"It’s only a camera!" That’s what someone told me, just after seeing how I was excited about the new camera I bought, unpacking very accurately and religiously look at all the accessories of the Lubitel 166+. In reality, there’s a large part of Europe’s history behind the project of this camera.
I think it would be an epic mistake to underestimate the real historical value of this camera. It’s amazing how many decades of European history had made possible to create the conditions for the birth of this project. Two main historical events made the difference: the end of the Second World War (with the separation of Germany in East and West) and the end of the Cold War.
After the WWII, Russia gained the control of Eastern Germany. The beginning of the cold war, in the first decade after the end of the war, was a great period for this nation, in terms of rising up scientific, technologic and war knowledge. Focusing on optical and photography industry, many factories were dismantled. Projects were taken from these factories and brought to the Russian technologic capital city: St. Petersburg (Leningrad). The new optical technologies were studied in a company, called “GOMZ” (Gosularstvennyi Optiko-Mekhanicheskii Zavod): this is the company that, later in 1965, changed his name Leningradskoe Optiko Mekhanichesko Obedinenie, or simply “LOMO”, as we know it today.
As you read in the previous articles about the “ancestors” of the Lubitel 166+, one year after the end of the war, GOMZ released the new camera “Komsomolets”, openly inspired to the Voightlander Brilliant (which was one of the project found in the Eastern Germany). Even though it was an evident copy, it was a great investment, for a country that escaped from a war destruction less than 2 years before.
The GOMZ and LOMO engineers were also the authors of 26 models of Smena camera models. The name Smena means Young Generation. The birth of Smena models was in 1939, but the first 35mm Smena camera was released in 1953, in the same year in which the soviet dicator J. V. Stalin was deposed; some people say that the re-launch of Smena models in that year was because of the changes in Soviet Union leadership: the meaning “Young Generation” could have a political and historical role or influences.
This simple viewfinder camera was really cheap and made of Bakelite (just like many ancestors of the Lubitel). With the second release, in 1953, was made a great public event; this camera had a great impact on Soviet photo industry, optical industry and photography learning (at an university level).
The production and research/development activity of the Smenas stopped more or less in the mid-1990s. Last models lost the Bakelite structure and gained the modern plastic one: the same technical evolution made in Lubitel’s ancestors.
All these technical evolutions will merge in the creation of the Lubitel 166 Universal and then in the Lubitel 166+.
This was the first step of the evolution of the project “+”, but we have to wait until the end of the Cold War, before defining why our little “jewel” is like this.
Alessandro Panelli (aka yo.panic or .panic) is a Medicine and Surgery student, a photographer and a writer from Padova (Italy, near Venice). Read more about Alessandro’s work and life here or add him on Facebook or Google+.