Once upon a time, photography was a combination of skill and luck. Now, digital cameras and photo-editing software have made it possible for just about anyone to take the perfect photograph. Images are automatically balanced for ideal lighting conditions and balanced color, and both subject and background are in crisp, clear focus. You can even preview the picture immediately after taking it, and can discard any images that don’t meet your expectations. In addition, after the images are downloaded into a computer, you can crop them or edit them using a wide variety of tools and features. A simple photograph can become anything you want it to be. But sometimes perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Life is full of detours and accidents, and occasionally an accident can bring an unexpected gift. This is what happened in the case of lomography.
Lomography is the commercial trademark of Lomographische AG, Austria for products and services related to photography. The name is inspired by the former state-run optics manufacturer LOMO PLC of Saint Petersburg, Russia. LOMO PLC created and produced the 35 mm LOMO LC-A Compact Automat camera — which became the centerpiece of Lomography`s marketing and sales activities. This camera was loosely based upon the Cosina CX-1 and introduced in the early 1980s.
What is Lomography?
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and nowhere is that more true than in the area of lomography. In a nutshell, lomography started with the last-minute purchase of a cheap tourist camera.
In 1992, two Austrian students on holiday in Prague found that they had forgotten their cameras. They purchased a modest 35mm compact Soviet-made point-and-shoot camera and used this to take photographs of their vacation. The camera was a LOMO Kompakt Automat, or LC-A, produced by the LOMO plant in Russia. In many ways, it was the opposite of digital cameras today. It had a narrow depth of field, producing images with sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds. It also had light leaks and produced images with a certain blurred or grainy quality. Color reproduction varied, often producing images with intense and unusual color saturation. When the film was developed, the two students were pleasantly surprised with the result.
The students were were "charmed by the unique, colorful, and sometimes blurry" images that the camera produced. They went on to experiment with the LC-A, producing a series of artistically interesting, experimental and unorthodox snapshots. The quirky, spontaneous photographic style of the shots produced by the LC-A had an instant artistic appeal, and people became interested in these photos and the camera that produced them. Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, the students eventually flew to St. Petersburg and negotiated a contract for worldwide distribution of the LOMO LC-A.
People worldwide liked the LOMO style and coined the term “lomography” for photos taken with the LOMO LC-A. The restrictions of the camera and the unpredictability of results have resulted in a fun, spontaneous approach to photography, which involves taking as many photographs (or Lomographs) as possible, in unlikely situations and from unusual angles, and having them developed as cheaply as possible. The results are colorful, quirky, off-the-wall photos, often featuring unfamiliar subjects, double exposures, and unusual camera angles. People began to experiment with using outdated film and cross-processing (developing color snapshots using chemistry designed for photographic slide film).
The trend caught on. Art exhibitions featuring lomography were staged in major cities worldwide, including Moscow, New York, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Tokyo, as well as others. The photos were mounted on panels to form a collage of many thousands of colorful images, making a powerful combined artistic statement.
So, to put it briefly, lomography is the art of using low-tech, plastic toy cameras to capture images that are quaintly blurred, over-saturated with color, quirky and unique. It has been embraced worldwide by artists, professionals and amateurs alike, who are looking for a new approach to snapshot photography. In today’s high-tech, complex and controlled world, the simplicity and unpredictability of lomography are part of its appeal.
History of Lomography
The first LOMO LC-A camera was developed in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the early 1980s. The mass-produced consumer camera was distributed in the Soviet Union and exported to other European countries. In the early 1990s, one of the cameras was purchased by students in Prague, who then went on to popularize both the camera and the artistic style it inspired.
In 1992, the Lomographic Society was founded in Vienna, Austria, and began to spread the message of lomography around the world. Exhibitions, parties, workshops, and tours were organized, and demand for the LOMO LC-A camera began to explode.
