At New York’s West Village Lomography store lo-fi enthusiasts can pick up a Diana Deluxe Kit for $248. The Kit comes with a flash, five different lenses and a variety of other Diana accessories. If that much gear for a toy seems excessive, there is the tiny 35mm Diana Mini for $59, unless you want to gold plated edition with a flash—which you probably do—that plastic camera will run you $139.
The cult of the toy camera is obviously alive and well, but Lomography’s specialty Diana cams are just the tip of the iceberg. The world of toy cameras is vast and filled with strange novelties shaped like Mickey Mouses’ head, fast food items and fruit covered cows.
Camera Crazy, a new book written by Christopher D. Salyers and Buzz Poole, celebrates the legacy of these plastic boxes and their fixed focus lenses, single shutter speeds and unpredictable shooting characteristics.
“Toy cameras are a fascinating subset,” says Salyers, who began collecting Holgas while he was still in high school. “It’s this niche of the photography world that just hasn’t really seen its true popularity yet.”
Camera Crazy is both a chronicle of some of the quirkiest cameras ever made—many of which are part of Salyers’ personal collection—and a history of sorts, focused on how photography transitioned from an expensive professional endeavor to an accessible hobby for the everyman.
“George Eastman releasing the Brownie made [photography] something that was relatively inexpensive, that was fun, that wasn’t about going to a portrait studio and sitting still for three hours,” says Poole. “Right there you have this shift in photography.”
Although the book features a pretty incredible line up of these cameras, both Salyers and Poole stressed that it was important to make Camera Crazy more than that. Pictures taken using the toy cameras, essays and interviews with the founders of Holga, Lomography and Impossible Project round out the photographs of the cameras.
“We have this amazing collection of objects that are noteworthy unto themselves, that in some cases are highly collectable,” says Poole. “But then the subtext of really making photography popular … the marketing of a medium, and there is so much to be said for that.”
Salyers estimates his personal collection of toy cameras is somewhere in the 100s these days, the majority of them tracked down at flea markets, yard sales and eBay. The bulk of his collection is also featured in the book. While cameras like the Mick-a-Matic, The Snoopy-Matic or the Indiana Jones camera from Spain are all quite rare, Salyers says most of the toys aren’t worth more than a few 100 dollars in mint condition. “There just isn’t a huge collector market for them,” he says.
That isn’t to say there aren’t white whales in the toy camera-collecting world. “The cow camera was only released in Italy and in Australia. There were under 5,000,” Salyers says, describing the camera that was the most difficult to find. “It was just a mail in promo thing for yogurt. It’s very cute and it is one of my favorites.”
Camera Crazy will be available on Oct. 25 through Prestel. Pre-order the book here.