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Holga Fever Strikes Photographer

Michelle Bates Says She Doesn't Expect to Recover

-from "Alternate View", published in June 1997 by the Maine Photographic Workshops

While shooting moonshadow pictures in Yosemite one evening, a friend told Michelle Bates that she was having too much fun to be a professional photographer. Work should be dull! So far, however, the Seattle-based photographer has opted to ignore the advice recommending other career opportunities, choosing instead the laughter and giddiness her current job affords.

Part of Bates' current euphoria comes from using her Holga. "I caught Holga fever six years ago as a work-study student at the Maine Photographic Workshops," she says. Bates, who had just finished an undergraduate science degree, received two photography workshops as a graduation gift from her parents, and, as happens on occasion, they changed her life. "I was clueless when I started," she admits, but thanks to the combination of one-on-one guidance, the intense and supportive workshop atmosphere, and assignments using the Holga, Bates quickly caught on, even cleverly reconstructing the camera's negative carrier for more precision.

After her summer adventure, however, Bates still did not realize the significance of her Holga's potential. "As I was traveling in Israel, I was tracked down by an art director in New York who wanted to use one of my Holga pictures for a CD cover for god's child, a band on the Warner Bros. Quest label," she remembers. "That was back when I didn't know what an invoice was!"

The art director's interest in her work made Bates feel like a legitimate photographer, and when she returned to the states, she took that sensibility to the International Center of Photography and suggested that they host a Holga show. "This all gave me the idea that perhaps the Holga and I could go somewhere together," says Bates. Since then, she's shown her Holga shots in many galleries, with shows in Seattle, Dallas, Tel Aviv, and the recent toy camera show in Hayward, California. She has also published photos in myriad newspapers and magazines and readily uses her Holga for commercial assignments.

In her personal work, Bates likes to find off-beat Americana. "I often take roadtrips and just stop at those kitschy tourist places," she says. Fairs are another favorite venue. "I love making pictures that make people laugh."

Bates also likes the Holga's tendency to produce pictures that are focused in the center but soft around the edges. "It lends a feeling of respect to your subject," she says. "Your eye is always led to the center. Also, the way the Holga sees is the way people see -- it replicates our vision." Bates also lists the camera's depth of field ("I'm always amazed!") and its immediacy as further assets. "With the Holga, there's nothing to adjust -- you just shoot spontaneously, without thinking."


All images ©Michelle Bates Photography.
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