Diana Day

The 4th of August 2018 was #DianaDay, a hashtag driven day of photography coming out of social media.

I got into the idea of #DianaDay through my friend Denise, who I only know electronically. She lives in the USA and I live here in England, but we’ve formed a unique friendship online based on our mutual love of film photography, and it was she who said that the 4th August is DianaDay. Now what is a Diana? Well it’s a type of camera.

Here is a Diana, an actual genuine Diana, made in China in the 1960’s.

Basically a Diana is a really cheap camera. Everything is made of plastic, even the lens, which doesn’t make for a  great camera, in fact it’s well known for taking somewhat fuzzy photos.

From what I understand from reading online the Diana was the sort of thing that you got for free if you bought a certain amount of petrol or something. This basically wasn’t meant to be anything other than a really cheap, novelty camera. It wasn’t like anything being made by well known camera companies of the day, and the Diana and other variants went out there into the world and I guess for most people they were a disappointment – the plastic lens is blurry, they’re really badly made and are flimsy, and they are not precision instruments.

But for some people everything that was bad about them added up to a kind of cool aesthetic, and it was a photographer called Nancy Rexroth who used one for an exhibition and book called IOWA which ended up giving the camera some notoriety and cult status.

So on the 4th of August this year I took my Diana (which had 35mm film crammed in it), and a more modern Diana+ which a friend gifted me (loaded with old Portra 160NC), and set off to Boston Lincolnshire to take some pics (and go to my cousin’s 60th birthday). These shots are all from the Diana+.

There’s a juicy light leak on the left here and there’s also some overlap with the previous image, but this is the view from the window of a guest house where I was staying, opposite where I used to live in Boston, so this was quite a scene to see for me.

The next one was taken pointing the camera the other way out of the window. I like this – it’s definitely a rendering of the scene that I saw, but it has that dreamy impressionist thing going on that does make a toy camera worthwhile when you can get it to work.

This shot is really classically Diana as far as I can see; you have the vignetting, the dark shadows in the corners caused by the lens not being good enough to actually bend all the photons down onto the film, and there’s also the softer squidgy edges where the image is not as sharp as the centre (and the centre isn’t very sharp anyway). There’s something about the corner of the eye going on where this camera-that-is-so-wrong gets it right – check out how blurred out the traffic lights are for example.

This next shot is another classic Diana photo with the well-known blurring and the vignetting. The big church is St Botolph’s in Boston, or as it’s more well-known, Boston Stump, and it dominates the landscape in the town. I really like this image – it’s more like my own memories of the town now that I no longer live there, which is interesting to think about.

There are more photos from this trip; these and more details on the cameras are available in this video.

On reflection, #DianaDay was a great thing to do, so a big thank you to Denise for pushing it as much as she did and for encouraging me to get with it and join in.

I am genuinely inspired to get the Dianas back out and loaded with more film after seeing the results. It’s been a crazy summer for me and some of these shots hit me hard with their craziness too.

This crazy end of analogue is as fun as a water fight, it’s Jimi Hendrix with his Strat going into a Marshall, or radio Moscow floating in through the ether on medium wave. It’s a letter which you stood a glass of water on and which blurred the ink. It’s driving in the dark with the music up loud and the other cars passing by in a blur, and there’s an echo going on through all of this that just makes sense and shows me that what I do is worth doing, even if it is just for me.

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