By Daniel Ong

When Retro started making rounds in the scene, it brought along with it a friend – Lomography, which is the art of taking photographs with a Lomo camera and also the latest craze to hit Singapore’s photography scene, capturing the hearts of camera buffs and the mainstream crowd alike.

Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Amalgamation, or Lomo, is a manufacturer of optical products and medical equipment in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1982, the company created the Lomo Kompakt Automat, a camera originally created as an espionage tool for field agents. Due to the quality of images produced by the camera, the company sold the technology to the public instead. It was their fans that began calling the photographs taken with the cameras ‘Lomography’.

Production of the camera would have declined and stopped in 1996, if not for Viennese students Matthias Fiegl and Wolfgang Stranzinger. While holidaying in Czechoslvakia in 1991, they picked up the camera at a junk shop and started taking pictures of the city. When the photographs were developed, what they saw forever changed their lives.

You see, the characteristics of photographs taken by Lomo cameras include oversaturated colours, light leaks, blurring, distortions and overexposed film, which were unheard of during their time.

The photographs inspired Fiegl and Stranzinger, and upon disassembling the Lomo (425 parts in total), they discovered that the cause for all those characteristics lay in the camera’s 32-mm single lens. Its sensitive light meter kept the shutter open until the image was sufficiently exposed.

Their milestone discovery and fervent passion drove them to start the Lomography Society International – the world’s biggest lomography community to date. Starting in 1992, Lomo exhibitions have piqued the public’s interest and propelled its cult following. Fans include ex-Formula One driver Michael Schumacher and the Dalai Lama.

By 1996, its demand had grown so big that St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor then, Lomo-enthusiast Vladimir Putin (and Russia’s Prime Minister) agreed to restart production.

Thereafter, Lomo cameras revolutionised all photo-taking ideologies. Arty pictures became the name of the game and the new golden rule was “shoot first, think later”.

But not everyone is convinced. Lomography is often criticised for its unreliability, amongst other reasons.

Nonetheless, Fiegl and Stranzinger, being the exclusive distributors of the camera, still rake in the money and are laughing their way to the bank, as Lomo cameras don’t come cheap. The most basic Lomo camera will set you back at least $50 and good ones can cost up to $500. On top of that, they are not very easy to lay your hands on and most of them have to be pre-ordered from specialist camera shops or bought online.

As Lomo aficionados are strong advocates of individualistic creativity, many have branched out into other forms of the art, such as underwater lomography. Some take it one step further and only take pictures of a certain subject, such as dogs or even legs (yes, legs).

So if you’re looking into lomography, stake out websites like the Lomographic Embassy of Singapore, Lomotion Singapore, Lomography Asia, or perhaps even the Lomographic Society International itself.

Lomo-easy: How to make your own ‘Lomos’

For those who don’t feel like splurging money on the camera but would still love to have the pictures, here’s how you can style your photo into a lomographic piece digitally. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it’s pretty enough to show around.

What you need:

Adobe Photoshop CS2/3/4

What you want to do:

Choose a picture you’d like to edit, say a car, or a signboard with a distinct background and foreground.

Now, to create a vignette that is distinct in most lomographs, using a lasso tool with a feather of 80-90 pix.

Next, border the area you wish to highlight, although the foreground is preferred.

When the area has been highlighted, convert the area that has been excluded into a layer (Right click > Select Inverse > Layer via Copy)

Next, select the layer you have just created and go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Under the output levels, make the borders dim as you see fit to the darkness degree of a minimum of 0.50. What you’ve got now is a vignette.

For convenience sake, the suggestion is to merge the layers.

After that, you’d want to make the dark areas darker and light areas lighter. This can be achieved with Image > Adjustments > Curves and adjusting the curve to get into a slight ‘S’ shape. You can look at the picture to adjust accordingly.

What you’d have after this step is a richly defined picture, and your next step would be to desaturate the colours. Go about this by creating a new layer and using the paint bucket tool, fill the canvas with a layer of black.

The next step is selecting that layer and going to layer properties and set the following properties:

– Blending mode: Hue

– Opacity: 40% (This can be flexible, according to your preference.)

At this stage, you would be left with something like this:

You can tighten up some loose ends and make it more aesthetically pleasing by increasing the contrast/sharpening the image by going to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp mask. In the spirit of Lomography, you can set anything you deem gratifying to your eye.

At last, you’re presented with the final product! This nifty photo-editing trick would definitely be good to keep up your sleeves.