Lomography is the art of photography amateurs who capture life here and now, ignoring the traditional approaches to their trade
At first glance, lomography – the art of casual, constant and intuitive photography without much regard for quality and often even the result – may seem to be cut out for the lazy. The simple task of pressing a button, sometimes even without looking in the viewfinder, does not require any professional training or even understanding of photography basics. But lo and behold, today lomography is a trend attracting over one million people across the world who invest hours of time and creative, organizational, physical and mental efforts into their craft. Take a closer look at the movement and the activity of lomography societies in more than 70 countries and the numerous festivals, master classes, congresses and parties. Also consider that most lomography aficionados can develop photos at home and you will find that they are in fact neither lazy nor unprofessional. They may be relaxed and enthused, convention-free and carefree "professional amateurs" in hunting after what life is here and now.
T ALL STARTED ACCIDENTALLY
In 1984, LOMO, a Leningrad-based company, manufactured a simple portable analog camera – LOMO LC-A Compact Automat – for the benefit of the Soviet masses. This model is said to be a copy of a Japanese COSINA CX-2 which was presented to a deputy head of the Soviet Defense Industry Ministry at a photo fair in Cologne. Though this was something of a starting point, the real history of lomography began later when two Vienna students, Matthias Fiegl and Wolfgang Stranzinger, purchased a LOMO camera in Prague for US $12.
The two friends had a great time in the Czech capital as they took endless shots with their funny and already slightly outdated camera. They shot everything they saw without even trying to look into the viewfinder. Back in Vienna, they continued the fun on the roof of a student hospital. When they finally developed film and printed the photos, a new concept for contemporary photography revealed itself.
Strange and spontaneous, these photos with their surprising focus, often inadequate colors and flare spots created an impression of the moment and ordinary, diverse life being captured. The unexpected visual effects, which would be condemned as flaws by any orthodox professional, gave lomography claim to be a new vision of the world and photography and thus infused with postmodernist artistic value.
Stunned, the young men made a panel of their photos, popularized their idea among their friends and began to contact other LOMO users. Next they decided to exhibit the casual shots taken with their cameras. Naturally, the two students had no money for their project. So they registered an official organization and immediately applied to the Vienna municipal authorities for financial assistance. They received the funding, and lomography was born in 1991.
After the exhibit, the Austrian duo and their LOMO friends continued their efforts. Today the number of active LOMO users is calculated in the millions and includes not only students and people just trying to be hip, but also serious aficionados and even celebrities like Mobi, Elijah Wood and Brad Pitt. At one point, a lomography camera was the only camera Bill Clinton allowed for use in the White House.
What has made this happen? The Vienna headquarters has done a professional job in popularizing the art and coordinating the activities of its branches across the world. People with funny-looking cameras and a special vision of photography are a fix at the world’s most prestigious exhibits and forums. They actively cooperate with producers of cameras and other photo products, generating additional demand and helping realize its potential. Members of lomographic associations can always turn to local branches for all kinds of information – from general tips to specific information about cameras and their operation, film, development, printing and so on. The site of the International Lomographic Society is brimming over with content; it is functional, practical and dynamic. Many serious business companies or cultural institutions would envy such an efficient online presence.
TREND AND MARKET
After the first lomo exhibit in Vienna, the energetic friends, Fiegl and Stranzinger, searched out LOMO cameras and secretly imported them from the Eastern Bloc countries to be sold to anyone interested, if not infected, with the new idea at US $100 apiece. In 1994, two international exhibits – lomo walls composed of thousands of photos – opened in Moscow and New York at the same time. Lomography was quickly gaining popularity, and its fans across the world were worried about where they could buy the wonderful cameras – LOMO production lasted only a short while and discontinued long ago. Eventually, the Lomographic Association sent an official letter to the Leningrad Optical Mechanical Amalgamation and became the exclusive distributor of LOMO cameras outside the former Soviet Union.
The photo market could not fail to react to the powerful trend and the LOMO LC-A camera quickly lost its monopoly. Today there is a number of models that address the need of potential users to make unusual, spontaneous, unnatural photos and their interest in surprising transformations of realities and unpredictable results. Packaged in bright cases, mechanical analog cameras offer the entire gamut of tricks: several lenses that shoot one after another and split frames into parts to capture stages of motion, wide-angle and panoramic lenses, fisheye lenses and so on. Add to this, the most incredible color filters, color flashes and any accessories that can add pizzaz to a shot.
The only unbreakable law of lomography (shooting only on film) was many times debated by members of lomographic societies across the world until it was finally expressed in the 2008 slogan “The future is analog.” The Indian industrial designer Saikat Biswas challenged it idea and developed the concept of a digital version of the Holga camera, one of the most popular models for lomography (and the one permitted by Clinton for use in the White House), but the concept is still just a concept, because installing a wide-format matrix on a pocket camera for “shooting from the hip” would make it worth its weight in gold. Meanwhile, lomographers continue to shoot on film and enjoy life.
Love&Motion – this is how the Lomographic Society interprets LOMO. This best captures the portrait of an average lomographer – a carefree person who is open to new, surprising things and is able to see or find creativity in just about anything. Lomographers shoot “from the hip” (over the shoulder or head, from around the corner or from under the knee) without selecting scenes, cropping photos, caring about exposure or thinking about the principles of photo shooting.
Ignoring the traditional approaches to photography, they are happy to use film past its expiry date and with the wrong color rendering, eagerly experiment with development and printing, and play with exposition. The manual mode permits the user to leave the shutter open for an hour or a week to capture in one frame everything that has passed in front of the lens. Global lomo movements unite people around the world. For example, in the LOMO Globe project, every participant takes a photo of their home. In this way, the map of the world is slowly emerging from a sea of photos. Cameras can be exchanged by mail: a lomographer shoots in their country and mails the camera to a different continent. There another user shoots more on the same film and sends it on. Eventually, the owner gets their camera back with film containing superimposed images from around the world.
Lomo walls are put up as parts of exhibits, festivals and forums, for good reason or without it. Photos are collected from all corners of the planet. Over 100,000 very diverse photos can fit onto one such wall.
Practical, simple and fun, lomography unwittingly challenges professional photography. Some of the casually taken shots match the conceptual depth and quality of world-level photographic masterpieces or commercial photo printing carefully designed by market colleges and copywriters. To paraphrase Susan Zontag, who wrote that everything in the world exists only to end in a photo, photography exists only to eventually end in lomography.
THE TEN RULES OF LOMOGRAPHY
1. Take your camera everywhere you go.
2. Use it any time – day and night.
3. Lomography does not interfere with life, it is part of it.
4. Try the shot from the hip
5. Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible.
6. Don't think! Just Shoot
7. Be fast
8. You don't have to know beforehand what you captured on film.
9. Afterwards either.
10. Don't worry about any rules.
Although Ukraine does not have its own lomographic society yet, film producer Anna Bila and painter Dmytro Kostyrko organized Ukraine’s First International Lomography Festival which took place in the Lavra Gallery on May 13-15.
LOMOfest was attended by lomographers from many countries, and the jury featured world-known photographers.