Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lomography, as I Understand It

When people ask about what Lomography is all about, they tend to get different answers. This is probably because of Lomography’s unstructured and carefree image. There are ten rules (as some of you may have heard or learned) that somehow defy traditional photographic rules. The last rules, for me is the most interesting one. That is, to forget all the previous nine rules and find your own style or your own set of rules. Anarchy! Punk Rock, yeah! With this, it is difficult to put a fence or boundary to what Lomography is or is not. It’s more of a personal thing. Learn what you could, then define it yourself; forget what others say!

This is my personal take on it.

Lomography is history. I will not discuss Lomography’s history, ‘cause I have already forgotten the details. But I suggest that you read about it. There are plenty of sites to go to. What I am saying is that, it has a history; that it originated from something or somewhere or someone. Considering this point of view, the term Lomography came from a particular type of Rusian Spy Camera, which somehow had a cult following: the Lomo Kompakt Automat, or the LCA. Historically speaking, an image is a genuine lomograph if it had been take by this camera. It’s like taking a bunch of guys who are avid Nikon users, and calling their photography as Nikonography. Yes, it is a bit corny.

Lomography is more history. Eventually those early users of LCA organized themselves into some kind of organization, the Lomographic Society International (LSI). They promoted their art, and also, they marketed the not only the LCA, but also other film cameras, which share some of the characteristics of the LCA. As we now know, you can produce lomographic picture using LSI endorsed cameras.

However, others have taken the liberty of using other film cameras like the Vivitar UW&S, which is not LSI endorsed, and still consider themselves lomographers. There is nothing wrong about that.

Lomography is Film. All LSI endorsed cameras are film cameras, so it may be safe to say that a lomographic images need to be film base. This is another deviation from the contemporary trend in photography nowadays, which is becoming dominantly digital. Besides, it’s difficult produce the image quality of lomographs digitally, lest you use Photoshop or other digital altering software. There are however, those who label their work as digital lomographs. I don’t buy it though. If there is one thing the lomography is, to me, it is being digital.

Lomography is Philosophy. There is a certain approach to lomography that is somehow distinct. It is the attitude of being carefree. They say if that something wrong will happen, it will. That’s how it is in this art. One is discourage to think so much before and after taking a photo. “Don’t think, just shoot!” the rule says.

Unlike digital photography, where you can instantly see your output; erase it or take another shot if you are not satisfied, lomography does not give you that much control. A substantial percentage of lomographers are amateur photographers. Not everyone has complete knowledge and skill in judging light and how it will respond to the camera and film. So let it be. Let it surprise you! It is a good feeling.

However, it is best that one also knows enough about his or her camera before clicking the shutter. For instance, there are some cameras which are totally useless indoors. You should, at the very least, know that your camera has a better chance of capturing an image outdoors, when it is sunny. Being surprised is good, but the shock of learning that none of your 36 exposures came out is something we can avoid by reading and learning the basic of our camera. Everything else, leave it to chance! It’s a roller coaster ride, so let loose! Wrong angel? That’s a new perceptive! The image is not on the third portion of the frame? It’s about time you break that rule! Your friend’s head got cut-off? That’s how you like it, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind!

For those who have enough knowledge already, it is very tempting to think before shooting. That’s ok if you ask me. I do it sometimes, too. The images are just as surprising.

Lomogaphy is Dirty. It is not absolute, but many lomographs have a certain characteristic and feel of abstractness and distortion to it: edges that are dark (vignettes), blurry images, misplaced streaks of light, weird colors, and what not. These are defects actually, that many of us find amusing! Some of it is due to intentional misuse of materials. Poor lens quality, poor camera design, using the wrong chemicals in developing films, using films 6 years past their expiration date, shooting twice using the same frame; these are some of the reasons that make lomographs interesting. It is the art of doing things wrong, so it comes out right, and using defective gear, so that it comes out perfect! Got it?

But this is not absolute, like what I said. You can also use good lenses and proper film or chemicals. Lomographs or not, they are still photographs; beautiful ones! That’s what matters!

These are my personal thoughts. I do not mean to impose these criteria onto others. That is the reason why I have troubles in calling myself a lomographer. I don’t know if I really am. I don’t even own an LCA! I am happy to consider myself as a guy who likes photography, particularly those involving the use of film cameras and techniques of lomographers, plus some twists of my own. So, if you will do this, make it personal, thrown in your own twist! Be your own art!

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