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LC-A Big Book Chapter 44: 1930: Fotokor, LOMO PLC’s First Mass Produced Photo Camera

So it came to be that in 1929 the Director General himself, L.G. Titov, brought home a Zeiss Icon Maximar folding camera, showed it to his astounded wife and told her in firm belief: “We Russians need similar photographic equipment to document our lives, and it will be GOZ who will make the very first Russian camera for the masses!”

51. The FOTOKOR, LOMO PLC’s first photo camera for the Russian masses. Over 1.3 Million units were produced during the first 11 years of production.

Even though their field of high-quality optics was unrivalled in Russia, the GOZ Works was nonetheless in a constant competition with international brands such as the German company, Karl Zeiss. It was not in a direct competition with these companies, as the German products seldom entered the isolated Soviet market, but it wanted to top the internationally offered products by any means – it was clearly unimaginable that the capitalist western world developed better products than the communists!

So it came to be that in 1929 the Director General himself, L.G. Titov, brought home a Zeiss Icon Maximar folding camera, showed it to his astounded wife and told her in firm belief: “We Russians need similar photographic equipment to document our lives, and it will be GOZ who will make the very first Russian camera for the masses!” In no time the agile Russians dismantled the piece of German handiwork and re-manufactured every tiny bit – unfortunately, the shutter was so complicated that the GOZ engineers could not come up with a home-made solution in time. The shutter was therefore imported from the Germans for 7 golden rubles the piece. A FOTOKOR with an imported shutter was priced at 7.50 golden rubles during the first years of production of the Soviet Union’s very first mass-produced photo-camera. On 24th of July 1930, the FOTOKOR was born and as the icing of the cake, GOZ was renamed once again (to "State Optical and Mechanical Works” shortened to GOMZ). The apparatus, of typical solid yet simple nature, proved to be a success amongst Soviet comrades and there were a total of 1,300,000 pieces produced in an 11-year period. By early 1931, a State Photographic Bond issue of 70 Million rubles was launched by the Council of the People’s Commissars to allow the working population to obtain cameras, and to create the infrastructure of everything that photography entails (cameras and accessories). The “Pan-Russian trust for the Opto-Mechanical Industry” was authorised to issue photographic shares, authorising each participant to receive a “modern camera with a full set of accessories”. This modern camera was in most cases the FOTOKOR from GOMZ, which by the end of 1933 was also completely equipped with Russian shutters and lenses capable of rivalling the former models produced with “Made in Germany” shutters.

The camera was also heavily exported to befriended communist countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria. Surprisingly, even Japan – the country whose powerful photo-production would bring LOMO PLC’s to its knees 60 years later – demanded a batch of FOTOKOR’s. “Mr. RAOOMP, please sell us 1000 FOTOKOR’s” was the polite request received in a telegram in 1942.

This first camera from LOMO PLC used large format film and was equipped with the entirely Soviet-made 135mm Ortagozlens. Like with most of the lenses from LOMO PLC, the unique sand of the Baltic Sea (which is effectively one of the main reasons for the outstanding quality of LOMO PLC’s lenses) was used to assemble the glass that proved to be of excellent quality! The FOTOKOR was truly the very first camera for the masses and served as a “family camera” for many citizens of the Soviet Union. When a farmer achieved very good results that were above the planned goals, he often received a FOTOKOR as a little present. As Russia’s lands are wide, many people did not have access to new camera models or simply did not need a new camera. The model that is exposed in the LOMO PLC factory’s own museum was in use by a Siberian family for 43 years!

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written by ungrumpy

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Spanish.