Sunday, April 1, 2012

Digital Lomography?


A salesman in a camera store once asked me, when I was purchasing a moderately upscale lens for my DSLR, "why are people buying great sharp lenses like this just to mess up the picture afterwards with all this lo-fi software?" I don't recall the exact context of the question in our conversation, but I could sense that he was very much into the ultimate high resolution photography, and had no use for anything less. I tend to agree with him on the point of why would anybody with $10,000 invested in high-end gear turn around and convert their photos into something that looks like it was taken with a $10 camera. The answer I suppose is "because you can".

I've long been aware of some of the GIMP's capabilities with it's lo-fi filters that are designed to make any picture look real cheap. I occasionally played with these filters, especially with some botched film shots (botched = cheap). But I am also a real fan of looking at really old photographs and postcards, and secretly, I suppose I draw most of my inspiration from doing that. For me, old = Kodak Brownie that my Mom was constantly snapping away enthusiastically, and therefore Brownie = cheap = charming.

Enter the world of "Lomography". This is a genre of photography that seems to be catching on like a wildfire, one that is particularly geared to using super cheap, plastic lens, Chinese built film cameras because of the very charming and nostalgic aesthetic these cameras produce. Technically, most "Lomo" cameras are worse than the Brownie was, but, like the Brownie, they're built to a price point, and the results can be somewhat similar, although a lot less predictable, and therein lies their charm.

Every genre of art has it's elitists, and Lomography is no different. The purist would say, "can't be done with digital", and would refer to digitally faked cheapness as "something else". I personally have tried various things, such as super cheap "keychain digital" cameras, or very old compacts, like the Sony
DSC-P30, and found that the results were always less than charming - always ended up with not very good, and obviously lifeless digital photos.

Of course I'm just beginning to learn what my new Super-Phone camera has to offer, and I think I'm falling in love! There's an old military base in Moncton that I often drive by, and frequently I've thought "if I had my camera I'd take some pictures of that, before it gets bulldozed". With a good phone camera on my belt, I no longer had any excuse. With a little time to kill, and my phone at the ready, I pulled over into the property. So here is the best pic, right out of the camera:


Immediately I was excited, as it reminded me of what I was getting from my old Olympus Trip-35. Next, I ran it through the GIMP Lomo Filter:


Nice, but it really needs to be Black and White, so I used the GIMP B&W Film Simulation - my always favourite Ilford Delta-Pro 400:


Bullseye! It's dreamy, surreal, dark, lonely, and best of all, it looks like it was taken with a real 1929's era dime-store camera! Certainly, I could have taken the original pic with my Canon 40D and used GIMP to get the same results, but the point is of course, the 40D was at home where it usually is.

Now I understand the attraction of Lomography - I expect to be doing a lot more of this. I don't care what you call it, if I'm not using the right "Lomo stuff" (I recently noticed a local classified ad where a guy was selling his Canon EOS 50D and all his lenses, "because I'm getting into Lomography"). Speaks volumes doesn't it?

OK, so it's "fake lomography". I don't care what you want to call it - how about "Just take the damn picture, with whatever camera you have with you", and then let your creativity, and the right software, or phone app, take over.

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