Lomo: Shoot from the hip

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's analogue, has no autofocus – and no flash. And that's precisely why the Lomo is a cult camera, says Kate Burt

Two decades ago, before Instagram, the iPhone and Facebook, a sturdy little Soviet-designed analogue camera was shaping photography's first wave of democratisation – in a student flat in Vienna.

Though, rather undemocratically, back in the early Nineties the pioneering Lomo Kompakt Automat (or Lomo for short, as any hipster photo nerd refers to it) was somewhat hard to get hold of – even for the Viennese students. They could only stock up on this cheap point-and-shoot by making intrepid dashes across the newly relaxed borders of neighbouring Eastern Bloc countries, where they smuggled bagfuls of them past prowling communist customs officers. As for early British adopters – because this was before the time when you could buy a Lomo on Amazon – they'd have to track down its sole distributors to an obscure design studio in London's Clerkenwell, where friends of the Viennese students were selling them.

Despite (or perhaps because of) our digital dependency, reverence for the camera has only grown over the years and, with its underground credentials, it was only a matter of time before the Lomo achieved cult status. Now it's official: Lomo Life, published by Thames & Hudson, is a new book studded with contributions from fashionable celebrity fans, including Paul Smith and the White Stripes, and celebrates the 20th anniversary of the camera's discovery outside the Iron Curtain.

But what is it that singles this particular piece of outdated technology – it has no auto-focus and no built-in flash – from all the others, and where did the Lomo come from?

The camera is named after the St Petersburg arms manufacturer that developed it in the early 1980s Cold War era. A Soviet-adapted version of a Japanese model, the Lomo was deemed an appropriately affordable, hardwearing and easy-to-use gadget for the proletariat and soon went into mass production.

But it wasn't until around 10 years later, in Prague, that the camera started to gain cult status. In 1991, the aforementioned Austrian students took a trip to Czechoslovakia, across the newly-opened border between the neighbouring countries – and discovered a Lomo in a little camera shop. They may have purchased it for its quaintly old-fashioned aesthetics (its solid, black plastic exterior has something of the retro charm of the Trabant car, another lately fashionable Communist relic), but it was when they got home and developed the photos that the students really got excited.

According to Lomo Life, the students were "blown away by the saturated, colourful photos – each picture framed by shadowy vignetting [an effect that gives the photos' edges a blurry effect]. They were amazed at just how different and vibrant all the photos seemed. They felt like they were seeing the world around them through different eyes." The camera's wide-angle lens also encouraged deviation from the traditional look-through-the-viewfinder approach to shooting, and its long exposure captured interesting light trails after dark: it was the perfect vehicle for taking spontaneous, informal and quirky images. Anyone could use it – and experimentation and rule-breaking were encouraged.

Word spread and, thanks to the students' cross-border dashes (and, subsequently, support for a new wave of production from the then deputy mayor of St Petersburg, Vladimir Putin), the cameras themselves spread too – creating an enthusiastic, inclusive community of 'Lomographers'. In 1992, the first-ever Lomography exhibition was planned. In keeping with the democratic ethos they'd nurtured, the student organisers took negatives from their exhibiting friends and reprinted their photos in uniform size and format and filled a wall with them – deliberately excluding the photographers' names, and removing the temptation for each photographer to choose his or her own way of displaying their work.

Next came the Lomographic Society International, "a democratic organisation", explains the book, "committed to spreading the creative, experimental Lomographic approach to photographers across the globe." The organisation's 'Lomography Manifesto' set out 10 'golden rules' outlining a new photographic philosophy: the broad aim being to break with convention and adopt a 'shoot first, ask later' approach.

Now we can all join the Lomo cult. Once you've genned up on the rules at lomography.com, their shop is stuffed with multiple Lomo models and memorabilia, all of which still look beautifully classic – the perfect Christmas present for the photo nerd in your life.

'Lomo Life' is published by Thames and Hudson, £28

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us