Lomography: Analog Art in a Digital World
An interview with Lomographic Society North America CEO Ulli Barta.
Last month, the iconic Lomography movement opened an ambitious retail space in Los Angeles. At the Lomography Gallery Store opening, we caught up with Ulli Barta and picked her brain about the allure of analog art in a digital world, the specifics of lomo photography, and the cultural significance of being present in the moment.
GOOD: The Lomo story is quite extraordinary—it's rare for a piece of technology to sprout a vibrant, thriving community. Even the iPod hasn't translated ownership to an actual hub of creative collaboration. How did this community evolve and where do you think it's going?
ULLI BARTA: Lomography was started as a "community," friends introducing their friends. It began as a somewhat spontaneous, underground arts movement in Vienna, then expanded further through the reach of our friends who went to study all over the world—the first Lomographic Ambassadors. The founders of Lomography organized parties, exhibitions, and meetings with friends as the main platform of spreading the word about their ideas, the 10 Golden Rules of Lomography and how to use the little Russian LCA camera as the main generator of brilliant, colorful, bursting-with-life photographs.
Over the years, these basics haven't changed. We have stayed very true to the original vision, being dedicated and lucky to expand the platform, introduce many new ideas and products, revive some existing ones, and continuously grow our international community.
Of course, we also grew up along the way—the original art movement grew into a proper business combining community, art, commerce, and analog philosophy into its own structure, but the core of what we do today is still the same: We communicate through images.
G: How is analog art holding its ground in the digital age? Is the "retrostalgic" vintage revivalist movement we've witnessed over the past decade across other facets of culture, from fashion to architecture, helping drive interest in Lomography?
UB: I think the analog movement is very important and deeply rooted in our digital time. Although analog may seems like a niche remainder of an age gone by, for me it simply represents being in the present—fully. It's about experiencing the moment, dedicating yourself to the here and now and allowing time to evolve at your personal, human speed.
It is this human element that intrigues and keeps you fascinated. There's something alluring about the ability to master an art form, at the same time allowing for the "unmanageable" and yet defining moment of the unknown. [Lomographic Rule no. 8: You don't have to know beforehand what you captured on film; and no. 9: You don’t have to know it afterwards either.] It's not just analog art that provides this; there is really a much bigger analog movement that stands for our need to not only accelerate and evolve at a speed faster and faster every day, but to feel, think, stay in the moment with all the uncertainty this can entail.
I don't think we need to choose one way over the other. The great thing about the times we live in today is that we can be at home in both worlds, giving up neither the authenticity and sensuality of analog techniques nor the curiosity and drive of the digital age.
So in Lomography, it's kind of like we have our cake and eat it, too.
G: Each of the Lomo cameras seems to have a distinct character, its own story and style. Tell us a little about the differences, both in the cameras themselves and in the sub-communities that create with them.
UB: Each of our cameras has its own concept, its own book, and many specialized techniques about and around it. We try to create cameras that allow a beginner and a Lomographer with many years of experience to be intrigued, be both at ease and challenged to jump into the new cameras’ world of images and techniques.
Our Fisheye camera, for instance, is the world’s first compact fisheye camera. There were always fisheye lenses you could attach to your cameras, quite costly, but never before was there an actual compact camera with a fisheye lens. The image aesthetic of the fisheye camera is very strong and distinctive, but when you read the booklet and book about the camera and how to use it, you find tons of possibilities to expand and work with it to achieve many different effects using this aesthetic. We have also added multiple exposure functionality on its second model [Fisheye 2 camera], and with its integrated flash, the camera is a great tool to use for techniques like light painting.
Then take the DianaF+ camera. We have reissued a highly collected photographic icon from the 1960s and ’70s, and reintroduced it to the analog photo community. We've developed a whole family of intriguing accessories around the Diana camera allowing the Lomographer to use multiple lenses, pinhole, different film formats and an exhibition format—The Diana World Tour with the Diana Vignettes Exhibition—that showcases what makes this camera so special.
Our camera books are another way to give the Lomographic community a platform, a voice, a way to be published and exhibited on a broad and international level. But beware, the Lomoraphy virus is contagious—you may find yourself absorbed online for weeks as you find out about all the fascinating content of this analog subculture—LomoLocations, our Lomographic Magazine, LomoHomes, the tremendously interesting LomoAmigos and, of course, one of the biggest analog picture archives in the world, where you can just get lost in millions of amazing, beautiful, dreamy, and vibrant images of our community.
G: How is the Lomo movement different from the Polaroid one? Do you see a lot of crossover, or is it one of those Pepsi-vs-Coke badge rivalries for photographers?
UB: Instant photography is one of the wonderful aspects of analog photography. We have always been fans, and always included all kinds of instant film cameras that Polaroid and Fuji make in our product assortment. The more analog content there is out there in the world of photography, the stronger and more present this art form is—which is a win for everyone involved.
We've learned, however, that we can offer the most access for community and the most exciting product if we develop and make our own tools. So we developed the Diana Instant Back for our Diana camera and, just earlier this month, we proudly launched the Lomo LCA Instant Back for our namesake camera, the Lomo LCA+.
Both of these instant back inventions have introduced a completely new quality and visual standard to instant photography as you can use all kinds of lenses—fisheye, super wide, macro lens, etc.—with the Diana Instant Back and with the Lomo LCA Instant Back. For the first time, you have a glass lens camera producing boldly lit, brightly colored, razor-sharp, or dreamy, blurry LCA-specific instant images. Needless to say, we are in love.
G: The new Lomo store here in Los Anegels is fantastic. How many retail locations do you have and what are your plans for these spaces, in terms of events, exhibitions and other celebrations of the community?
UB: Thank you and, yes, we are very proud of our Lomography Gallery Store in Los Angeles, the largest LGS worldwide at this point. The stores are the local expansion of our website, the localized window into the international world of Lomography. We have two locations in the U.S.—one in New York and one in Los Angeles—and have plans for a few more, but we like to develop and roll out our stores in a very organic way. Internationally, we have 12 stores, with six more set to open their doors later this year.
The big LomoWall at the L.A. store is covered with more than 17,000 lomographs and we have tons of space for the community to come and exchange their knowledge, meet other Lomographers, visit and participate in our workshops. Besides the latest selection of Lomography cameras, we also have films, bags, books, t-shirts, various other ephemera and, of course, free WiFi.
I am very happy to say that all the design and development of our stores is done in-house in our home office in Vienna. I think the design and concept of our stores is visibly different from other retail concepts, and brilliantly communicates our core concern and believes—analog photography, not as interference in your life but as a part of it. We literally built our store's display furniture and LomoWalls ourselves, does it get any more analog than that?
G: What drew you to Lomography and kept you passionate about it over the years?
UB: I have been friends with the founders of Lomography since we were all growing up in Austria. I might even be the “oldest” employee of the international team at this point. I always loved the visual aesthetic, the communicative and international aspect of Lomography and our founders’ relentless dedication to content alongside the product and community development.
I consider myself very lucky to have been part of Lomography from very early on and, together with our Vienna team led by Sally, Matthias and Wolfgang, to bring Lomography to the U.S. and grow our community and presence here day by day, moment by moment.
Guest blogger Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired U.K. and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.