Unfortunately, as worldwide demand for the LOMO camera was increasing, the fall of the Soviet Union meant that fewer Russians could afford cameras, and the LOMO plant ceased production in December 1994. Fans of lomography entered into negotiations with the manufacturer, and production was eventually resumed in 1997. However, despite its worldwide fan base, the Russian company continued to struggle and eventually ceased production in 2005. The camera is now produced in China, as the LOMO LC-A+.
The year 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the LOMO LC-A, and lomographers worldwide celebrated with exhibitions, parties, and workshops.
Today, the lomography community boasts over 500,000 members worldwide. All of them share the basic lomographic philosophy - carry your camera everywhere, shoot fast, don’t over-think your shot, be open-minded and non-judgmental towards your environment, get close in to your subject, be spontaneous, and don’t be afraid to share your photographic experiences with the worldwide lomographic community.
The 10 Golden Rules
With its unpredictability and emphasis on spontaneous fun and artistic expression, lomography has become a philosophy as well as a photographic technique. While traditional photographers are told to plan their shots carefully, lomographers are told “don’t think, just shoot.”
These rules are:
1. Take your camera everywhere you go.
The camera is small and lightweight, easy to carry around. It is also quiet and unobtrusive. You never know when a perfect photo opportunity might happen. Most photographers will tell you that the best shots come from spontaneous, unpredictable events, and that you will miss these if you are not prepared.
2. Use it any time – day and night
Your experience of life happens at night as well as in the daytime, and your photos should reflect that. In addition, users of the LOMO camera believe that some of its best shots happen in low-light conditions.
3. Lomography is not an interference in your life, but a part of it.
The lomographic philosophy views the camera as a part of you, an extension of your vision. Lomography can become more than a hobby, more like a way of looking at the world and participating in it.
4. Try the shot from the hip.
Or the knee, or the top of the head. Part of the fun of lomography is the fact that users are encouraged to go beyond the normal viewpoint of the photographer and shoot from many different angles. Since the viewfinder in most LOMO cameras is fairly poor, users are encouraged to disregard it and experiment with shots taken “on the fly”.
5. Approach the objects of your lomographic desire as close as possible.
Close-range shots often have an intimacy and an immediacy that carefully-composed, distant shots, lack. Since part of the philosophy of lomography involves interacting with your environment, if something feels right, go ahead and snap a picture of it. Your interest in and involvement with your subject will shine through your photography.
6. Don’t think.
Trust your gut. Your first impressions are often the right ones, and the most beautiful. Over-thinking a picture can make it dull and lifeless. Sometimes spontaneous shots are the best shots, as they reflect the immediacy of the present moment.
7. Be fast. Bold text We live in a fast-paced world, and lomography encourages the photographer to keep in step with that fast pace. The spontaneous moments that make good shots, don’t always wait for the photographer who hesitates, trying to plan the best shot, the right camera angle, the best lighting. Lomography encourages the photographer to shoot quickly, to seize the moment and capture it on film as it happens. Don’t hesitate, just shoot.
8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film.
Unpredictable and unique situations are what lomographers thrive on. Don’t worry about what image you are capturing, just shoot and expect to be surprised. With analog photography, it is never possible to know in advance exactly what your picture will look like until it is developed, and the cheaper the camera, the more unpredictable the result.
9. You don’t have to know afterwards, either.
When you finally get your prints back from the photo shop, don’t try to over-analyze your photographs. With lomography, you are trying something new and different, so be willing to look at your photos differently, with a new understanding and a wider perspective. Many of the photos posted on lomographic websites have an abstract, artistic quality to them; some look like pieces of graphic art or collages. Some have appeal because of composition and line, others because of unique colors, and still others because of subject matter. Lomography encourages an experimental, creative, artistic approach to the world.
10. Don’t worry about any rules.
Just in case you didn’t get the message from the previous nine rules, lomography has added a tenth: Don’t worry about rules. Any rules. Listen to your intuition, your likes and dislikes, and follow whatever rules are true for you. This is what artists have done throughout the ages, anyway.
