Monday, May 13, 2013

The art of Lomography and talking digital photography blues.

Anthony Gormley's Another Place: Crosby Beach, Merseyside. Taken on a Holga 35BC film camera on out of date 200 ASA film. Original-unedited Print.

As someone who is more a happy snapper than a fully fledged photographer,I'm always impressed when I see a professionally created landscape photograph. An image which transcends the mere technically proficient capturing of a scene, by instilling mood and atmosphere into a composition. However, the digital revolution has brought near professional results within reach of just about anyone who can afford a decent camera and who can find their way around an editing suite.

One of the unforeseen side effects of these technical advances, has been the way landscape photography has evolved into a creative yawn fest. I very much include my own compositions in this. I was downloading images onto my laptop the other day and I could only think..God...these are dull! Images that while being reasonably sharp and well composed,lacked any element of creativity.

 It made me hark back to my earliest forays into the world of photography when with my first proper camera-a Soviet Zorki 4 Rangefinder camera- I was taught the dark art of developing and processing black and white film. For this education-and the donation of a Gnome enlarger and all the necessary equipment, I will always be grateful to a guy called Bill Simmonds.Now long dead I imagine? Bill was an old black guy who worked as a storeman in a laundry company in Chester where I was driving a van, and it was he who taught me the basics of film photography and developing.

Like most happy snappers, I gradually got lazy and moved over to idiot proof compacts and digital photography, but in recent months,my interest in film photography, in particular lomography has grown  in proportion to my increasing boredom with digital photography. If you are not familiar with lomography then here's a brief rundown.....

 The Lomo 35mm film camera was a tiny Soviet compact camera based on a Japanese Cosina to which it was identical. My memories of owning a Lomo in the early 80's was that it was very crudely built compared to Japanese cameras.It's results were frankly weird and unpredictable. Over saturated images with unintentional vignetting ( darkening at the edges) and prone to light leaks. Mine didn't last very long before the winder broke and I gave it away.

Sometime in the early 90's, two Austrian art students bought a second hand Lomo and just loved the very elements of a lomo image that would have seen a professional photographer hurling it in the nearest river. The cult of lomography had been born. These days it is a world wide creative movement but like all movements, prone to misinterpretation. For example, you don't necessarily need to use a Lomo camera-which are still being made- to take a lomo photograph. Various cameras are classified as 'Lomography cameras' but what they have in common tends to be their technical lack of sophistication and agricultural build quality.

Lomography is often also referred to as Analogue or Lo-Fi photography. If you look on eBay at cameras being sold as 'Lomo' type  then you will see a huge array of cameras from quite sopisticated SLR cameras to 90's compacts. Basically, anyone selling a camera like this as a 'Lomo' camera is a con merchant. There are several cameras which are now included into the Lomo stable. Most notably the mass produced Chinese made Holga and the Diana. Both these cheap little plastic cameras use both 120 and 35mm film formats. The mainstays of the Lomo range tend to be Soviet/Chinese cameras such as the medium format Lubitel, the Cosmic Symbol/Smerna and the Seagull, but there are other cameras  from outside the old Soviet/China block which compliment the range. Like the mass produced mainstays from the East, these are inevitably totally unsopisticated plastic wind on 35mm film cameras which will take an image not unlike that taken by a Lomo or Holga. For example, in the last 12 months I've picked up a Prinz Junior camera-As sold by Dixons in the 1980's ( £4 in Church Stretton Antiques) and a similar model, an Inovar, ( £1.52 on eBay) which take Holga-esque images.

A fivers worth of 'Lomo'cameras.

A Lomo image is as distinct from a professional digital photograph as an Abstract expressionist painting is from a Pre-Raphealite work. Lacking the technical refinements of an expensive digital camera, a print image taken by a 'Lomo' camera is all about creating something different. Something which instinctively works through those very elements which would be seen as failings in a digital image.Over/under exposure, producing skewed light and shade, exaggerated colour and saturation, blurring and light slashes etc.

These days, a successful company in Europe is marketing Lomography as a life style choice. Promoting cameras like the original Lomo,(£300+ on some models) The sardine can La Sardinia ...the Sprocket Rocket ( A camera which shows the sprocket holes on a developed image) etc etc, but be warned. They charge an arm and a leg for these cameras. Much better for your bank balance if you scour the charity shops or eBay for a Lomo type camera.

Of course one area where digital will always triumph over film is in it's accessibility and ease of sharing images over the internet. Even if you live in a town with a local  film processing store, you will still need to cool your boots while waiting for your film to be developed. Then you will need to scan your prints if you want to use them on the net. However, there is something about a film image that works in that inimitable Lomo style which can't be replicated by photo editing of digital images. All editing suites these days it seems offer 'Lomo' and 'Holga' editing effects.Incidentally. the ubiquitous Instagram images and mobile phone photographic suites like Hipstamatic are unashamedly aping the Lo-Fi results of a lomograph film print.

While digital photography is here to stay and will continue to sweep all other formats before it. The fact that it offers the punter endless possibilities in creating image perfection is for me it's Achilles heel. Who wants visual perfection. I've got two eyes in my head that can give me that. I want a format which skews perfection in an artistic and creative way. Given the huge success of Instagram then it's obvious that even a huge company like Google have picked up on that.

words and images John Appleby

1 comment:

  1. Hear Hear John, I well remember my first camera, a small plastic affair that produced dire results, but what magic those memories are, I still have a few prints that I produced in the early 60's and a classic shot of my school buddies 'sagging off' in town, taken on a child's roundabout in front of the Anglican Cathedral waste ground, many years before they hid the façade with all those horrid houses.