PATCHES of rainbow-hued photos mounted on huge white frames could not be mistaken for anything but a lomography exhibit. These greeted mall-goers strolling along Bonifacio Global City during Passionfest 2008. LomoManila, a lomography club, was invited to put up an exhibit showcasing the complex from morning until night. Various scenes were caught in a fraction of a second by eight photographic teams with some 10 members each, and the pictures were made into a collage.

Vibrantly colorful and offbeat shots composed the collage. They were mostly of one dominating color, a trademark of LomoManila. The triangular positions of the pictures remind one of banderitas or festive flags ever-present in Philippine fiestas.

There were the common lomo shots—ones with either low lighting, or slightly out of focus, or highly saturated with color. Likewise, there were unusual pictures taken with fisheye and multilens cameras, and shots with vignettes, or blurred edges.

Some were done playfully using simple images. An example would be a restaurant logo’s reflection on a glass, shot at an angle as to multiply the logo.
Fancy as the shots might be, Jimmy Hilario of LomoManila made it clear that all of the photos were taken with the use of cameras especially designed for lomography. These cameras have rainbow-colored flashes for saturated shots, so that there was no way the shots could have been enhanced digitally.

“You can’t [take these kinds of shots] with digital cameras. We can attest these were all printed in a one-hour photo shop,” Hilario said. “We finished shooting [a couple of days prior to the opening], so we really have no time to edit these in Photoshop.”

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Despite lomography’s long existence, its principle of “just-shoot-and-get-lucky” never fails to clash with some photographers’ perception of lomography as simply “an excuse for bad shots”.

However, LomoManila members claim they’re not different from other photographers. They explained they’re masters of toy cameras in contrast to the sophisticated gear used by “serious” photographers.

Cult classic

Lomography started with the discovery in 1992 of a portable camera by Russians Igor Petrowitsch Kornitzky and Michail Panfilowitsch Panfiloff. The Japanese-made camera inspired the two to make their own. Panfiloff, the director of the Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Amalgamation (also known as Lomo), together with Kornitzky, developed the Lomo Kompakt Automat or LC-A, the first true lomo camera.

Lomo gave vacationing Austrian students permission to sell the Kompakt cameras outside Russia in 1995, after a brief dispute about the students’ rights to marketing the LC-A. The students formed Lomographische AG, recognized as the pioneer of lomography. Today, Lomographische reports on its official website that it has more than 70 lomographic “embassies” around the world; these are centers of lomography maintained by active online communities.

According to Lomographische, the main attraction of the lomo camera is its spontaneity. Hilario attests to this fact. “You never know what you will come up with until you have seen the shots,” he said.

Taking pictures with a digital camera kills that impulsive art sense because you see what you have taken in an instant, he added.

However, disillusioned lomo users complain that an entire roll of film would yield less than 20 passable shots, with only one or two standing out. But lomography enthusiasts like Hilario claim that half of the fun comes from picking the jewels out of the set.

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The hype surrounding the lomo camera, according to a reviewer for the Kompakt on Amazon.com, is just that—hype. The marketers hawk the camera as a worry-free way of taking pictures, but the absence of a built-in flash means more money to spend on appendage flashes, and more time and effort setting it up. This results in dark and oftentimes blurry pictures. Users with previous experience in photography might find it challenging, but usually find their way around it. Those who are just starting, however, would do well to use a manual single lens reflex camera before they attempt to take pictures with a Kompakt.

Lomo camera prices are also steep. A lomo camera package costs around P6,000 from the Lomography Society, the official international manufacturer and distributor of the cameras. A second-hand single-lens reflex camera can be bought for less, and for amateur photographers, can be handled better. A Kompakt needs a steady hand and an eye trained to look for artistic angles, two things a beginner has yet to develop.

One must know the rules of photography before he can bend them, said professional photographer and former UST CFAD student Kleyr Dela Cruz. And bending the rules of photography is something a lomographer is bound to do. As such, a little guidance on the matter is something that is not unwelcome. A fresh perspective is always appreciated, whether in photography or in other things.

“It’s just a matter of seeing things differently,” Hilario said. “Something so casual can turn out good.”

Serendipity, apparently, favors the lomographer.

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