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LC-A Big Book Chapter 23: We Want More LOMO LC-A’s The Meeting with Vladimir Putin

The discussion with the prospective President of a world power was pleasant. Putin was very interested in Lomography and after approximately an hour when the meeting came to an end each party stated that production of the LOMO LC-A should be maintained. Discontinuing production of the camera would not benefit the city of St Petersburg or aid their international reputation! After the auspicious meeting, some time later another meeting took place with the political heavyweight Putin and LOMO PLC Director General Klebanov.

26. Mr. Vladimirovich Putin discussing the future of the LOMO LC-A with the Lomographers.

VLADIMIR VLADIMIROVICH PUTIN: THE PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
St Petersburg-born Vladimir Putin first met the Lomographers in March 1996 when he was Vice-Mayor of St Petersburg. As production of the LOMO LC-A was once again in jeopardy the Austrian students pulled out all the stops and succeeded in organizing a meeting with the mayor of the Russian city. When the time came for the meeting the Mayor was unfortunately tied up with business, the Lomographers were seated in front of Mr. Putin who explained the situation to them. Herr Putin who of course knew about the LOMO LC-A, found the Lomographic Society worth a listen and quickly decided that “the production of the camera has to go on!”. A few meetings with Klebanov, the man in charge, secured the ongoing production of LOMO LC-A and everything was settled for the Lomographic adventure to continue. Vladimir Putin is married, has two daughters and is in a leading position in the biggest country of the world. Mr. Putin never leaves the house without his LOMO LC-A – as he once confessed to an Austrian journalist – and almost knows the 10 Golden Rules by heart.

HOW LOMO PLC GENERAL DIRECTOR ILYA KLEBANOV BECAME VICE PRIME MINISTER OF RUSSIA
The Lomographers were quite surprised when in the year 2000 Lazar Zalmanov handed over this newspaper article to them and said: “’See what the Vice Prime minister of Russia has to say about Lomography”. The article, published in the Moscow News in March 2000 featured an interview with the Vice Prime minister Ilya Klebanov: I think those who consider you to be the player in the St Petersburg’s team of Putin have some reasons for it. What was the story of your acquaintance with him? – It was the end of 1992. That year I was appointed a General Director of LOMO PLC. At that time a new sales line of LOMO LC-A cameras was established. Three recent graduates from Vienna University had established the “Lomographic Society”. They had created something akin to a new branch of art: Lomography. The idea is: you take small-sized pictures with a small, simple, cheap automatic camera and glue them on a stand with almost no order. And you get a picture of an instant section of life. They had exhibitions in Paris, Tokyo, New York, Moscow, St Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin and so on. They decided to be the exclusive buyers of our cameras. They made an application. But the problem was with the price: they asked for an unbelievably low price, lower than the cost price. We refused. But unexpectedly two Austrian members of parliament happened to be fans of Lomography. They had a meeting with Putin who was the Head of the Committee for Foreign Relations and knocked on me during this visit. Then I met Putin at a conference. He asked me: “Why not help the guys? It would be profitable for both: the factory and the city.” I said: “Vladimir, I would if I could, but…”. Eventually we found the solution. This was our first meeting. Then I met Putin several times, he occupied different posts in Moscow. I called him when I needed his help for the company’s business and he appointed a time for a meeting, usually within the same day. It continued until the moment Sergey Stepashin invited me here. And then I started to work in Putin’s team.

An emergency meeting was organised in Vienna at the student flat with provisions of Russian Vodka and Tyrolean speck. “The jury is still out!” chorused the senior Lomographers in unison and together they resolved to pull out all the stops; as from the outset, they were determined not to let this problem stop them! Together with Monika Langthaler (who at that time was one of the most important and powerful people in Austrian politics and had worked closely with the Lomographers at the large Moscow-New York exhibition) and Gerald Matt (Museums Director of Kunsthalle Wien and old friend and supporter of Lomography) the Lomographers devised the following plan: “We’ll contact Anatoly Sobtschak, the Mayor of St Petersburg, and convince him of the importance of the LOMO LC-A production. He will then convince the Director General of LOMO PLC to continue production of the camera and maybe even to subsidize it. That’s the only way we can save the LOMO LC-A!”

No sooner said than done; with the help of the Austrian Consul in St Petersburg, Dr. Westfält, it was possible to organize a meeting with the Mayor of the city in March 1996. On the eve of the meeting in St Petersburg, the Viennese Delegation (comprising Monika Langthaler, Gerald Matt and the Lomographers) were summoned to an official “State banquet” in the Austrian Consulate. After a short stand-up reception with champagne and hors d’oeuvres, the doors to the State banquet were finally opened. The guests could hardly believe their eyes when they saw what lay before them. An enormous table was filled with Vodka, Caviar, salmon and gherkins, wine and liquors, reindeer steak, potato delicacies and more. The Lomographers were prepared to use every trick in the book for the important meeting the following day! You can obviously imagine that the mood in the crowded banqueting hall soon reached its high point and they partied until the early hours of the morning. To this day none of the participants are able to give a very detailed account of that evening!

Early the next morning the Consul’s State limousine, flagged with the Austrian Imperial Regalia, drove up to the doors of the LOMO PLC works to drop off the Viennese group for their appointment with the Mayor of St Petersburg and Director General Klebanov. Afterwards it continued directly at the Mayor’s town hall. Hardly had the group (comprising Director General Klebanov, his advisor, Consul Dr. Westfält, Langthaler, Matt and the Lomographers) arrived when they suffered a great disappointment; Mayor Sobtschak was unavailable. Only his deputy and Minister for External Relations had time to discuss the lomographic matter. The amiable, somewhat cynical and German speaking man was called Vladimir Putin.

The discussion with the prospective President of a world power was pleasant. Putin was very interested in Lomography and after approximately an hour when the meeting came to an end each party stated that production of the LOMO LC-A should be maintained. Discontinuing production of the camera would not benefit the city of St Petersburg or aid their international reputation! After the auspicious meeting, some time later another meeting took place with the political heavyweight Putin and LOMO PLC Director General Klebanov. Both were agreed on the future of the LOMO LC-A, that recalculations concerning the production of the camera should be carried out and that they find a compromise with the Viennese Lomographers. However, the LOMO LC-A appeared not to have been the only point of discussion. A few years later, the future Russian President Putin appointed Ilya Iosifovich Klebanov in his Cabinet and made him Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. So the meeting instigated by the Lomographers (who had simply not wanted to give in) between both prospective partners is said to have been their first point of contact!

Years later, Putin told an Austrian journalist that he carried a LOMO LC-A with him on a daily basis and that he was still very interested in Lomography. It is important to bear in mind that in general you are not likely to find people in the world who want to support campaigns, such as the Lomographer’s “Save the LOMO LC-A”. However, in Russia it is the contrary even during periods of political and economic crisis. Despite difficult economic circumstances, the interest and fun of the culture and strange ideas was and is unbowed – and that’s exactly why the Lomographers love Russia and the Russians!

To digress briefly from the Putin-Meeting: Directly after the meeting the travelling Viennese delegation and the St Petersburg team split up and each went their separate way (to work, to shop or to enjoy the culture). The Viennese had arranged to meet at 6pm in cafe “Vienna” (where else) at the Hotel Nevskji, Nevskji Prospekt, which boasts a variety of sensational cakes and desserts. As usual, the senior Lomographers came late, even the Museums Director Gerald arrived a little late and unusually for the normally punctual politician, Monika, she also didn’t reach the cafe in time. All of them met at the same time in front of cafe “Vienna”, approximately 20 minutes too late. The café was closed and remarkably there were lots of police around. “Technical problems” was the reason given for the café being closed. However, when three longish grey boxes were carried out of the café a little later, it became clear that it wasn’t just technical problems. Back in Vienna the Lomographers read in the newspaper that at exactly 6pm a Mafia shootout had taken place in that very cafe, where two senior Mafioso from St Petersburg and a British businessman were killed. The businessman had been very unfortunate; he was deaf and dumb and failed to hide himself. In view of these facts and their close escape from death thanks to the conviviality of the Viennese, it can only be said: “Long live the traditional Viennese coffee houses and the Austrian culture of being late!”

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written by ungrumpy

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