About That Lomography Thing

Posted 2011.07.17 17.50 in Photography, Pointless Blather by Stephanie

As I promised earlier, this will be a post about that Lomography thing. I’ve mentioned it in the past and on re-reading, I know I sound somewhat negative about it. Really I think my stance is mixed – there are things I agree with, and things I don’t.

Before I get too far into this, for folks who haven’t heard the term before, here is the Lomography About page. That is a bit of an introduction.

For the TL;DR crowd, here’s a quick summary: Lomography is about analogue (aka film) photography, it is about embracing and celebrating funky results and surprises, and having fun with your camera rather than getting hung-up on achieving technically perfect images.

Intentional Double Exposure

And in fact, that is what I like about it. When I painted, I did mostly abstract work, and tried to do some surreal work. My feeling was that it was more important to have fun with the media and explore / experiment with it in non-traditional ways, rather than worrying too much about an accurate recreation of a realistic image. Or put it this way – good reliable cameras have been around for 50 years, so why waste time trying to paint like a photograph? Use the paint and canvas to have fun and do things you can’t do with a camera.

That same argument I believe can be applied to analogue / film photography: reliable, high-quality digital cameras are now almost ubiqutous, so why waste time trying to get 100% perfect results with old analogue film and chemistry? Instead, just have fun with the film, the light, the chemistry. Experiment and be creative and see what happens.

Clearly, this is an area where Lomography and I are in agreement. There is at least as much fun and enjoyment to be had in the process of doing and creating, as there is in the having and viewing afterwards. The Lomography folks have gone a lot further in defining this than I ever did of course, and have even defined a set of ten “golden rules” to apply.

Cross-Processing for Wierd Colours

How the Lomography ‘movement’ began is also documented on their site. The short version is, a pair of Austrian marketing students were vacationing in Eastern Europe, and came across a cheap Soviet camera called the Lomo LC-A. This was a strange little camera that produced strange results – the Austrians liked the results though, as did their friends, and so began Lomography.

And this is where I start to get mixed feelings. I think the key point there is that these were marketing students. If I were their professor, I’d give them an A+. They’ve made a mediocre Soviet-era camera into the key symbol of a huge “hipster” movement – and probably made themselves quite rich along the way(*). See, they don’t just promote the ideals and ‘philosophy’ of playful analogue photography, they are also in the businesss of making and selling the same cameras and film that their ‘movement’ promotes.

(* I don’t have a problem with folks getting themselves rich – more power to them, for seeing an opportunity and being able to capitalize on it.)

Indeed, they were able to secure the worldwide distribution rights to the LC-A, which then saw its street-price go from about $30, to around $250 now for a new one. A used one in average condition can fetch over $125 on auction websites. And this is my main beef with them – they promote analogue photography for its accidents and unexpected results, then they sell poorly made plastic cameras with intentional defects, at absolute top-dollar prices.

For a fairly neutral take, here is what the folks at Camera-Wiki.org have to say about the Lomography Society International. For a harsher opinion, here’s an article by Alfred Klomp titled Why I Don’t Like Lomography. I have to say, that Mr. Klomp has summed up better than I, the negative feelings I have towards the ‘movement’. To paraphrase Alfred Klomp, Lomography is an “exclusive” club that everybody can join – all you have to do is buy one of their terribly-overpriced cameras, and you’re in.

The LC-A+ Camera

It isn’t just capitalism, it is carefully controlled and perhaps somewhat manipulative capitalism. Nobody likes to be manipulated. I think this is why overall I have mixed feelings. As stated above, I do agree with the basic concept. I just don’t want to be seen as a lemming or wanna-be hipster*, nor do I want to feel like a dupe, for using their products.

(* Seriously I could never be an actual hipster. I’m not cool. As Zaphod Beeblebrox would say, I’m so un-hip it’s a wonder my bum doesn’t fall off.)

So where does that leave me? I bought a Holga from them in 2009. And more recently, I gave in and bought one of their new Chinese LC-A+ cameras. I enjoy the Holga, quirks and all. I don’t have enough experience yet with the LC-A+ to say for sure, but I’m starting to like it too. It’s a compact film camera that has worked pretty well so far.

The Holga was my first medium format camera. It’s a big clunky light-weight plastic ‘toy’ that, aside from its size, you can carry anywhere, and not worry too much about drops, bangs, bumps, or whatnot. Ironically it cost more than my pristine antique Zeiss Ikon Nettar which uses the same film, but can take good shots as readily as it can take mediocre ones.

The Holga - "Plastic Fantastic"

I knuckled under and bought the LC-A+ last month because I still haven’t found an ideal compact film camera, and the Lomo had been tempting me for a couple years. It has some things going for it and it has some drawbacks, and as of this writing I am not yet decided if it’s a good camera or not. Is it worth the money? Of course not. Whatever LSI is charging for any of their cameras, divide it by 3 or maybe by 5 to get the real value. They get away with that because you can’t buy them anywhere else.

To be fair again, although they do charge an awful lot for their cameras, they usually throw in a lot of extras. Stuff you don’t necessarily want or need, but stuff that you get along with the camera, perhaps to help justify the price. For instance the LC-A+ comes in a fancy wooden box, along with a very thick hardcover book, a couple rolls of film, and a cable release. The box and the book are ‘collectibles’. These extras certainly don’t account for how expensive it all is, I’m just saying that the high price gets you more than just the camera. There’s no option to just buy the camera on its own – you can only get the ‘bundle’.

Most recently, I have joined their online ‘community’ and set up my own ‘Lomo-Home‘ – what they call their community user pages, where you can upload images, create albums, and so forth. Unsurprisingly, I’m not terribly active there. PlanetStephanie.net is my main online presence, everything else is a distant second. Also I find their upload and tagging functions to be a bit clunky so it’s not terribly fun to use.

To try and wrap all this up, I guess here is the thing: one can have fun with analogue / film photography, without having anything to do with Lomography. Get your parents’ old film camera out, or your grandparents’ camera. Or go pick up an old manual camera off eBay, or from a second-hand store. Take it out and have some fun with it. To some that might mean goofing around and ‘shooting from the hip’. To others, perhaps that means treating it seriously and really learning to use it properly, learning traditional photography techniques.

Either way, whether one buys into the Lomography thing or not, the key IMHO is to have fun and do what interests and pleases you.

And one final comment about Lomography and their stores: around here, the local camera shops have either closed, or completely dropped film. Nowhere around here processes film and the only places that sell it are drug stores and grocery stores with old-dated store-brand stock. From that point of view, I’m glad to know I’ll still be able to get film from LSI, if nowhere else. I’d actually like to see them start carrying darkroom supplies or chemicals, so I could be confident of having access to that too in the future.

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