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LC-A Big Book Chapter 45: The Bloom of Photo Camera Production

Nevertheless, no honest communist wanted to miss the opportunity to document his surroundings with a big camera in his hands and so the number of amateur photographers in the 1930's was quite large. These photographers were mostly developing their images themselves in their own home bathroom laboratory, as public services that offered photographic treatment such as development and printing simply did not exist.

From the early 1930’s onwards, the Soviet Union took photography quite seriously and declared it as an integral part of the “communal” life of citizens: a complete industry was built up including photo-cameras, accessories, lenses, chemical products, photosensitive plates and papers. No photographic goods were imported to Russia except some negative film used by cinematographic studios. However, the Soviet photographic movement was strictly controlled and censured by the Society of Cultural Relations with the Exterior (VOKS) and suppressed any pictorialist, not to mention artistic, effort that did not contribute to the national art form of “Socialist Realism”. It was also decided that no photographic works other than “Reportage” would be shown outside the country.

Nevertheless, no honest communist wanted to miss the opportunity to document his surroundings with a big camera in his hands and so the number of amateur photographers in the 1930’s was quite large. These photographers were mostly developing their images themselves in their own home bathroom laboratory, as public services that offered photographic treatment such as development and printing simply did not exist. Several photographic journals such as the “Photoproletarian” or “Lubitel FOTO” also saw the light of the day and had many subscribers throughout the whole union during this period. Being systematically integrated into the development of the Five Year Plan, photography was recognised officially in the USSR as an indispensable tool for everything that involves not only science and technology, but other aspects of economic, political and cultural life. Photography was understood just as Minister Lunatcharski, People’s Commissar of Popular Instruction, put it: “Civilized man must know how to use a camera as often and as precisely as he uses a watch to know what time it is. Everyone in the USSR must possess not only general training, but specific training in photography, and we must march forward at top speed towards this end”.

Inspired by highly official commands like this, the production of a whole lot of visual equipment was kicked off at GOMZ in St Petersburg. In 1931, the “GEKORD” was released, a portable sound motion-picture device. In 1933, the first movie camera KS-1 was released, later followed by its descendants the KS-2, KS-21 and KS-5 movie cameras. In 1935, a photographic enlarger and the first models of the “Sport” camera (1936) were assembled. Photo cameras such as the Tourist (1934), the Reporter (1937), the Liliput (1937) and the Malutka (1939) followed the path of the FOTOKOR and featured more complicated functions that made the fledgling young Russian photographic society jump for joy.

Thanks to the high quality and creativity of the devices provided by the Leningrad opticians, the Russian motion picture industry was back on its feet after the difficult years of revolution. The prosperous 1930s were only topped when GOMZ received the order to design the optical system of the Leningrad Planetarium (the very place where many years later Lomographic exhibitions and parties would be celebrated). GOMZ completed the task in a year and a half, whereas representatives of the German Karl Zeiss company needed 5 years to build the Moscow Planetarium – comparatively little difference for mankind, but a big difference for the proud Soviet nation!

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written by ungrumpy

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