Matt Jones

From Russia With Love

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Lomography is the least intellectual pursuit you can imagine. You can't work it out or plan what you are going to do ahead, you can only feel it and do it. "


Have you ever noticed that when people take pictures, the camera tends to stay in one place - usually at head height - and the subjects being photographed position themselves around it? People lean into the frame at funny angles and wait expectantly for shutter to click… the flash fires and it's one more to add to collection of slightly bleached faces beaming at you from the picture.

There seems to be a standard procedure in taking pictures which involves making sure people are smiling even though they are unhappy, framing the subject(s) in the central third of the image and making sure there are no anomalous lamp-posts sticking out of someone's head when you fire the shutter. Well, there is a new cultural phenomenon taking place which aims to ditch all the ‘right’ ways of taking pictures. You can forget about framing, composition and whether the flash went off or not, this is all about freedom and letting things happen completely by accident. Train your eyes - don't think…

Every minute, while your eyes are open and absorbing your surroundings, there are millions of images waiting to be preserved. In every direction, there are countless opportunities to record something; a texture, a reflection, a shadow, something out of place, something funny or sad. You may be waiting for a bus, or you are a passenger in a car. You may be feeding the cat or walking down the street or making a cup of tea and suddenly you might see something that causes a slight judder of satisfaction. This something might seem very mundane to most, but to you it is magical, bizarre and enticing. You feel the urge to record this thing you have seen so that you can isolate it and prolong it. You may even want to show what you have recorded to someone else so that they too can enjoy what you have experienced. Enter the world of Lomography: the art of photography without thinking.

