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LC-A Big Book Chapter 28: Babushkas and Lomo Embassies in St. Petersburg

“Do I look like a grandmother?”A doctor twice over, executive chairman of LOMO PLC, who had worked for more than 30 years at the company, Aleksandr Aronov had few similarities to a “Babuschka”. Holding the fax in his hand, he could hardly believe his eyes; it stated that a member of the Lomographic Society had alleged to a writer in a Chicago newspaper that the LOMO LC-A was being manufactured by grandmothers in the factory halls in St Petersburg who wore head scarves and were wrapped in shawls.

ALEKSANDR MIKHAILOVICH ARONOV: THE LOMO PLC BOSS
Dr Aronov is the very man behind the decisions that made the production of the LOMO LCA+ possible. The LOMO PLC Chairman of the Board of Directors liked the idea of recreating the LOMO LC-A from day one and did everything in his power to make Chinese production a reality. He arranged to send the 20kg package with 300 technical drawings of the camera to China and also agreed to re-set up the Minitar 1 lens-manufacturing workshop in St Petersburg. Aleksander Aronov is an avid supporter of Lomography although he prefers to concentrate on serious things. He successfully leads the optical company with his charismatic yet charming style and likes to collect books in his free time. Read more about the Lomographers’ old friend in his interview on page 546.

Despite the recently settled contract, which was to ensure the existence of the little LOMO LC-A for future years, the partnership between the St Petersburg LOMO PLC and the Viennese Lomographers did not always run smoothly. “Now we’ll take the Lomographers to court!” resonated from the executive’s office of the LOMO PLC factory, and the thud from the impact of the heavy folders (filled with prepared complaints) on the robust wooden desk of the Executive Chairman Aleksandr Mikhailovitch Aronov, shook the walls. “Do I look like a grandmother?”A doctor twice over, executive chairman of LOMO PLC, who had worked for more than 30 years at the company, Aleksandr Aronov had few similarities to a “Babuschka”. Holding the fax in his hand, he could hardly believe his eyes; it stated that a member of the Lomographic Society had alleged to a writer in a Chicago newspaper that the LOMO LC-A was being manufactured by grandmothers in the factory halls in St Petersburg who wore head scarves and were wrapped in shawls. A depiction, nothing akin to the Executive Chairman, and certainly nothing like the reality of the high-tech optical company for Science, Space and the Military!

Furious about the scandalous piece of news, Aronov was ready to take action. He didn’t know the Lomographers then, he only knew the figures from the LOMO LC-A production, which didn’t overly excite the ambitious man. The LOMO PLC Lomography specialist Lazar Zalmanov was summoned to the senior management. Over the years he had become an expert at explaining Lomography to the senior officials and calming them when feelings ran high as a result of increasing production costs. Upon hearing this news he was also not overjoyed. He persuaded the Executive Chairman to allow him a little time to come to terms with the news and to take the necessary steps to rectify the situation. Unlike Aleksandr Aronov, who had first thought the information had been spread officially by the Lomographic Society (which of course was not the case, the Lomographers had always been impressed by the wondrous inventions and modernity of the LOMO PLC factory), Lazar Zalmanov instinctively felt that such an article should be dealt with as a gross misunderstanding. The good relationship between the Lomographers and LOMO PLC should on no account break down.

The story of the much discussed article is as follows. A few months beforehand a badly informed Lomo Ambassador gave an interview to an American journalist, in which he used the clumsy wording of the old women with the head scarves to describe the LOMO PLC factory in St Petersburg. Therefore, the journalist spiced up the story (“old women” were transformed into “Babuschkas”) and published his article on the LOMO LC-A in a Chicago newspaper. This article got in the hands of a Russian radio journalist, who got wind of a real scandal: “Our dignified St Petersburg LOMO PLC factory is ridiculed abroad” he announced on the early morning radio programme. An office staff member from LOMO PLC heard the early morning programme in his car on his way to work and almost couldn’t believe his ears. Hardly had he arrived at Chugunnaya Street than he sent a fax to the Executive Chairman, reporting the shocking news coverage and immediately prepared some lengthy complaints to the Lomographic Society about the slanderous report.

Lazar Zalmanov, who on the basis of his many years of contact knew exactly what fervent fans the Lomographers were of LOMO PLC, pondered how the situation could be rectified. He and his assistant hit upon the grandiose idea of a charm offensive. He attempted to explain “the whole idea” to the Director General, “it’s definitely a big misunderstanding”, as the “Babuschka problem” has not arisen from official press information from the Lomographic Society. “We now realise that the global network of Lomographic Ambassadors don’t know much about our respectable factory, and instead of suing our dear friends we should use this situation as an opportunity to invite all the official LomoAmbassadors to us in St Petersburg to show them our production halls and products. Then we send them out into the big wide world to report the very best about our beloved LOMO PLC factory!”

Taken with this idea, the executive chairman consented to the imaginative proposal made by the PR department. In the summer of 2001 LomoAmbassadors from all over the world gathered in St Petersburg and were personally instructed by Aleksandr Aronov on all the secrets of LOMO PLC. They met the charming and far from grandmother-like female staff of the factory. Those from LOMO PLC and the Lomographers then celebrated by taking a boat trip together to the Fontanka River. A few drinks later, with a little Dutch courage, the Austrians were singing Tyrolean songs at full volume. They danced ‘Kalinka’ and Lazar Zalmanov even received a massage from one of the Lomographers!. Subsequent communication was much better and all parties were happy and satisfied. What about executive chairman Aleksandr Aronov? He was not present on that merry, convivial boat trip. However, a few weeks after the emergence of the “grandmother” article the Lomographers had talked him into joining them for the world famous brunch at Hotel Europe in St Petersburg. Faced with tubs of Caviar and sparkling wine tensions eased, their friendship was sealed and they ate and laughed a great deal. Since then Aleksandr Aronov has been an avid supporter of Lomography and since 2006 he has been the Chairman of LOMO PLC’s board of directors.

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written by ungrumpy

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Deutsch, Italiano & Spanish.