Alain and Claire are respected as two of the world’s premiere experts on Soviet cameras and photographic history - and regularly write articles and collaborate on books about their great passion for these excellent, diverse, seriously desirable, often rare, and occasionally insane analog creations.
Alain is 65 years old and a retired teacher. For 40 years, he directed a multimedia training center which offered detailed education in audio-visual technologies. His long-standing love affair with Soviet cameras began in 1962 – when he bought a Praktika IV while performing his French military service in Morocco. When he returned to France and started teaching, he was surrounded by cameras from across the Iron Curtain, namely Lubitels, Zenits, Zorki’s, and the like. This saved the school some money and gelled well with the socialist leanings of French teachers those days (who were known to look kindly on the likes of Mao, Lenin, and Che). He loved these cameras and amassed as many as possible for his personal collection.
In 1981 he met his soul mate – a lovely woman named Claire who, magically, had her own collection of Soviet-era cameras. Shortly after, they were married – and nowadays, both Alain and Claire maintain a collection of over 4,000 analog Soviet cams! Alain and Claire are respected as two of the world’s premiere experts on Soviet cameras and photographic history – and regularly write articles and collaborate on books about their great passion for these excellent, diverse, seriously desirable, often rare, and occasionally insane analog creations. And for the moment, his 17-year old daughter is not interested in Soviet cameras at all. But who knows what the future may hold?
Name: Alain Berry
Job: Teacher (retired)
Hometown: Tours, France
1. The Lubitel’s design remained largely the same for almost 60 years, and it is one of the most widely produced Russian cameras. Do you feel that it holds a special place in Russian camera history? Why?
Like the Smena, the Lubitel has a very important place in Soviet camera history. It is the perfect illustration of “Homo Sovieticus Theory” – a very good camera (optical-wise) in a very cheap body. A bit like a low-cost French Renault car. Their thinking was: we have to do our very best for a large number of people. It was simple and complicated at the same time. Many people, including children – could learn photography with this camera, while obtaining excellent results. For these reasons, it was perfect for us to adopt in the West for our educational system.
2. What do you think the Russians contributed to the international world of photography and cameras?
Hey! Let’s not forget that Soviet cameras were done by engineers throughout the Soviet Union, not just the Russians. There were Ukranians, Belorussians, Latvians, Kazachs, etc. It’s tough to answer this question as so much of the Russian camera production was directly or indirectly copied from European or Asian cameras of the time. And it’s important to note that Soviet engineers were released from the constraints of an economic market – they were paid by the State. However, I think that they developed very original and powerful items for their time. Certain items – like the “Russar” lens and “AGAT” cameras do not have any equivalents outside of the Soviet Union. They were totally unique! Many of these radical designs and improvements came from the tiny apparatuses used by the “secret services soviétiques.” These real-life spy cameras had sophisticated mechanics and very sharp optics. And let’s not forget the extraordinary Soviet-era panoramic cameras – like the Horizon – which are unequaled in their robustness, simplicity, and value. Anyway, it’s a pity that Soviet photographers were not as free as the camera engineers to shoot their images and express themselves. They had the possibility to imagine, but not the ability to create. Damned ideolgies!
3. With all these cameras, you must do a lot of photography. What subjects do you like to shoot? Any special photo techniques that you enjoy?
My essentials are landscapes and abstract compositions. As for a technique, this camera is perfect for superimposing images (given that its manual film advance is not coupled with the shutter). Whether intentional or accidental, you can sometimes get very interesting photos with multiple exposures.
4. As a self-taught photographer, what do you feel is the most valuable lesson (or lessons) for new photographers?
In Black and White photography – given it its large tolerance for exposure – the most important consideration is proper focusing. BUT, on the classic Lubitel, it’s very hard to accurately focus. So be sure to take your time, pay attention, clean your glasses, and have good eyes!!
5. You and your wife have over 4000 cameras in your house! Which three are your top favorites?
Of course our favorites are Soviets!! Each one reflects a piece of contemporary history. Some are the work of desperate engineers – such as the Almaz camera, some are dedicated to a special event or person – like my KIEV 15 TEE from Afghanistan or the many FED commemorative editions. However, I think that my top favorites are all made by Zenit. I’ve got over 140 models. The Zenit 1 is especially great. It’s so compact, simple, rustic, and efficient. A string pulls the mirror! And all its lenses are fantastic. Need I say more?
6. Many Lubitel lovers appreciate how it “slows” them down and makes them think about their subject. When you shoot the Lubitel, how does it make you feel?
I feel exactly the same. It’s quite impossible to shoot speedy! We have to keep the film cost in mind too. That’s a big difference from the free orgy of digital cameras. Another pleasure is to watch people’s reactions when you use such and old-fashioned camera. Many of them smile and remember the good ‘ol days!
7. Do you have any funny or crazy stories about the Lubitel or another Soviet camera? Any freaky bits of trivia?
One Sunday, I was taking images of my friend’s wedding. Alongside my Nikon F100, I carried a Soviet camera filled with b&w film. It was a 1965 Zorki 10 (with quite a Bauhaus design, in my opinion). A child on the street near the church shouted to hi Dad “look Papa, look at the man’s new super digital camera!!! The Lesson: If you are alone, want attention, and want to make friends: USE AN OLD FASHIONNED SOVIET-MADE CAMERA EVERYWHERE ;-))
8. In your opinion, what makes a Lubitel image unique?
It’s unique because everyone wonders what expensive and sophisticated camera shot those pictures.
9. If someone REALLY loves the Lubitel, what are some other Soviet-era cameras that they should hunt down and purchase?
Without a doubt, the “Agat” cameras. They are half-frame (quite economical) and houses a very sharp lens in a cheap plastic body. I believe that this camera could follow the LOMO LC-A in your Lomographic philosophy. Hurry guys – buy up all the units and make good business with this quite unknown camera! And as a bonus: you can easily stick two cameras together to make a very good stereo camera.
10. Would you have any words of advice for future Lubitel photographers?
A word of caution: never place this camera on your chest if you need a quiet trip through the streets, because everyone will turn their head to look at it – as if you have a sex symbol on your body! And more serious: always keep some coins in the filter compartment of your classic Lubitel. They come in handy for parking meters, any time that you have to stop your car for an urgent landscape shot.
Love Lubitel? Get a copy of the book here