I don’t wish to stick out like a sore thumb here but I personally don’t think there is really a perfect lomo combination. It is more like the elixir many medieval alchemists sought for to convert any metal into gold – which they never did, and no one did until now.
If we take lomo combination as a simple mathematical problem where ‘C’ represents the number of lomo cameras and ‘F’ the number of kinds of films, the product ‘CF’ represents the number of possible combinations of the cameras and the films. Now this gets complicated if you pair medium format films with 35mm cameras – and I leave it up to you to think of ingenious ways to resolve such incompatibility (since the reverse is completely applicable with simple modification like additional foam in both source and take-up spools). The point is, there can be many lomo combinations we can arrive at. But the question is, which of them is genuinely perfect?
‘Perfect’ is a difficult adjective and I am very nervous about it. And I’m amazed at how some people use it as a matter of fact and casually like choosing a combo meal at a fastfood chain. For me, the word implies being exactly the best. Anything below it is just good, sub-standard, so-so or imperfect. It also implies predictable premium quality at all times in any condition. Anything that deviates from its expected standard behavior at any time is just not perfect. Simply put, a perfect lomo combination would mean that any time you use such camera and film the results will always be nothing short of amazing perfection – a situation I regard with suspicion.
I have to be honest, in my four years as a lomographer I haven’t seen or encountered yet a combination that consistently produced perfect shots everytime, anytime, anywhere. Or the entire roll of shots came out all aces. At best, all shots came out great but not the second time around. There are times some of my shots turned out very well while others did not. And in worst cases, all frames turned out blank. While I may say I make less mistakes now than when I first started this passion, I still have to discover and be convinced about that combination which some people say is perfect. Could they be right, to what degree of certainty? Or do they actually mean favorite or favorable lomo combination and perfect is just a convenient word to use? It’s just hard for me to take other people’s words at face value and simply jump on the bandwagon.
Standard of perfection and beauty is a subjective matter and is never fixed but fluid with time and the changing social conditions. While everyone can just name a combination that gives him/her the most delight as perfect, perfection being a matter of personal taste and choice is impossible to be the norm for everyone all the time (as the term ‘perfect lomo combination’ suggests). It will be difficult to imagine it as a single yardstick to rate all photographs when the experiences of lomography is as varied as the number of lomographers there are in the world. I may argue that there is not one lomography but a universe of lomographies as each experience is different across lomographers worldwide.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If people claim to have found a perfect lomo combo, the acid test to determine the truth to my mind is to try it myself. But will it not be a great disappointment if the promised perfection does not turn into reality once the new convert tries the prescription? Is perfection truly replicable when the fact is, one’s triumph is another person’s defeat?
IMO, there is no perfect camera and film. I have reasons to believe this. Cameras do have a lifespan and subject to the wear and tear of usage. One of my LCA+ has a defective lightmeter which tends to overexpose outdoor shots; two of my cameras have broken rewind knobs; my Smena’s shutter doors never close; my Fisheye advances to the end of the roll instead of the next frame while my Supersamplers advance no more; the flash of my Diana F+ lights after the shutter door is already closed, rendering it useless. And these are just the lomo-branded among my cameras which are now far from their perfect working condition.
Being brand new is also no guarantee of perfection as in the case of some reported or shouted-out defective newly released Bel Air cams. Films, even fresh, will eventually expire. And depending on storage and handling, their life may be shorter than expected and may behave unfavorably below standards of perfection (which is not bad after all, considering many who fall in love with so-called beautiful accidents and happy mistakes).
Attributing perfection merely as a function of the right combination of camera and film is flawed as it does not factor into the equation other important variables like available light, the subject, the setting, and more importantly, the eye and skill of the photographer. You can sport the most expensive camera with a fabulous lens loaded with a highly desired infrared film, but in the absence of aesthetics, visual acumen and adeptness with the gadget, you may end up with frustration. As the saying goes, it’s not the bow and arrow but the Indian.
Actually, I don’t shoot for perfection. To shoot that way is like shooting in a vacuum where all variables are controlled in order to yield the expected results 100% – nothing more, nothing less. That sounds no fun at all for me. Even if I believe photography is both a science and an art, and to be good at it you need to learn both, my work-in-progress style seems to gravitate more towards the latter. What really made me attracted to lomography is the premium it gives to freedom and playfulness of the shooting experience (the process) over and above the lomograph (the product). But years of experience have taught me to work out ways that while not being too concerned with ‘being perfect’ or even being too scientific about it, I can increase my chances of getting better results (or becoming somewhat/almost/near perfect) regardless of the camera or film I use, including the following points:
• If shooting in low light setting, use high ASA films and/or flash.
• If using redscaled films, try to overexpose if you want lighter tones and/or use flash.
• If doing multiples, underexpose each shot and shoot darker image before lighter one.
We can only guess probable results based on a range of previous results but then probability is a two-sided coin – things may come out just as we imagined it or it may not. One cannot predict with absolute precision what may result in using a certain combination of camera and film. Unpredicatability is an exciting quality that sets film photography apart from the digital. Perfection destroys the notion of unpredictability, of luck and chance.
Rather than adhering to a particular combination, I would encourage newbie lomographers to explore the many possible combinations of cameras and films out there. Every combination is a beautiful possibility and you will never know it if you don’t try. You need not buy all the stuff in the shop but you can build relations with other lomographers for some form of resource sharing (something like ‘I lend you mine, I borrow yours’, or ‘you adopt mine, I’ll take care of yours’).
Even if we are actually more alike than different, the fact remains that what is perfect for you may not be the same for others. My imperfect photography thrives in the beauty of accidents, luck, experiments and failures. I love my shots the way they are because behind every photograph I take is a personal experience and a cherished memory whose beauty people may not appreciate.
It might just be me but I’m still nervous about the word ‘perfect.’ I’m more comfortable about open possibilities. For me, that sounds more lomographic.