Alastair Place, better known as alecpain on social media, is an advocate for 120 film and has a penchant for the trusty Holga cameras. He embraces all the creative possibilities that 120 film brings, creating pinholes, Holgaramas, double exposures and experimenting with various film types and color filters. In his spare time he runs @thedailyholga Instagram page. We talked to Alastair about this love for medium format photography and where it all began.
Hi Alastair, please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Alastair Place but I’m also known as Alec Pain (@alecpain) on Instagram. The name is an anagram of my Dad’s name and I started using it because I couldn’t get into my old Facebook account and it stuck. Most of my film friends now call me Alec which kind of gives me another life which I love.
I love shooting film – I do also shoot digital (I have an expensive but secondhand digital Leica which rarely gets out). I mainly shoot 120 but I do also shoot 35 mm and iPhone sometimes. I’m not too precious about what I shoot on as long as the image intrigues me. I run The Daily Holga on Instagram – and I post every day on there. I started it in February 2023 and have so far featured over 200 different “Holgueros” and 11 monthly “Artists in Residence”. I see the Holga as an artistic tool that creates some beautiful and stunning imagery. It’s been a pleasure to ask some of my heroes if they would like to be featured.
How did you get into shooting with film and specifically 120?
I shot film back in the 80s and late 90s before digital came along and like most people moved to a digital camera when they came along. I used to take photos on holidays mainly and they weren’t really very good. But I got interested in film and pinhole photography around 2018 when I finally moved jobs – to a place where I had more time to go out and shoot and where my colleague, Jason shot the most incredible street work in his spare time. He shoots digital but he has taught me so much over the last five years.
Pinhole was a disaster at first. I didn’t know what I was doing so I invested in a class with Martin Henson who taught me about how to properly expose my pictures, about contrast grading, about composition; but most importantly about taking my time. I’d seen his Holga work so bought myself one from eBay and have loved it ever since.
How would you describe your photography style?
I would guess that you might call it experimental but I also love street photography, self-portraiture and pinhole.
My main camera is probably the Holga 120 – N or GCFN – but I have 24 different Holgas now and have been enjoying collecting them and trying the different ones out. But I also love my Yashica Mat 124G and my pinholes – a Zero Image 2000, a Reality So Subtle 6x17f and several Mia pinhole cameras. I got the Yashica having borrowed one on a meet up with Andrea who makes MIA pinhole cameras and it’s a totally different experience to taking pictures with the Holga.
What are the main qualities of 120 that appeals to you and how do you make the medium work for you?
I guess that 120 appeals more to me than 35 mm because of its larger canvas - because of the Holgas ability to make art, to make “Holgaramas” to double expose and experiment. It’s also easier to finish a roll. I find the 24 or 36 exposures of a roll of 35 mm just too many shots. I end up wasting shots and as we know film can be expensive. I definitely find that having 12 exposures means I’m more careful with what I shoot, but also if I want to experiment then 12 exposures is easier to finish too.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to try 120 film for the first time?
I would probably advise them to buy a Holga or a Diana – or a camera where they don’t have to think about exposure or settings – and concentrate on composing their image. The Holga is a little magic box of tricks which somehow manages to expose even when you think you have no chance of getting anything out of the picture. If you can afford it – try a day course with someone like Martin – someone who is fantastic at passing their knowledge and love of the process to you and who will make you a better photographer/artist. It is worth the investment if you can find the right fit for you.