Visitors to the Interational Lomography Association’s website are told to “Memorize [the rules], recite them by heart, or break all the rules; whichever way, be ready to throw all your inhibitions about photography to the wind.” In other words, relax and just have fun.
Characteristics of a Lomograph
A good lomograph can simply be a fun, quirky image, or it can resemble an artist’s collage, or a photo that has been altered and enhanced by a Photoshop professional. Because they are taken with a reproduction of a cheap film camera, the images often appear blurred with streaks, funky patches of color, and interesting shadings. Some of the characteristics of lomographs include:
- Vignetting: the Russian lens of the LC-A tended to produce images with a light center and darkening around the edges, giving a “vignette” effect
- Light leaks: these produce streaks, interesting tones and color effects
- Graininess: images taken in low light or slightly out of focus often have a textured, grainy quality; this is sometimes a by-product of the developing and printing process
- Brilliant colors: the over-saturated colors produced by the LOMO camera have become one of its trademark features. Sometimes these are enhanced by cross-processing.
- Sharp areas and blurred areas: In contrast to today’s digital cameras, cheaper analog cameras produced images with blurring. The contrast of sharp and blurred images became part of the camera’s appeal.
- Unusual images produced by the use of specialty lenses. Many types of lenses are available on LOMO cameras, and lomographers love to experiment with them. Photos are often taken with 360° lenses, fisheye lenses, and multiple lenses.
In order to enter the world of lomography, you need only two things: the right camera and the right attitude. The attitude is yours, the camera you have to purchase.
Lomographers use a range of different cameras, all based in the basic LC-A camera that started it all. Cameras can be ordered directly from the company through their website, or from other vendors on the Internet.
What Type of Camera Do You Want?
For beginners, the basic camera is the LC-A+, a copy of the original LC-A, now produced in China. The $250 package includes a 35mm point & shoot camera, cable release, instruction book, 2 rolls of film, batteries, and a wrist strap. For an extra $30, a Russian lens is available.
MEDIUM FORMAT CAMERA:
The Holga and the Diana F+ are medium-format cameras (cameras which use a larger size of film and produce a square shot) based on vintage technology, offering “a square shot dripping with dreaminess, leaking with light leaks, and oozing with an overall lo-fi character,” according to manufacturer Lomographische AG. Prices for these cameras range from $50 - $105.
The Diana camera is a plastic-bodied box camera utilizing 120 rollfilm. It takes sixteen 4×4 cm photographs using a simple plastic meniscus lens. Originally marketed as an inexpensive novelty gift item, the Diana was later used by professional photographers to take soft focus, impressionistic photographs somewhat reminiscent of the Pictorialist Period of artistic photography, but utilizing contemporary themes and concepts.
The Holga is an inexpensive, medium format 120 film toy camera, made in China, known for its low-fidelity aesthetic.The Holga`s low-cost construction and simple meniscus lens often yields pictures that display vignetting, blur, light leaks, and other distortions. The camera`s quality problems have obtained a cult following among some photographers, and Holga photos have won awards and competitions in art and news photography.
The Fisheye and Fisheye 2 produce a wide-angle 170° shot distorted through a Fisheye lens. You get a unique, circular image on a square print. Prices range from $55-$75.
This camera produces a 120-degree panoramic view, using a 28mm multicoated swing lens. The negative extends to two standard frames. It is priced at $ 325-$475.
This 35mm panoramic camera produces a 360° photo of the surrounding landscape and is priced at $145.
MULTI LENS CAMERAS
Several multi-lens 35mm cameras are available, ranging from 4 lenses to 9 lenses. These are reasonably priced, ranging from $20-$60. The lenses in these cameras operate in sequence, and are ideal for capturing action shots, ideal for sports photography.
So You Want to be a Lomographer? Tips For Beginners
After you take the plunge and purchase your first camera, you may be wondering how to get started. Here are some tips.
