OK, so we all know about the wonderful Lomography Konstruktor camera kit, released earlier this year. But did you know about its older, very rare and much weirder daddy: the LOMO Fotokonstruktor UFK-2? No, neither did I. Until a week ago, when a very mysterious package arrived for me, from the secretive former USSR state of Bulgaria...
So, the story begins on a cold, dark, wintry morning (like all good international espionage stories do), at the beginning of November. I’m sitting having my morning coffee, browsing the Lomography site on my MI5-issued, military-grade portable communications device. (Oh, alright – it was just a regular iPad.) Suddenly, a notification pops up, telling me I’ve received a message from @adash.
Now, some of you may know Adash as just a normal, cheerful, innocent member of the Lomography community, from Bulgaria. However, as an intelligence officer of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I know the truth: Comrade Adash (just his codename, of course – I could tell you his real name, but then I’d have to kill you) is actually one of the Bulgarian intelligence community’s most valued operatives, and a highly trained master of disguise.
Our paths crossed recently when we were both on an undercover mission in London. (Yes, it was in a pub, and yes, we drank several delicious pints of cold beer, and yes, we laughed a lot, and yes, we had a great time discussing the endlessly fascinating world of analogue photography for hours… but I can assure you it was purely in the interest of maintaining our cover; we spies sometimes have to make such terrible sacrifices to protect the national security of our countries, you know.)
It would suit the purposes of my story better if I could report to you that Adash was a gorgeous, long-legged blonde woman, with a seductive Eastern European accent and the suggestion of a dark, tragic past in her mesmerisingly beautiful, ice-blue eyes, but the reality is that Adash is a tall young man with a ponytail… and a bit of a beer gut. (Or was that just one of your cunning disguises, Dimitar? Oh, shit, I just revealed his name – now I have to kill you all!)
Anyway, so the message he sent went like this:
“TOP SECRET … FOR YOUR EYES ONLY: Agent Buckshot, I have something very interesting for you. I’m not telling what, just know it’s quite rare, and very exciting. Let me know your address so that I can send it. THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN THREE SECONDS.”
I read the message and think, Wow! A secret delivery?!? Cool! Nobody ever sent me anything from Bulgaria before! But what the hell could it be, this “very interesting, rare and exciting” surprise package…? It was a true enigma indeed, and as I repy to @adash with my mailing address, I realise it’s going to be very tough to contain my excitement until the package arrives and the puzzle can be resolved…
So, about a week passes, with me in a state of ever-increasing suspense, until, on the morning of Saturday, 9 November, my doorbell finally rings. I open the door, and standing there – very cleverly disguised as a postman – is one of the trusted underground couriers we spies use to make international deliveries. In his hands is the package I’ve been expecting so eagerly. We exchange ‘the look’, which wordlessly conveys all sorts of messages that I’m not allowed to tell you guys about. He hands me the package, and departs to report the success of his mission to his superiors.
I take the package inside and examine it. At first, it looks just like a regular parcel: a rectangular box, wrapped tightly in brown paper, with no distinguishing features. On closer inspection, though, I detect this mysterious label in a corner on the back:
Huh…?!? What the hell does that mean, I ask, and curse myself for not having paid enough attention to my Cyrillic studies back in spy school.
I do, however, recognise the LOMO logo on the label, and think, A-ha, a clue! As part of my training, I have acquired all sorts of obscure knowledge, and so I know that LOMO is a manufacturer of finest-quality, precision-engineered, lovingly hand-crafted optical apparatus, based in St Petersburg, Russia. So, I say to myself, we’re a little closer to solving this mystery – it must be some new kind of high-tech spy camera!
But as I carefully unwrap the many layers of protective brown paper and reveal the cover of the goods inside, I’m only slightly less mystified than I was before, for this is what I see:
Again, my terribly poor understanding of Cyrillic lets me down, but the pictures definitely help a bit, and I’m pretty sure the word above the top one is ‘FOTOAPPARAT’. Ah, so it is a camera… from LOMO! With my excitement now at fever pitch, I rip the cover off and open the box within, to reveal this:
By now, it’s abundantly clear that the mystery delivery from Bulgaria is definitely a camera, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like any type of camera I’ve ever seen before! And so I open the instructions that come with it, but they do very little to clarify what becomes an even more fascinating riddle:
Eh…?!? What on earth do all those bits do? What’s with all those different configurations? And why aren’t the parts in the box numbered like they are in the diagrams? How the hell am I ever supposed to put this thing together?
Luckily for me, one of my Russian colleagues arrives just then: Agent Irina Stolichnaya – a highly regarded counter-intelligence expert. (Actually, her name’s Irena, and she’s my Polish wife. She did learn Russian in high school, though, and she’s definitely a spy, because she somehow knows all my secrets, like how much money I spend on buying and processing film – but that’s another story.)
I ask Agent Irina for assistance, and so, with her reading the instructions, I am finally able to solve the riddle of this mysterious piece of equipment. It’s called a LOMO Fotokonstruktor UFK-2, and is a multi-purpose, self-assembly camera kit that can be configured as three different things: a 35mm camera, an enlarger and a slide projector.
Armed with this knowledge, I log on to the Inter-Agency Online Intelligence Archive (you guys might know it as ‘Google’) and search for further information about this enigmatic camera kit. However, it seems the kit is extremely rare, and my research reveals very few sources of intelligence about it at all. I do find one discussion forum, though, which helps to shed some light on it. The UFK-2 was a Soviet-era kit, produced by LOMO from about 1976 to 1992, and was specifically intended as an affordable, educational toy for children.
Well, I think, since it was made for children, I should have no problem at all building it, and I immediately begin constructing the konstruktor. It takes a little bit longer than expected, though, because I discover that some of the parts (mainly screws, but more importantly, the shutter-release mechanism too) are quite badly rusted from having sat in an unsealed box for at least the past twenty or thirty years. A bit of lubricant spray eventually takes care of all that, though, and I soon have the kit assembled in each of its three configurations:
THE UFK-2 IN ACTION
The following day, as it happens, I receive orders from my boss to embark on a secret mission to gather intelligence about a deadly ring of international statue smugglers who have been operating in the UK recently. I decide to take the UFK-2 with me, to test it out in action and record what I discover on my daring assignment.
It’s a good day’s work. When I deliver the photographic evidence I’ve collected with my LOMO UFK-2 to my superiors at MI5 HQ, they immediately send a commando unit to the location I’ve identified, which storms the building, arrests all the occupants and locks them up for good.
It’s mission success! And it couldn’t have been achieved without the help of one very mysterious package sent by Agent Adash from Bulgaria. I am extremely grateful to him for his kindness, and I greatly look forward to using his very generous gift on my next secret mission. Who knows what revelations it’ll help me to expose next time…?
Thanks for reading my little fiction :-)
Love & bullets,