courtesy photoLess is more: “San Fernando Valley

courtesy photoLess is more: “San Fernando Valley

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,

artsbooksentertainmentFine ArtsRayKo Photo Center

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Second grader Genesis Ulloa leads students in an after-school community hub in a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF parents face school year with hope, trepidation and concern

‘Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it’

Health care workers in the intensive care unit at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died. Even in California, a state with a coronavirus vaccination rate well above average, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. (Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times)
Why COVID took off in California, again

‘The good news is: The vaccines are working’

Lake Oroville stood at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
A kayaker on the water at Lake Oroville, which stands at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Oroville, Calif. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
Facing ‘dire water shortages,’ California bans Delta pumping

By Rachel Becker CalMatters In an aggressive move to address “immediate and… Continue reading

Most Read