Not so long ago, the Leningradskoe Optiko Mechanichesckoe Objedinenie (the Leningrad Optical & Mechanical Enterprise) or LOMO was a top-secret Russian company that produced optical instruments - telescopes, cameras, night-vision devices, cannon sights, periscopes for submarines etc. - for the Russian military. Established in 1917 and originally called the Russian Optical and Mechanical Company, it quickly established itself as the leading manufacturer of optical instruments in Russia, much of their success being attributable to the team of scientists who migrated from the German company Zeiss in 1945 (Zeiss are considered to be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of optical device manufacturers). In 1983, Lomo started to produce the Lomo Kompakt Automat (or the LC-A), a small 35mm camera not too dissimilar to a small brick. Many people today believe that the Lomo LC-A was created as a spy-camera, which would seem to make sense judging by the company's history. The truth of the matter is that the LC-A was the first miniature mass-produced camera with automatic exposure in the former-USSR. It was a peoples’ camera. The LC-A is now considered a mini-masterpiece: it is built to perfection, it is durable and has a very high quality lens for super-sharp images. About 5 years ago, a group of students in Vienna, Austria discovered the Lomo and started using it to make images. It was perfect for what they needed; it had much of the control of an SLR camera but none of the bulk. They photographed everything, sucking in the world around them and recklessly taking images with no thought about the final outcome. It was a kind of liberation from the excepted norms of creating the ‘perfect photograph'; the emphasis being on capturing the essence of a time or a place through the sheer volume of images rather than by an individual, perfectly composed image. In a way, it was re-visiting an approach to photography that was initiated by Henri Cartier-Bresson when he found a new level of photographic expression using the small and compact Leica M in the 1920s (the first 35mm camera). They called their new photographic movement Lomography; an activity that is now - thanks mainly to the Internet - a global phenomenon. Anyone can become a member of The Lomographic Society (which is still based in Vienna)- all you need is a LOMO camera, a load of the cheapest 35mm film you can possibly find and a willingness to take your camera everywhere you go.‘To collect photographs is to collect the world’ - Susan Sontag, On PhotographyIntegral to the whole Lomo experience is the World Wide Web; through it, Lomo has exploded into a global phenomenon. is an attempt at using the ubiquitous nature of the web to record the world in images; Lomographers from all over the globe are uploading their images to the site and gradually a massive archive is being created. The images are displayed in huge mosaic-like grids known as Lomowalls; your eyes are overloaded with shapes, colours and motifs… no single image stands out, they are all as important as each other. What's unique about Lomography is that it is an analog process that has been reliant on the digital realm for it's success around the globe. Even though digital photography is slowly and inevitably taking the reigns from its chemical based counterpart (you can now get adequate digital cameras for under £100), the analog process of Lomography is still holding out. Like the charm of a vinyl record, there is something so satisfying about pressing the shutter release and letting camera film be exposed to light for a fraction of a second… it's a challenge, an unknown, things happen by accident. Some might say that digital technologies are making things too controlled and too easy… we can now preview our images on miniature LCD screens and decide to discard them if we don't like them. There is no such luxury with analog, once you've pressed the shutter release you are committed. Whatever your preference, because of its place on the web, the Lomo craze is a compromise between the warring factions of analog and digital and it demonstrates that the two can live harmoniously.The Lomo FamilySo far, you have learned a bit of history of Lomography and you have been introduced to the little camera the whole craze is built upon, the Lomo LC-A. But recently, the Lomo product family has grown, so that if you do intend to become a lomographer, you have to make a decision about which type of camera to go for. If you've heard of Lomo before, it's probably because of the famous ‘Action Sampler'. Resembling something you might give to a 4 year old if you want them to grow up to be a hotshot photographer, the Action Sampler (in its original form at least) is made from tacky coloured plastic, it has no view finder worth using, it has no aperture or shutter control and doesn't use batteries. Instead, what makes this camera unique is that it has 4 lenses. When you press the magic button, the shutters fire sequentially over a second, exposing the film 4 times. This means that if you take a picture of a moving object, you will capture four slightly different images as the object moves in front of the camera. It's all a bit silly and a tad kitsch, but it is this kind of wacky innovation that has helped Lomo achieve its cult status. The Action Sampler (or the more recent Super Sampler) is ideal if you just want something cheap that will serve as an introduction to it all. At the relatively inexpensive price of £25, it is a must-buy. However, if you intend to use the Action Sampler to take pictures in anything other than bright sunshine, then you can forget it. Because this camera has a fixed shutter speed, fixed aperture and no provision for a flash, it makes shooting in dim light very difficult indeed. Next in line is the camera for the serious Lomographer, the original Lomo LC-A. At £95, this camera is more expensive but worth it; as I mentioned earlier, this is a very well made camera with many of the features of a larger SLR camera. If you intend to become serious about your lomographs, the Lomo LC-A is what you need. The most recent addition to the Lomo range is (… and you'll like this), the Elf Night Vision Device; this a piece of true Russian military hardware that you can impress your friends with. At £180, the Elf Night Vision Device is the most expensive in the range, but imagine the fun you could have running around in complete darkness and being able to see everything around you! Alternatively, you could just carry a torch… not quite as cool or subtle though is it?I want my Lomo…So you may be wondering how to get hold of a Lomo product. First of all, it's important to note that as soon as you buy a Lomo, you are automatically a member of the Lomographic Society; this means that you will receive regular postings of stuff through your door (all nicely designed bits of paper, prints and maybe even the odd lomofilm). There are two way of buying yourself a Lomo: you can either visit one of the Lomo Embassies which are scattered around the continent (the nearest one being in central London) or you can buy a Lomo camera from the website. Just fill out a form, pay by cheque or credit card and a few days later, a small parcel with a Lomo and couple of rolls of film will arrive and you're away. It's important that you take your camera everywhere you go… point, click and most importantly don't think! Once you have reeled off a few rolls of film, stick them in the Lomobag (which came supplied with your camera) and send them to the Lomolab in Austria. For a not too expensive fee, they will process your films, upload your images to the website and send you back your new prints. Clever huh? Of course, you don't have to send your films off to the Lomolab, you can get your films processed in any photo lab in town. But if you really want to be part of the Lomo community, then it's best to get your lomographs developed at the Lomolab; you will have your own space at (called your Lomohome) in which your can store and display and share (via email) your images.Lomography is about training your eyes and becoming more aware of the world around you. If you buy a camera, before you know it, you will be addicted to images, you will see the world in a new way, the Lomo will become part of your life and you will have a gathered a massive collection of images to serve as visual documents of your life. Forget all you have learned about taking good pictures, get yourself a Lomo and start taking pictures impulsively…stop thinking… shoot everything.