Thursday, December 04, 2008

Manufactured rebellion marketed under a brand

I wince at any mention of “lomography” or “lomographers” that implies they practice a distinct form of art. They're people taking photographs (bad ones) and spending more for various types of cheap cameras and film than your run-of-the-mill bad photographer. And while they do produce something worth viewing once in a while, it only happens (a) once in a while and (b) without being aware of basic photographic principles.

Photography is a skill. No matter how expensive your equipment is, you can't be called a real photographer if you don't know how to focus or set your exposure correctly. You need to master a lot of technical stuff, and even then, if your composition sucks, you’re still not a good one, much less an artist. It takes an innate eye, a developed skill, and years of practice to be considered halfway good.

Lomography espouses the exact opposite. Armed with a credo of spontaneity, “lomographers” take to the streets armed with cheap cameras, pointing and clicking without thought or preparation. Requiring no skill except pressing a button, “lomo” is just one step removed from looking.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Cheap cameras that mess with film (producing random effects) coupled with “shooting from the hip” can result in spectacular shots. Like a Jackson Pollock action painting, the focus could be in the process itself, with the end result being a record of the experiment instead of a planned final product. As a technique for producing art, that's right up there with abstract expressionism and jazz improvisation.

But how many lomographers are aware of abstract expressionism?

In my literature classes students sometimes ask about “artistic license.” I tell them that it's ok to break the rules if you know what you're breaking and why. There's a difference between someone who messes with grammar for effect and someone who doesn't know how to construct a proper sentence. Joss Whedon is aware that he's turning adjectives into nouns while Prince has been using “text” spelling conventions 20 years ago (remember “Nothing Compares 2U?”). Unlike those kids who populate those TV text message boards though, Whedon knows how to write and Prince (we assume) knows how to spell.

Do lomographers know how to take proper photographs?

Some of them do, especially the professionals and hobbyists who keep a lomo cam or two to experiment on. Those who ignore the “don’t think, just shoot” mentality can and do come up with amazing stuff; they’re real photographers using different tools. But the pseudo hipsters who are into it because it’s cool or (worse) because it’s expensive… they’re the ones being marketed to.

And it really is just marketing. It’s not so much an artistic movement as it is a campaign to sell overpriced defective Russian cameras. The reason Pollock’s squiggles command millions is due to history and American pride more than it is about the actual quality of the work. The guys who started lomography deserve to be hailed, not as pioneers of a modern art form or the reinventors of photography, but as brilliant marketers.

But who are we to deny these deluded kids their pretensions at rebellion / art? Go ahead, take your expensive cheap camera and point and shoot. I’ll just point and laugh.

Above: This costs PhP15,000?


Francis Ocoma said...

As someone who knows virtually nothing about professional photography, I like the idea of having a small, cheap cheap (not "expensive cheap" :D) digital camera I can use to shoot at anything that fits my fancy. But as you said, that's definitely not art. It's just photography for fun (although I could play with the image files via Photoshop if I ever feel "artsy"). It certainly doesn't need to be given a special name.

There wouldn't be no point in me doing the "shoot from hip" technique since not looking at at the viewfinder beats the purpose of shooting an object of interest. I suppose that's the problem with lomography: its insistence that there ought to be no thought-out purpose for using a tool. Forget their other marketing claim that lomography in itself is an art. "Don't think, just shoot!" is the kind of anti-rationality that appeals to the aimless, know-nothing "cool" kids of today. This kind of "philosophy" is not even new... but I don't wanna get off-topic. :P

You're right, Lomo's genius is in their marketing. They actually found a way to make this business plan feasible:

1. Sell defective-by-design cameras at outrageous prices.
2. ???
3. Profit!*

Great post, Sir! *shares via Google Reader*

* Sorry for the Slashdot meme reference. Couldn't resist! :P

missingpoints said...

It's the "no thinking" thing that bothers me. I think it's exactly the kind of thing that appeals to the "Tim Yap set."

What's sad is that there is some artistic merit to shooting things at random but it's spoiled by lomo's relentless marketing of the "technique" and products.

It's like an art supply store encouraging action painting (where they just throw paint on the canvas) and selling specialized (overpriced) paints and brushes for that.

Francis Ocoma said...

"It's like an art supply store encouraging action painting (where they just throw paint on the canvas) and selling specialized (overpriced) paints and brushes for that."

Haha! Paints and brushes that would be next to useless for any other kind of painter. Specialized, indeed! :P

Oh, I found an ugly double negative in my comment. "..wouldn't be no point..." D'oh!