Plastic cameras reveal the cheap and cheerful

Never underestimate the power and pleasures of a cheap toy camera. The humble hunks of plastic have a magic, mystery and whimsy that cannot be duplicated, not even by tech-savvy iPhone app impersonators like the Hipstamatic.

RayKo Photo Center’s fifth annual International Juried Plastic Camera Show, on view through March 6, celebrates the versatility of the medium with impressive results.

A white wedding dress rests on a faceless mannequin, posed in a storefront window. Other dresses, hangers and shop miscellany float across the photo like ghosts, with the city street reflected in the glass. Though it looks as if it could be by pioneering early-20th-century photographer Eugene Atget, Jacqueline Walters of San Francisco took the photo with a Holga, a camera invented in the early 1980s.

The Holga and its big sister, the Diana, seem to be the most favored cameras in the show, perhaps because an actual vintage camera is no longer required. Reproductions of these and other plastic toy cameras are widely available, continuing the lineage of their pleasantly fickle results.

Part of the fetishistic appeal of cheaply manufactured cameras lies in the complete uniqueness of each image. No two pictures are alike, and the results are unpredictable. The bare-bones plastic manufacturing is far from airtight, often allowing light to access the pre-developed film.

Gimmicks can overpower artistry, but that is not the case in this show. Countless captivating images are obvious nods to the greats of photography.

Many submissions, with images of abandoned motels, lone muscle cars and fading facades of everyday America, recall the 20th-century Americana of Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander.

Daniel Grant’s suggestive framing of a pair of female legs, in stockings and suspenders, recalls the slick, seductive styling of Guy Bourdin.

Influences may abound, but the artists still sing as fresh voices. From click to print, the photographers clearly care about craft and embrace the playfulness at the heart of the low-tech medium, making for an eclectic but high-quality sample of contemporary work.


International Juried Plastic Camera Show

Where: RayKo Photo Center, 428 Third St., San Francisco

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; show closes March 4


Contact: (415) 495-3773,

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