Many of us photographers have lost faith in our creative selves because of the joy-draining rules and criticism of photography classes. For those of you who have surrendered your camera to the dusty attic, there is a new kind of photography called lomography. What's the difference? There are no rules. That is the first rule, and it appears to be the catch phrase of lomographers.
One-third of a Triangle performance-art trio called The Media Men, local photographer/lomographer Will Skolochenko recently hosted Lomoscope at Artspace to prove this point. Lomoscope--a mix of moving and still images, music and sound--is Skolochenko's answer to our society's diminishing attention span. The feature of the event was the still image, in this case projected slides created with the Lomo 425.
The Lomo 425 is a camera produced in Russia, but now owned and distributed by a group in Vienna, Austria. The camera's 32mm lens has a light meter so sensitive it allows the average person to create an exciting image, taken from any angle in almost any lighting situation. These images are far from traditional photos, not adhering to the rule of the thirds and other stifling ideals. Lomographs are taken from angles never before permitted by old-school photographers. This unrestrained approach to photography has gained many followers, who have formed societies across Asia, Europe and the United States.
Lomoscope was intended to stretch the limits of art the way nihilistic Dadaists encouraged an aesthetic revolt around the time of World War I. Skolochenko wanted to introduce the world of lomography in all its color-shifting splendor. "The concept of simply sitting and watching a film or a group of musicians is no longer enough to captivate an audience for hours at a time," he explains. "We crave more information, delivered at an ever-increasing rate. The performances are improvisational, they are somewhat raw yet meticulously planned, they are a sensory adjustment for a media-fed society." Indeed they are. Sitting on the hardwood floors of a studio in Artspace, I was taken in by the continuous transitions of sound and light, the constant overlapping of still and moving images, the repetition, the harmony and chaos of it all. As Dr. Spin Cycle (another Media Man) was busy working his magic in one corner, Skolochenko was doing his own jockeying. There was a screen set up in the middle of the room where he projected hand-painted 16mm film loops. The wall to the right showed one or more moving images going at once, as well as still images that shifted from beside Skolochenko's table. This mix of 16mm, Super8 and still Lomo slides provided an interesting result. Kind of like watching a tennis match to the music of Massive Attack, only the players were Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, and the ball was artistic integrity.
Skolochenko's attempt to stretch the limits was not in vain. The stronger aspects of Lomoscope were the combined talents of The Media Men and Skolochenko. Unfortunately, the event's namesake, the Lomo, is questionably commercialized. It started with a group of undergrounders in Vienna, and quickly became the new trend in photography. Not surprisingly, the price grew as quickly as the fad, and the Lomographic Society has spread to several major cities around the world.
The leader of what they call their American Lomographic "Embassy" was at Lomoscope, along with a few other members of the American Lomographic Society. Although they had come there to "support" the event, it appeared they were actually marketing their cameras, complete with a table of pamphlets and price lists, and eager to answer any questions about their product. For the low, low price of $200, you not only get a cheaply made camera, they even throw in a freewheeling philosophy. No rules. This is a great idea, one that many artists have experimented with in the past. In fact, it's what allows art to grow and expand. Deviance is necessary for creativity. However, packaging the idea and using it as an excuse to ignore basic principles of photography is purely commercial and won't last much longer than the flimsy cameras themselves. In Skolochenko's own words: "Any camera may be used at any angle and in varied lighting situations." So what are lomographers really buying, the camera or the philosophy?