- Remember the Golden Rules. First of all, keep in mind the 10 Golden Rules of lomography. The LC-A and most of the other lomographic cameras are compact and easy to carry. Carry your camera with you and don’t be afraid to use it. When choosing a subject, be spontaneous. Find something that appeals to you - a person, a thing, an action, a color combination, or an abstract pattern of lines and angles. Shoot “from the hip”—don’t’ take a long time framing your shot, just point and click.
- Expect the unexpected and don’t be afraid to fail. Since the LC-A is an analog camera, using traditional film, you don’t know in advance how your shot will come out. Relax and be prepared for a surprise. One expert warns that you may only get one good photo per roll of film, so be prepared to invest in a good supply of film. Essentially, you are using a cheap plastic snapshot camera that takes photos often blurred by an imperfect lens and streaked with light leaks. Lomography is about embracing the limitations of this tool and working within these limitations to produce works of art. Amidst the flaws and the failures will come an image that has just the right flaws, and looks like it has been labored over by a Photoshop expert. This is what Lomography is all about; the one brilliant failure that is perfect art.
- Experiment. Many lomographers experiment with outdated films and unusual types of film. Others use cross-processing, where photographic film is processed using chemistry designed for another type of film, such as slide processing. Try taking your film to the developer and ask for slide processing instead of color print processing, and see what comes out. Don’t be afraid to use multiple exposures, or double exposures (shooting two different photos without advancing the film). Also, experiment with shooting at different times of the day, in different lighting conditions, using unusual camera angles, and finding unusual subjects. Those lovely autumn leaves on the trees may be beautiful, but what about the leaves strewn on the sidewalk, or the wet ones in the gutter? Or, for that matter, the cracks in the sidewalk itself?
- Get in Close. Most amateur photographers make the mistake of getting too far away from their subject, thinking that the more of the scene they can capture, the better. In reality, the more detail, the better. Take multiple shots of your subject, getting closer and closer, then try taking the subject from different angles, tilting the camera, lying down and looking up, raising the camera overhead, spinning around while shooting, having the subject move if possible. In short, create as many different and random settings as possible, to increase your chances of getting just the right shot.
- Relax. Most important, enjoy the process of taking photographs with your LOMO camera. With lomography, the experience is often better than the results, but this is OK. The LOMO is a quiet, unobtrusive camera, and can provide a non-threatening way to interact with people and the environment around you.
The Lomography Community
Lomography has become a worldwide community, a network of people who like to share their photos and their unique perspectives. There is a website for the international lomography community and websites for lomography fans in various countries worldwide. Most of these sites provide forums for posting your photos, offer links for purchasing cameras and accessories, and feature newsletters, articles, discussion groups, contests, and other events. You can view photos taken in various locations in the world, such as New York, Tokyo, London, St. Petersburg, and other cities and towns worldwide.
Lomographers often join together in contests and collaborative projects. One such contest is the is the Great Canadian Rumble, celebrating Canada’s birthday in July 2010, while another, entitled “Do Tha Splitz!” highlights creative double exposures, and a third, the Sugar Daddy Rumble, celebrated Father’s Day.
In addition, lomography lovers create joint art exhibitions, called “LOMO Walls”, where thousands of LOMO photos are exhibited in a single large patterned collage. Collages of lomographs are arranged side by side to form colorful landscapes or designs. Usually repeated images or specific subjects are used in the designs. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features a LOMO wall in their museum store, and there have been LOMO walls posted in various cities worldwide, from London to Bucharest.
There are also Lomography stores that have opened in major cities throughout the world on almost every continent, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Bangkok, Sydney, Madrid, Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai, and many others. Most of these stores offer classes as well as supplies, and are good resources for beginners interested in learning about this new hobby.
It should be obvious by now that lomography is a philosophy, an art, and a lifestyle, as well as a hobby. In our complex, high-tech world, this simple, old-fashioned, low-tech camera encourages a more casual, spontaneous approach to photography. Remember: there aren’t any rules, and experimentation is encouraged. Just arm yourself with a camera, an adequate supply of film, and a sense of adventure, and you can’t go wrong. Relax, aim, and shoot. You may be surprised at what you discover about the world around you.