Dear Benice,

I’m a fine art large format photographer and have just heard of the LOMO scene. What is it and how can I get into it?

Affluently yours,

Benson Truttfram
Scoffs, Ohayogozaimasu

Dear Benson,

I’m so glad you dropped me a line as I do worry you’d end up in an existential crisis if you had to traverse the perilous journey into shooting LOMO all on your lonesome.

But first, let me start with a little correction: it’s not LOMO, it’s Ленинградское Oптико-Mеханическое Oбъединение, or ЛOMO. See? You ask me a question and you learn something.

I’ll be frank, you’re going to have to face some hard facts. Number one with a bullet is that people like the ЛOMO look far more than fine art. You may have poured years of dedication, study, inspiration, and effort into creating your work, but that won’t hold a candle to a woolly-hat-wearing Holga holder on the streets of hippy-central (aka Portland, Oregon), grabbing a blurry shot of a pigeon on their way back from one of the millions of vegan cafés there.

Why is the latter more popular? Come on Deary, it’s because it’s just so relatable, you know? I mean really, who wants to see work that makes us feel “less than”?

…and pigeons, am I right?

You see, the ЛOMO aesthetic is what makes analogue*1 photography so much more millennial, more now than digital photography. You take a crap picture on your digital camera – out of focus, into the sun, too much motion blur, and you know what you’ve got? A crap picture. Take the same photo on film though, and you’ve got capital “A” Art baby. There are no bad photos on film, there are good ones and there are ЛOMO ones, everyone’s a winner and we all get a prize.

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So, how do you make the transition from large format fine art to ЛOMO? Well, obviously you need to get rid of some things, top of the list is giving a sh!t.

True ЛOMO is a zen state of mind, and the ultimate expression of the art can only be arrived at by removing all thought and effort from the creative process. I’m not saying you should wave your camera in the direction of a subject and just click the shutter. I’m saying who needs a subject? Just toss the camera from hand to hand as you walk down the street and whatever it happens to shoot, it happens to shoot. Then, half-open the back midway through the roll, spill diet coke in your developing tank and hang the negs to dry on a thorn bush while you think up a name for your fresh zine*2.

Gear is just as important with ЛOMO as with large format, although in order to properly grasp what you’re looking for some language clarifications may be helpful:

  • A lens with a “unique look and charm” is what you would have previously known as “deeply flawed garbage”.
  • A camera with “robust, lightweight build” is made 50/50 from plastic and light leaks.
  • “Vintage” means probably knackered.
  • “Antique” means definitely knackered.
  • “Retro” means an inferior copy of a crap camera which will probably-definitely be knackered within 2 weeks.

The key thing with gear is to avoid anything purporting to do the S word. Sharpness ruins everything. The true magic of ЛOMO lies in hiding and obscuring as much of the content of your image as possible, be it through smeary lenses, light leaks, vignetting two-thirds of the way in, sprocket holes or double exposures.

Finally, remember not to let the viewer realise how utterly mundane and uninteresting the picture actually is. Let their imagination do all the work – after all, who has time for vision when there’s film to be souped?

I hope this has inspired you to throw off the shackles of considered effort, hard work and the pursuit of excellence, and instead rush headlong into the exciting world of ЛOMO, where everything is awesome, and everything is cool when you’re trying to make the cack-handed and artless feel special too.

ЛOMO and Holgas,

~ Benice x

*1 To all of your New World types telling me to keep to American spelling, bugger off. You may drive on the RIGHT side of the road but we drive on the CORRECT side of the road. The same goes with our spelling and grammar.

*2 That’s “cheaply made maga’zine”, in case you don’t knock about with the cool kids.

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About the author

Avatar - Benice Shofil

Benice Shofil

It's Benice, not Bernice. Let's get that straight. I was born in was known as Czechoslovakia in June 1932. My parents were immigrants who named me after the area of Prague where they first met. I studied in both Prague and Leipzig, and spent 50 years working...

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  1. Simply amazing, as a lover of large format, Lomo, and everything in between. Sharing this with all of my favorite Lomos immediately 🙂

  2. @lasousa2015 – Oh I don’t know, a bit of novichok in your ‘soup’ is the a la mode way to get the lomo look 😉 Don’t forget the latex gloves or it won’t just be your negs that are funky and over saturated.

  3. Maybe I could just use a Lens Baby on the Graflex 4×5 with an adapter? Hand held with slow shutter speeds…

  4. Bernice, unlike the fLOMO (sorry, no Siberian symbols) imagery I see you honed your tongue to a fine edge! Going hard at the Russians is risky business these days. Lay low madam!