-naturedly. "And since she organized the show, I'm OK with that."
I like it when photographers play nice. It means that no one has to take their toys away.
A Creative accounting
I had a tantalizing look last week at the new Creative Stages education/performance center that's about to open in west Winter Park. Though plenty of work remains to be done (my visit coincided with a delivery of lumber), it was possible to envision good things ahead. Creative Stages certainly has space to burn, with six classrooms and three digital-editing suites situated on the 10,500-square-foot premises. The largest classroom is being built up into a 150-seat, black-box theater (the Cherry Street Theatre is the name that's being mulled) that will be available to area troupes. Free parking for 60 vehicles should help to make this space a serious option for Orlando's many vagabond performing companies.
The venue's administrative staff is thinking and talking big, with the March 24 kickoff of classes described as the tip of an educational iceberg that will encompass courses and workshops in theater, film, TV, dance, digital media and related disciplines. Other ideas being bandied about include monthly forums for independent filmmakers and the in-house production of one "commercial, viable" 35 mm feature film each year.
Pie in the sky? It all depends on who's doing the baking. So far, I've been impressed with the business and artistic savvy of Creative Stages' principals, including Jim Bruner (a banking-industry veteran who once served on the board of the Civic Theatres of Central Florida) and Colin George (an Australian-born real estate broker and former professional golfer).
"There's nothing stopping us," George assesses, and his expectations of longevity are justified in at least one respect: He owns, not leases, the $1 million building.
The opening of Spirit Daddy Productions' Steel Magnolias at iMPACTE! Productions has been delayed to March 22. (There's a preview performance the preceding evening.) A role had to be recast after one actress dropped out due to "health-related circumstances." This seems to be the "in" theatrical hobgoblin this season: The run of The Lonesome West at Zoë & Company was postponed by two weeks after actor Don Fowler popped his knee out of its socket on opening night. The show is again up and running (hopefully, not into any furniture), with performances to continue until March 23.
Everyone's a critic: Forget Ebert and Roeper. The best film-related commentary I heard last month came from a couple I encountered perusing the marquee at the Park Eleven discount theater.
She: I wanna see "Training Day," and I wanna see "Behind the Lines" [sic], and I wanna see "The Disturbance" [sic again].
He: I wanna see my skinny white ass crossin' the Georgia state line.
Stymied? Me, too. But I'll buy the DVD if it has bonus footage.