What began as a challenge for students at Harrington College of Design in Chicago resulted in the first ever photograph of the earth from the stratosphere — 95,000 feet above the planet’s surface — using a toy Holga film camera.
Harrington College of Design students took the first ever photograph of the earth from the stratosphere - 95,000 feet above the planet's surface - using toy Holga film cameras enclosed in a cooler (pictured) suspended from a balloon. (Photo: Business Wire)
The student-led project was part of a 15-week Modern Alternative Photographic Practices class, culminating with the official balloon launch Aug. 29, 2013. The original concept was to send something up to the stratosphere to photograph the earth, but the idea of using a Holga came from a student. Today’s Holga is the current incarnation of a line of inexpensive, medium-format film cameras created in 1982. Costing about $25, it’s a molded plastic box with a fixed shutter, plastic lens and a simple viewfinder. There is no prism, no auto-focus and no motor drive, yet the Holga has developed a cult following because, given the right conditions, its simplicity can produce wonderful pictures.
Since each camera would only shoot a single image, the team strategically placed four Holgas in a repurposed cooler, with holes cut on each side so a lens was pointed out on opposite sides. The biggest challenge: How to trigger the four cameras while they floated in bitter temperatures twenty miles above the earth’s surface. The Harrington students tested several mechanisms before one developed a concept robust enough to trip all cameras in near-freezing space temperatures — an automobile power door lock actuator. For a trial launch, an old-fashioned alarm clock was gutted and used as the timing mechanism, but that was replaced with a more reliable modern photo timer for the second launch.