Every once in a while we'd stumble upon some creative projects that spark our curiosity. The Lomo Diaries by Maika Elan is one of them. More than just a place to keep photographic memories, this series is a personal collaboration between the photographer and her subjects. Here, Maika tells us more about her roots as a photographer and her creative journey with Lomography.
Hello, Maika! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a freelance female photographer from Vietnam. You can call me Maika, the nickname that my friends gave me when I was young (Elan is also not my last name, it simply refers to the name of the first camera I own). I have a husband who is also a photographer and a mischievous 5-year-old son. We all love to travel, listen to music together and experience this life in the most fun way possible.
How did you get started as a photographer?
I started while studying sociology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. Then I used Lomography cameras to take pictures of my daily and private life since 2005. I turned to professional photography soon, working on collaborations for editorial clients and fashion firms in Vietnam until 2009. In 2010 I moved to documentary photography and pursued it so far.
My first long-term project called The Pink Choice, which focused on personal lives of gay couples in Vietnam (in two years 2011 - 2012), has won some great awards and since then people knew about me. Later on, I continued to make photo stories with other social themes such as Ain't Talking Just Loving (about lonely people living with their pets), Like My Father (about my father's cancer-fighting process) or most recently, "It felt safe here" (about the hikikomori people in Japan, who locked themselves in their own rooms and didn't have any communication with family or external society).
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
I don't know exactly, I have never tried to force myself into any particular style. Can I simply call Maika's style? :)) I think it is always something about colorful, positive and gentle.
Can you share with us more info about your Lomo Diaries series? What separates Lomo Diaries from your other works?
My first lomo diary book was made in 2009 and lasted until 2014, with a total of 4 different books.
However, the advent of these lomo diaries came from another hobby. In addition to taking photos and moving, I like to collect notebooks. I am quite passionate about stationery and handmade products made from paper. During the period of 2005 - 2010, I owned hundreds of different notebooks and many of them came from India: with both handmade paper and leather cover, sometimes the cover was also attached to cheap stone. Because there are so many and can't use it all, I thought about one day, I would choose some beauty notebooks and put my photos in, like a normal photo album.
And then my fate with Lomography came. I remember it was May 2009, when I was nearly 23 years old and had been with film camera for 4 years - I was chosen to attend an international photography workshop in Malay. It was also my first trip abroad to attend a certain photography program. Here, I met an Indonesian photographer and did not pay too much attention to him. Because to tell the truth, after the first day of meeting and introducing his own works, I found his photo unattractive: there were too many technical errors in it, sometimes too bright, sometimes not sharp, details are unclear... But when the exhibition was held at the end of the seminar, all the photos were printed and hung up, the photos were taken in a village's sheep farms of the Indonesia photographer were enlarged almost 2m - it must be said to be stunned! Not only me, but all nearly 50 people who are photographers from different countries have to say its too beautiful, and nobody can explain why it is so beautiful and so different like that. It is something emotional, strong feelings that come before even your thoughts and judgments. I remember at that time I jumped in front of the Indo guy and asked, "How? How did you do that?" He answered by casually taking out a blue army plastic camera in his bag, called a Holga, to my face!
So after 2 months learning about Lomography from that day, I quickly entered that new world by buying right away for myself... 7 different lomo cameras, for my first time! Don't be surprised, because now I have more than twice that, but ... must be, if I want to play to the end. And it was this eagerness that made me have the intention of making lomo picture books separately, as a diary from the first days of using lomo cameras and also as a kind of diary that extremely lively and curious about my youth.
For me, in the beginning, taking photos with simple and lovely plastic cameras as a way to relax, interspersed with my other work, it helps me balance between work - and play. It made me never feel that taking photos was exhausting or holding the camera was a tedious act. Moreover, taking photos on the street with a plastic camera, you can easily approach characters because it makes you look very harmless, even cooler. However, when it is considered a serious tool or skill, it is also a way of showing me how to make my story much more creative and poetic.
Your story is truly inspiring! Could you tell us the process behind your Lomo Diaries?
When I first started, I mainly took portraits of my friends, as a way to familiarize myself with each feature of each camera. Then slowly I used plastic cameras in many more options like landscape photos, wedding photos, street photos or even documentary photos. Sometimes, instead of taking each frame individually, I enjoy the game of overlapping images by shooting two or three times on the same frame. Even now I often shoot a roll with one of the lomo camera there, then rewind and mount it to another kind camera to capture again ... to create more interesting double exposure photos.
If you look at my lomo diary, you will see a lot of faces that I met on many different trips, lots of pictures of my friends, my family, things I care about ... To create it, my first part is very simple: take photos, print them in different sizes, and paste them on paper pages, stating the time and location. But the next part is much more interesting: after putting the photo in the notebook, I will try to meet each character again and give my notebook to them. They can draw, write, can decorate anything what's in their photo page. They can also comment on other photos in other pages. Thus, all the hand-drawn or decorative in my diaries are from the characters, not myself. There was one person who even embedded a page that has her photo in the water because she said that when I gave her permission to creative her page, she could do anything. I was worried that the diary might be damaged but I had to accept it.
If your journey as a Lomographer can be summed up in a song, which song would it be?
"I Thought I Was An Alien" by Soko
Anything you want to say to Lomographers out there?
I think you guys have a great community and have already shared a lot of good things together so pls just you keep doing your work and shine your way. I don't expect anything bigger than that!
We would like to thank Maika for sharing her creative Lomo-journey with us. Hope that her story inspired you to come up with your own projects, too! If you'd like to see more of Maika's work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram: @maikaelan.