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Lomography or the art of colourful, throwaway, lo-fi photography celebrates its 21 birthday during the year, 2013.
This International photographic movement started humbly by a handful of young students living in Vienna in 1992 and grew into an international phenomenon and a global commercial enterprise. The concept came about when the small group of friends discovered the joy of using a small soviet camera, the Lomo LC-A, manufactured at the Lomo factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. The students fell in love with the unexpected colour pallet and vignetted look that the cheaply manufactured lenses produced. As the word spread through friends in Vienna, demand grew for the cameras and the Lomographic Society was formed. The entry fee was the price of a Lomo camera and with the camera came life membership and a commitment to the ethics of the Society. The society developed the concept of producing immediate, almost throw away images with the credo 'Don’t think, just shoot.' Rejecting the strict disciplines of regular photography, this movement was the equivalent of the punk rock attitude of the late 70s. Learn three chords and form a band. The lomography philosophy was; here's a camera, here's some film now go take pictures, you are a photographer. Assuming a stance like that of the Dogme 95 film movement which came along a few years later, they believed in stripping the art right back to basics. To help with this concept the Lomographic Society also came up with their own ten golden rules:
- Take your camera everywhere you go.
- Use it any time—day and night.
- Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it.
- Try the shot from the hip.
- Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible.
- Don't think (William Firebrace).
- Be fast.
- You don't have to know beforehand what you captured on film.
- Afterwards either.
- Don't worry about any rules.
Today Lomographers are about making pictures from the mundane and often overlooked details of life, using modest equipment and materials. Film bought cheaply, usually years out of date, is often chosen for its unreliable but serendipitous results. Lens flare, light leaks, vignetting, distortion and blurring are all embraced as enhancements rather than faults. This movement captures the freedom and immediacy of youth. It is less about Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment and more about capturing the insignificant moment, capturing every moment.
There has always been an aspect of photography that was not even about the results or the quality of the finished image. There is a pleasure beyond perfection and it is particularly true of film photography. It's about engaging with your surroundings and taking notice of what is all around you. Being involved and totally immersed in something outside of oneself. The pleasure also comes from the anticipation, the searching for unique images and occasionally thinking and hoping that you have captured something exceptional.
A few years ago a vast collection of exposed but unprocessed film came up for sale at an auction house in Chicago. It turned out to be the life’s work of an unknown photographer named Vivien Maier. She habitually went out taking photographs, mostly at weekends, when her day job would allow and she amassed thousands of exposures hardly ever bothering to have them processed. Her work is now showing in major exhibitions and has gained excellent critical reviews. It is a shame however that Vivien never got to experience any of the acclaim her work now receives. Although her behaviour seems positively eccentric, it is easy to understand some of the motivation and the enjoyment she must have experienced in just taking the pictures. This partly explains what lomographers experience. Their cameras give them a licence to be out in the world, engaging with others and they also get the anticipation of waiting to see what develops from their labours.
Over the years the appeal of lomography has broadened and with it, the range of cameras used has expanded. From the initial Lomo camera a vast array of cameras have been adopted and in some cases, specifically designed by lomographers. The popular models include Diana, Lubitel, Holga, Zorki, Zenit and Kiev. Recent additions to this list are the La Sardina range, which utilize the sardine can as the starting point for a cheap camera body. There are now lomo cameras with fish eye lenses and cameras which automatically take four exposures in turn creating a flick-book effect and pin hole cameras without even the most rudimentary lens.
The other area that the lomography style has infiltrated is digital imaging. More specifically the use of the ever present mobile smart phone. Apps like Instagram for iPhones and Molome for Nokia phones encourage you to use your camera phone to update the world with your whereabouts and your activities. The software companies have been savvy enough to include all kinds of Lomo style filters for you to enhance your snaps with. I recently downloaded Molome to my Nokia N8 and gave it a go converting some of my existing pictures and then shooting with Lomography in mind. I can say, hand on heart that it did inspire me to consider more subjects and to be a little more unrestrained with subject matter. The pictures are uploaded to a site which is then available for anyone to see, comment on and mark as loved if they desire.
Original Diana Camera
In my quest to get a taste of true Lomography I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a 1960s Diana 120 camera from a friend and shoot a roll of black and white film at the Olympic Torch parade when it passed through my home town. Being a keen photographer I purposely tried to shoot “from the hip” and let myself go a little. Not as easy as it sounds; breaking the habits of a lifetime. After shooting the pictures I also decided to develop the negatives myself with the idea of getting a local photographic store to digitise them for me. This was to go some way to keep my costs down.
I would be the first to agree that my first tentative results with film are a little mixed in terms of style and quality but then, how do you judge an art without rules. That's the beauty of it. That’s the point. If a picture has something interesting in it then that's maybe all it needs.
So now if you feel inspired by what you have heard here I have a challenge for you. It's your turn to show us what you can do. Whether you decide to use an old plastic camera, long since consigned to the back of the wardrobe or whether you go out and snap up a vintage bargain at your nearest charity shop or car boot sale or even if you decide to stay digital and use your smart phone and picture enhancing software, it's up to you. Remember be creative, take chances but above all have fun.
I have also included a small selection of my efforts taken both digitally and on film within this article.