Lomography is still on its mission to take over the world. I spend a lot of time thinking about my relationship with the global phenomenon, because a lot of what I do could very well come under this style. But it is something I have a problem with.
What’s the Problem?
Many people comment on the high prices for cheap cameras, the fact you need to join into this consuming clique and so on. This doesn’t really worry me. If I want a Lomography Camera, and I think it is worth it I will buy one. I bought my Diana F+ full price in Carnaby Street. I bought my Fisheye 2 for less than the website price in Leeds, from a Chinese shop called Dragon Photos. I will tell you about my Supersampler later. But it’s up to you. If you think it is worth it, buy it. If not, don’t.
The thing that bothers me most about the whole Lomography business is the actual attitude to photography. All the things that make up the Lomographic vision – vernacular photography, happy accidents, soft focus, cross processing and so on have their place in photography as an art form, as a media. Vernacular photography – defined as photography where the subject is that of day to day life and the technical aspects are negligible acts as a fascinating insight into people’s lived realities. Abstracts are, when executed well equally as aesthetically valid as considered representations (though my girlfriend would disagree). Soft focus is a well used technical style, be it a filter, a plastic lens, or Vaseline smeared on a piece of cling-film.
I want to look at cross-processing in a little more detail, because with it comes the whole ‘analogue’ debate, and it serves as a good example of my real concern. This blog post covers the subject in some detail, but the gist of this is that the majority of the effect of cross processing (E6 film in C41) comes from the scanning/printing stage.
OK, so cross processed films display some tenancies: They do tend to have a slightly higher contrast and higher grain. Some films, particularly Fuji brands exhibit a colour-shift when the film base turns colour during processing. Standard prints from cross processed negatives will often display this cast because the scanner when left on automatic will be attempting to compensate for the orange mask of normal reversal film. The lower the light in the image the more the colour shift as there is less ‘image’ on the negative for the scanner to discern from the base.
What Lomographers supposedly love, however, is the ‘unpredictability’ of cross processed film. It is often said that the chemicals used will make a difference. This is true to an extent, but no more than they will make a difference in normal processing – i.e. Kodak film will perform better in kodak chemicals, and if the solution is too hot the film may take on a magenta cast. Think about it though, if the chemistry drastically changed results you couldn’t hand in a film to a lab and expect it to come out looking how you want. I guess you can’t if you use Jessops, but anyway, you get what I mean.
What I am going to tell you may make you sad. Almost all film labs now use a digital C-type process. This means the machine scans the negatives and then exposes photographic paper with tiny coloured laser light sources. The majority of the Lomographic character comes from the digital scanning process. It is possible to cross process a film, and print it will totally predictable characteristics, as zany and Lomo as you like, or pretty much perfectly normal. Some scanners, left on auto will perform differently as some will use a stock base colour and adjust by removing that colour, whereas some will sample the image and base the colour correction on any cast in the white point.
Look at the images above and to the left. These were shot to Agfaphoto Precisa 100, which is basically Fuji Provia sold under license. Provia develops a soft lavender cast when cross processed, which obviously scans to green (when inverted) and this green could be accentuated by adjusting the red and blue channels to adjust for a (non-existant) orange mask. The top image is left as my Epson V500 automatically interpreted it, because I thought it looked good like that being a long exposure slow sync abstract. The lower image has been colour corrected. I sampled the film base and used this as a neutral tone to colour correct in Photoshop, and then tweaked by hand, because I thought my son would look much better in a classic ‘Lomo X-Pro style’ rather than bright green (like what often comes out of his nose).
So basically all this lovely analogue unpredictability is in the digitalization of the image. If you take a film into a lab that cross-processes they will often ramp up the saturation and turn off the colour correction because that is what x-pro should look like. When you enter a completion on the Lomography website the rules state: ‘Any analogue photo not digitally enhanced or manipulated’. I just have to ask, how the fuck do you upload a photographic negative to a website? That is the only thing not digitally manipulated. Y’know what..? …sounds like bullshit to me!
The whole shoot first, think later and ‘you don’t need to know what you are shooting’ ideal seems to me to actually show a disrespect for photography. A good ‘lomograph’ shares the same characteristics of a good photograph. It is well composed, has a focal point, tells a story, is lit well. A shite lomograph has the same characteristic of a shite photograph, it has no focal point, does not lead the eye, is lit badly and so on. Now I am in no way saying everything I shoot is good, and I often post the results of experimentation that are not good. But I do not celebrate them, and pass them off as some genius example of the neo-vernacular that holds the key to my induction into the coveted tribe.
As photographers, we have a duty to teach and encourage. We should not promulgate myths that something is a good photograph when it is not. It is a lie, and it teaches nothing of the art. I look at some of the tipsters written on the Lomography site, and I weep at times. Some of them are interesting reports, I am not denying. But some… …at best they are poorly written and shoddy, at worst they are just inaccurate, and you can see people who follow them will be sadly disappointed. I have considered writing for the site, but I am not sure I want to be associated with it. Sorry if that sounds snobbish.
Don’t get me wrong, I think anything that promotes film is good, and they make some tools I enjoy using. I just think there is a lot of hype to have to rummage through first…
In it for the money?
And returning to the money making marketing accusations, I will share a little story…
I am on my lunch break, and a facebook status pops up from Lomography. It says that at one o’clock, one of their cameras on the site will be at £5 for the first five customers. It’s just coming up to one….
So I went on the site and found the camera. It’s something to do in my lunch break. It’s a Supersampler in white, it’s there and it’s still listed at £5… I order… Still there… Yes, it goes through. My account is debited.
So I wait for it to come. A week later, I get this email…
Thanks for placing an order as part of our 5×5 promotion. As advertised, only 5 cameras were available –it was a very popular promotion, a lot of people took part, and demand far outstripped the stock available.
Unfortunately you were not one of the first 5 people to order, and so you did not win this time.
Your order will be cancelled and refunded, but so you are not too disappointed here is a single use voucher code for £5 off your next order: 5BY5VOUCHERWINNER.
Now, I might be being a nob here, but I kind of think that if they cannot control their website so that it cuts off an offer when the stock has gone, they need a little bit of a lesson in inventory control. I emailed back and informed them that by taking my money, they had entered a binding commitment to supply the goods, and if they did not do so, I would be making a complaint to Trading Standards. I somewhat doubt that Trading Standards would give a toss, but after a bit of wrangling I get a shiny new black version on my doorstep. 1-0 to me.