I was introduced to the Diana Camera in graduate school and have been obsessed with it ever since. My first roll of film was a revelation and produced images with an arresting, surrealistic quality. From that day, I became a devoted Diana fan and used the camera to photograph my other passionate interest, the American landscape.
As anyone who’s ever used one knows, Diana cameras are notoriously temperamental. Made entirely of plastic, the quality of the optics (if such a serious term can apply to a plastic lens) varies wildly from camera to camera, as does the shutter release and depth of field. Chromatic aberrations, uneven focus, and other optical distortions are commonplace. Aperture settings are pure guesswork. In short, it is nearly miraculous that any picture comes out at all.
Diana’s offer benefits, however, to offset their many faults. Besides the unique qualities of the photographs, there is the utter simplicity of the process. With practically no settings to adjust or technology to master, the Diana is nearly pure photography; eye and camera are almost one entity. The images they produce transform the recorded scenes into surrealistic remembrances – pictures that have the quality of dreams.
This technique has worked well with my subject matter. I photograph the landscape of the country – some natural but most man-made. A trip to Las Vegas several years ago was extraordinary. I had never encountered such a perfect merger of American invention and excess. The hubris of the city, with its around the world themes, fascinated me from the start. It is a uniquely American vision and grandiose architecture in the incongruous desert metropolis is an ideal subject for the Diana: the documentation of a plastic landscape with a plastic camera.
- Stephanie Knopp
“A plastic landscape with a plastic camera” is what visiting artist, Stephanie Knopp, wished to capture on her Diana camera in her Merion exhibit, “Welcome to Las Vegas.” Known as “Sin City,” Las Vegas provided for Ms. Knopp the perfect platform for the “merger of American invention and excess.” Using a Diana camera, she portrays the vibrancy and colorful nature of Las Vegas’ world famous replicas of structures such as The Statute of Liberty, The Eiffel Tower, and the sculpture of Caesar. Iconic pieces of art and architecture turned plastic or fake, Ms. Knopp connects these pieces to the plastic material of the Diana camera.
Originally sold as inexpensive novelty gifts, the Diana is a plastic-bodied box camera that uses 120 roll film and 35 mm film. The cameras take softly focused pictures that are noted to be similar to impressionistic photography. The Diana suffers some setbacks, two of which are light leaks and film advance issues. However, the low- quality plastic lens is what has drawn artists to the instrument. The lack of focus the camera produces slightly blurred images to provoke an almost “dreamlike” picture. For Ms. Knopp, this is what caught her attention in graduate school. After developing her first rolls of film and discovering the images’ “arresting, surrealistic quality”, she began to incorporate the camera into the process of photographing the American landscape.
“Welcome to Las Vegas” is an extensive, artistic view of a city that continues to draw the attention of millions across the globe. The exhibit exudes passion, color, and liveliness from an artist who truly loves and understands her craft and her subjects. Despite the blurry nature of Diana camera, Ms. Knopp has created a beautiful and focused array of images.
~ Aileen Brier ‘16
Gallery Exhibition Research Assistant
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