I’ve been carrying this camera around for the last twelve hours. It’s brown, made of plastic (with a rubber inlay) and has a built-in, non-removable fisheye lens. It prints onto 35mm film. To be perfectly honest it looks and feels and like a toy. This is the charm of Lomography.
Put simply, Lomography is a company that specializes in creating quirky, compact, affordable and uniquely inspired analogue cameras. I’d like to emphasize “unique” because I’m fairly confident that there is no other way to acquire a film camera with four (or eight, or nine) lenses in a grid pattern, all capable of taking sequential action shots and leaving your friends asking which editing program you had to use to get those effects.
The multi-lens camera line, while arguably the most popular, doesn’t even scratch the surface in the grand scope (get it?) of Lomography’s products. Other notable mentions include pinhole cameras, panoramic cameras, and even a hand-cranked video camera to produce retro silent films. For the analogue photography aficionados (I’m sure you’re out there somewhere), there is a wide selection of nicer cameras with minimal but effective aperture and shutter-speed selection settings, as well as a line of varied films for different print styles.
The history of the Lomography company is almost as cool as the products they sell, so bear with me for a century. In 1914, LOMO was founded in Russia to produce cameras, lenses, and weapon sights during the First World War. They later underwent a few corporate name changes and began to focus on high-end lens development, but not before leaving behind the Lomo Kompakt Automat or LOMO LC-A.
Jump ahead to 1991, when a pair of Viennese students picks up the LOMO LC-A in an old-school camera shop and fall in love with the highly lit and unpredictable nature of the analogue gem. The boys start up a company to recreate the camera, and spend the next two decades rapidly expanding as their retro empire grows into a sprawling cultural phenomenon. Now, with a substantial online following and stores all over the world, they have succeeded in keeping film photography around and appealing (for the time being).
Lomography seems to be a hit or miss topic with most people I’ve spoken to over the last few weeks. The common responses to my condensed summary are “you can still buy film?” or “why wouldn’t you just get a digital camera?” The first question is actually not as laughable as it might seem. The last few years have been a whirlwind of sharper, more user-friendly, and more affordable digital cameras. 2012 was the year of dumbed down and highly accessible “vintage photo effect” apps, with Instagram eventually emerging as the crown jewel. In light of all this, it’s almost surprising that a market for analogue photography still exists. This brings us to the next question: why?
It’s the same reason you can still find a record player and vinyl records with relative ease: something about it was worth hanging on to. There is often an argument made for the quality of film prints, but it’s becoming impossible to compete with the digital camera, so what is it? I chalk it up to nostalgia and the surprising, unpredictable nature of film. It’s the sunspots and slightly excessive exposure that make memorable photos, and analogue photography preserves the element of surprise that digital photography has spent years eliminating. Nostalgia speaks for itself - unless of course you think your grandkids will appreciate the wistful magic of clicking through thousands of your ancient Facebook albums.
Is Lomography flawless? No. It doesn’t offer digital clarity and you have to buy film pretty often. These are the things that have turned a generation away from analogue photography, but they are also the endearing qualities of a unique art form that isn’t ready to be laid to rest just yet. Pick up one of their cheaper cameras in the Toronto store location or via the website if you feel like giving it a shot, and spread the word: newer is not always better.