my travels with diana
by mark sink
To sum this up this funny camera and her sisters has become far-reaching. Is it pop or a serious art movement? Is it a gimmick or a serious tool? Is it in a round of dismissal by the purists similar to the pictorialists being rubbed out by Newhall and Adams? I have struggled with negative perceptions of work by the camera throughout my career and to this day I still struggle including my own critical retrospection.
As most now know the Diana and her relatives to date have an immense cult following. I came in unknowingly well after the first wave peaked in the early 80s. Since then the movement has turned into a tidal wave. Over the last few years there has been dozens of toy camera exhibitions. Some of the shows I participated in included the Hayward Arts Center in California that included a catalog, the Benham Gallery in Seattle that included works shops and Plastic Fantastic at E3 in NYC that has a wonderful web site. Most recently I was a juror for the terribly named Krappy Kamera show where I combed through thousands of stunningly beautiful submissions.
It is a very romantic tool. The Camera can be a tool to become an instant pictorialist. Many successful toy camera users dont like to be associated with the romance of the pictorialist photographers that once were and they like to use the camera with a modern vision. Nancy Burson is one great example Nancy Rexroth is another. Many use it for very personal visions and ideas and use a standard camera for most of they're other work. There are countless success stories with users of this tool. But through the decades I am finding I have refined my eye and become much more selective of what I consider successful.
You can not make a bad picture; the camera is too easy. Sadly many use it because they cant make a good picture with glass so they depend on the effects the plastic creates.it can often make very cute weak pictures look serious a seemingly much stronger. I see a dangerous similarity with Polaroid transfer. It's too easy to be arty; the majority of work I see is often empty of vision, personal style and craft. It started as a teaching tool but has spread into the a dangerous realm of interesting gimmickry with little previsualized concept among young photographers.
Ansel Adams once said most people have sharp lens but fuzzy concepts.
I won a Kodak Images in Silver Award in 1979 with images made by my first Diana. In a forgotten old box I found a Diana I used when I was a child in the 1960s inside was undeveloped the images I took of my mother from 15 years previous and me 4-ft shorter..It changed my life at least my direction in art school..I thought I had found a unique vision. I thought that it was the golden door. I soon was cut to size when a critic then told me.." oh the Diana ...how passe , lots of people have used the Diana" she told me to get the catalog from Friends of Photography.The Diana Show...by David Featherstone...My bubble was burst.. It's a great catalog and Featherstones well-researched essay told the story of the camera and its beginnings. There I learned of Nancy Rexroths book Iowa and Mark Schwartzs project of sending hundreds of cameras around to artists to shoot and return. These projects have proven to be some the earliest documents on record.
I have had a long, all most 20 year relationship with Diana.She was with me through my period at Warhols Factory (even though Andy hated the camera)...She got me into Vogue and Details and my first solo show in NYC in 86 -"Twelve Nudes and a Gargoyle-" The Diana was a huge hit in South America..the reverse technology movement never hit there the way it swept through the US, I guess they are struggling to get technology not discard it.. They seemed shocked and surprised with the notion that one can become successful in NYC using a toy camera.
As of recent I have tired of landscapes and single objects with Diana instead I am doing the historical swing back to the f64 world and I am on the road with larger formats, but still Diana is my camera of choice with nudes and fantasy staged work. I enjoy putting the plastic lens on new bodies, one of the best is sticking it on my old 4x5 Speed Graphic..My rebel Diana days are over. I have tired from getting in trouble from flashing the Diana in commercial settings... Smugness and need to flaunt the backwardness of plastic tools are over. Clients and art directors don't get the joke a lot of times, especially when they are being charged a large amount of money for the shoot...so now I generally have the blad on the tripod and sneak Diana in quietly.
My new projects involve making a sharp glass lensed photo but the content being Diana like, romantic and dreamy.... this has been much tougher. I also am inspired by my friend Adam Fuss with making a beautiful image using no camera at all.
The Diana is the greatest romantic Its a great wedding camera. Any time your at any great wonder of the world and you dont have the load of gear or the time to shoot it better than a local postcard ....use Diana...they will be treasures and your 35mms will stay in the vacation tray.
Below is a wonderful statement on the Diana.
--Hirsch, Robert, Photographic Possibilities, Boston: Focal Press, 1991,
"The Diana questions many photographic axioms, such as "a photograph must be sharp," "a photograph must have maximum detail," and "a photograph must possess a complete range of tones to be considered good." The Diana challenges the photographer to see beyond the equipment and into the image.
"This camera also is easy to use. There is no need to use a light meter or to calculate shutter speeds and f-stops.
"Finally, the Diana summons up the Dadaist traditions of chance, surprise, and a willingness to see what can happen. This lack of control can free you from worrying about doing the "right" thing and always being "correct." Since the Diana is a toy, it allows you to look and react to the world with the simplicity and playfulness of a child."
A short list of my working collection of toy cameras.
Anny, Arrow, Arrow Flash, Asiana, Banier, Banner, Colorflash Deluxe, Debonair, Diana, Diana Deluxe, Diana F, Dionne F2, Dories, Flocon RF, Hi-Flash, Justen, Lina, Lina S, Mark L, MegoMatic, Merit, Mirage, Panax, Photon 120, Pioneer, Raleigh, Reliance, Rosko, Rover,See, Shakeys, Stellar, Stellar Flash, Tina, Traceflex, Tru-View, Valiant, Windsor, Zip, Zodiac.
The Diana camera was made in the 60s by the Great Wall Plastic Factory of Hong Kong..The importer, Power Sales Company of Willow Grove Penn. sold the Diana only by the case -144 cameras- at about 50 cents a camera.
Other Favorite toys..Most all from the thrift store and most recently e-bay on the internet.
Ansco panoramic, Action Sampler, Holga,,Sun Pet with matching yellow sun glasses,Doris,Bazooka,,Hulk Holgin,Bugs Bunny,Boy,Baby Brownie,Imperial Girl Scout, Corina, Lomos Monark, The whole early Kodak line..the 1920s and 30s Deco models are my favorites.
My Diana image artist statement:
The Diana Camera is a simple toy camera.
It is a tool to make art that is a reaction against the refined glass optics that control the way that we see the world around us,other than through our own eyes. Standard photographs are to sharp,too real , even super real . I feel the world isnt that way, and you dont see or remember it that way at least I dont.
I am having a wonderful love affair exploring with Diana .
Because she is plastic ,she is very light and easy to take everywhere . Her looks are very non-offensive which allows one to be much more at ease with a Diana taking pictures rather than a big heavy technical marvel that looks like the military built.
I believe the most beautiful things in the world are the most simple. I get great satisfaction in producing such romantic , soft, yet powerful images with a camera that costs close to nothing.