Film and Lomography
Published on 19. 8. 2010 at 11:34 am
This is an abridged version of an article written by Bryan Appleyard that was published in The Sunday Times on 18 July 2010.
Many thanks to Bryan for allowing us to publish extracts.
To read the full article, click here
Film and Lomography
Satan was the worst photographer in Hell.
It was an embarrassment so, one day, he told Beelzebub, his go-to guy, to see if he could come up with something to fix his holiday snaps. Beelzebub went to California and returned waving a small box.
‘This is it!’ he cried, “it’s destroyed the art of photography on earth. Now you can do what you like with your pictures!”
It worked. Satan’s snaps glowed.
The box became known throughout Hell as Satan’s Snap Fixer. Back on earth they continued to call it Photoshop.
For all but a few purists, nutters, diehards, freaks and me, film photography collapsed. Last year Kodak announced it was stopping production of Kodachrome, the only film celebrated by a great singer – Paul Simon – with a great song – Kodachrome. Kodak still make films, including Tri-X, the black and white film with which Henri Cartier-Bresson made some of the most sublime images of the twentieth century. If they ever stop making that – well, Hell will not be hot enough for the Eastman Kodak Company.
All of that was bad enough, but there was also the matter of Satan’s Snap Fixer. In 1990 Photoshop 1.0 was released for the Apple Mac computer. Over the years, with ever increasing sophistication and complication, Photoshop has allowed pros and amateurs to improve, enhance and fake their pictures. Now it is safest to assume that everything has been Photoshopped and nothing, therefore, is true either to reality or to the art of photography.
But happily, years before, the seeds of the backlash had been sown. In 1984 the Soviet camera industry was doing what it did best, ripping off foreign designs. In that year it produced the Lomo LC-A, a compact 35mm film camera copied from a Japanese Cosina. In 1991 some guys in Austria got hold of an LC-A and liked it so much they became the sole worldwide distributor of the Lomo company of St Petersburg. Lomography had been born.
Now if you go into certain groovy clothes or design shops you are likely to see a display of brilliantly coloured plastic cameras with names like the Diana Multi Pinhole, the Holga 120 Pinhole, the Lomo Lubitel, the Lomography Spinner and, still in plain black, the Lomo LC-A. These are all film cameras. You have to buy 35mm or 120 – medium format – film, load the camera, take pictures without seeing them and then get them processed and printed.
The further twist is that, in strict professional terms, most of these are not very good cameras. They often leak light causing random streaks on prints, some have plastic lenses which cause bizarre and unpredictable effects, they offer minimal exposure control.
Some crazy lomographers make matters worse by cross-processing. This means you buy a slide film and process it as a negative film. Strange, luminous colours leap out of the final print.
And, finally, to make sure you really screw up your pictures, there are ten golden rules of Lomography which include ‘be fast’, ‘don’t think’ and ‘try the shot from the hip’. The whole point of lomography is to escape the curse of digital perfection.
“I’m falling in love with film again!” cries Natalie Wells, a professional photographer who admits digital made her feel guilty, “Every one of these cameras gives you a completely different picture.”
She is, she says, in pursuit of “something more extreme and chaotic” than digital.
We are sitting downstairs in the very groovy lomography shop in the unbelievably groovy Newburgh Street in London’s Soho. Upstairs, It is packed with people – mainly young but quite a few old – handling with wonder and delight the huge range of plastic cameras on display and the enticing little boxes of film.
The Lubitel is an amiable pastiche of that great camera the Rolleiflex and the Holgas look like the cheap, point and shoot cameras of the fifties. But there are also weirdos like the Oktomat which takes eight pictures at once and the Spinner which takes 360 degree panoramas.
The shop is run by Adam Scott, a psychology and sociology graduate turned professional photographer. It opened last year and business seems to be booming. The British are natural lomographers, we are, per head of population, the biggest market for these cameras.
“There seems to be some innate interest in photography in the UK,” muses Scott, “people are just really interested and curious.”
He’s right. The night before I had watched in wonder an episode of the TV show Midsomer Murders in which a war between digital and film photographers leads to violent deaths. It was just so English. The only flaw in the show was that the digital freaks were young and hip and the film nuts were old and fusty. Now all that is being reversed.
Back in 2004, Scott had an expensive digital Canon and started to notice that people were asking him to make his pictures look like film. This could be done with Satan’s Snap Fixer, but it did raise the awkward question, why bother? Why not just shoot film in the first place?
Lomography remains a small movement but things are happening. The new window display in Hermes in Bond Street consists of old film cameras and strips of 35mm film. Polaroid film is being made again and Fuji has produced Instax, a film that, like Polaroid, produces instant pictures and which can, with the aid of special camera backs, be used with lomographic equipment. Meanwhile, film makers like Ilford, Fuji and Kodak are seeing their first upturn in sales since the
I take pictures obsessively, getting my films developed by RP Photographic in Wandsworth and clutching the boxes when they come back with dumbstruck joy. These strips of celluloid are alive with the moment they were taken. Soon I shall pluck up the nerve to send them to RP for printing.
At Aperture, the secondhand dealer in London’s Bloomsbury, they told me they could not get enough film cameras to satisfy demand. One photographer in Norfolk told me, “Lomography is just the beginning. We haven’t even begun to explore the photographic image properly. Digital stalled the whole thing.”
“The future,” say the lomographers, “is analogue.”
Bryan Appleyard – www.bryanappleyard.com
Lomo – www.lomography.com
RP Photographic – www.rpphotographic.co.uk
Aperture – www.apertureuk.com