Are you in the mood to ponder about the questions on why you are into analogue photography? Sean Miles Lotman, a writer and budding haiku poet, tackles these hot topics of discussion and elaborates on the intrinsic aura that lies in the analogue world.
There is a tendency among photographers to define themselves through their camera as much as by the photographic end result. Doing so they willfully reveal a philosophical approach to seeing the world with their chosen instrument. Although I have experimented with digital and film, SLRs and point-and-shoots, given my druthers I’ll take my Diana F+ when I head out for a meandering walk. Drawn to the unique sensibility of “toy cameras,” I find the term alternately appalling and charming. The derogatory categorization suggests Holgas, Dianas, Fisheyes, and others are, in effect, juvenile, “toys,” and thus their aesthetic should be asterisked in relation to “serious” photography. On the other hand, the nickname suggests a child’s spirit at work, experimental, appreciative, in awe of beautiful, and more importantly, ordinary things, a realm of the imagination inaccessible to the old and cynical.
With digitalization streamlining the photographic experience it seems no coincidence that Lomography should be in its ascendancy. In her classic text On Photography, Susan Sontag writes that faster, better technology will cause some individuals to want to produce photos with a special, handmade quality, “an aura,” so to speak. Writing about this subject in the late 1970s, it seems prescient today when you look at the democratization of photography we’ve witnessed in the last decade, particularly user-friendly digital SLRs saturating the image market. Nikon, and especially, Canon, have produced cameras so popular it feels like everything this past decade has been photographed to a condition of numbness. How can photographs of iconic images such as the Pyramids, Angkor Wat, or the Grand Canyon surprise us anymore? The Lomo and its tendency towards the serendipitous accident is the counterpoint to the digital argument of neatness, focus, and “the sure thing.”
The surest thing about my Diana F+ is there is no sure thing. Getting the depth of field can be tricky and its sensitive aperture means that the absence of quality light will spoil a shot bet on wishful thinking. The viewfinder and the lens are not aligned so I have bungled some compositions, occasionally ruining something that might have been magnificent. I have done a lot of traveling and there have been many occasions in which I was at a place I would never revisit, only to come home and feel a terrible disappointment due the problematic character of the Diana F+. But when it works, it’s not just magic but an absolutely personal creation. It is a true photographic fingerprint. And that’s why Lomography matters in our increasingly homogenized photo culture.
The general public is waking up to this, evident in the popularity of the iPhone application, Hipstamatic, which transforms boring camera phone images into something with an “analogue feel.” As the first syllable of its name suggests, this analogue shortcut is very trendy among a young, cool population surfeited with digital photography.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but there is also a risk of industrial and artistic plagiarism. Beyond these considerations, the Hipstamtaic completely misses the point. Shooting analogue is not just an aesthetic; it is just as much a philosophy and a method. Analogue is an awareness that we live in an unpredictable, uncontrollable, vibrant world rife with hidden beauties and eloquence in small, everyday objects. Shooting analogue requires the photographer to be more intuitive than his digital counterpart—to feel his environment better, because factoring in the costs of film, development, and prints, you do not have trigger-finger options. For the street photographer then (where I feel most productive with my camera) you must be in touch with the moment in order to get it right. It’s a quality of Zen oblivious to the photographer dependent on an LCD screen.
For many, Lomography is an acquired taste (my father’s unintentional criticism is that of “blurriness”) and for many its surrealistic sensibility renders it something other than photography, placing it something between high art and indulgent dilettante-ishness. But in its distortion of reality, the Lomo photograph is more akin to the paintings of Impressionists than the Surrealists, for it is not trying to subvert reality as much as build a daydream out of it. Impressionism and Lomography share a primacy of visual effects over detail and vividness over geometry. Lomo photographs often have the same kind of broad brushstrokes found in the paintings of a Monet or Renoir. The two forms also share a strong sense of immediacy and intimacy: there is no zoom lens on the Diana F+ so if you want your shot you cannot hide from your subject at a safe distance— you must reveal yourself, up close and personal. Finally, like that school of 19th century painting, Lomo is an upstart art form, on the fringe, dismissed by most establishment “experts,” flourishing on its own in underground movements that celebrate its distinct anarchic virtues.
Unlike the Impressionists who eventually won over the Establishment, it remains to be seen where Lomo photography is headed. With the digital option being so cheap and convenient and the learning curve on some Lomo cameras rather long and exasperating, it’s unlikely that the Lomo option will ever corner the market but then, what good would that be, anyways? We’re not proselytizers. We’re not even a cult.
We just like good photographs that don’t look like anybody else’s. It’s as simple as that.
Check out Sean Miles Lotman’s other works at: