Lomo LC-A Review: Comprehension of the Necessities

What can be written about the Lomo LC-A that hasn’t already been said by its cult-following or the marketing team at Lomography? It is the genesis for the entire Lomographic movement, as well as a critical factor in convincing my younger self to take photography seriously as an art form back in High School. To own an LC-A and keep it in the outer pocket of a canvas rucksack is to be a carefree hometown wanderer or a pilgrim to an old European city looking to live the artist’s life. What is important about the LC-A is equal parts its optical qualities and the ethos surrounding its character as a photographic tool.

Walter Benjamin wrote that “the camera… on the one hand extends our comprehension of the necessities that rule our lives; on the other, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action.” The Lomo LC-A (and by extension the Lomographic movement and society), is an unintentional personification of this concept of exploring the mundane and alluding to the unexpected. Originally, the LC-A was a poorly-made Russian copy of the Cosina CX-2, manufactured in flagrant disregard for international trademarks. The LC-A is typical of 80’s and 90’s 35mm compact cameras: plastic build quality, compact lens, and fully automatic operation. It’s the camera of the every-man of the Soviet Union: pocketable, and easy to operate without much thought. Just point, zone-focus with your best guess (in meters of course), and shoot.

However, there is a trick of the light regarding the LC-A’s 32mm F/2.8 Minitar-1 Lens. What some might call an artistic quality, I would also describe as a “cheap and kind of janky” quality. Lens flare and soft focus are all issues with the lens and its zone focusing mechanism. Also, the lens coating always seemed to me to produce a dreamlike lack of contrast at just the right time. Lomography as a company has made a big fuss that this lens is somehow special, and while I would agree to a point, there is more to it than unique magic. The Minitar-1 is like the Russian M39 mount lenses made in the Soviet Union at the same time for their Leica copies (more on those in another article). The lenses are shitty in JUST the right way. The distortion Russian lenses tend to produce isn’t as obnoxious as with a Holga or Diana, but it is a far cry from Zeiss or Minolta sharpness. The lens possesses a heartwarming quality generated from its poor design and construction, similar to the pop and crackle of dusty vinyl records. Better lens designs just feel sterile by comparison.

The LC-A occupies a perfect position for the ultimate adventurer recorder. It’s the Moleskine notebook of 35mm cameras: it carries with it an ethos of a bohemian past, while being cheap and effective. The images the camera takes are like poetry written after a few glasses of scotch. Sure, they may not be perfect, but they have character! In this way, the LC-A has continued to build upon its own legend. To use an LC-A is not only to follow in the footsteps of some unknown soviet citizen, but to also follow in the footsteps of those first Austrian artists and students who recorded their fleeting salad-days in Vienna on the very same camera. (its for this reason that I would recommend buying an original LC-A from Eastern Europe rather than a Lomography Chinese-made LC-A+.) To fully understand the ethos of the LC-A, an aspiring Lomographer should get one from the former Soviet Union just as the first Lomographers did.

When I hold the plastic body and leatherette of an LC-A in my hand and slide the lens cover open with a satisfying metallic clank that is both cheap and substantial feeling, I feel connected to a more carefree type of photography. Anything and everything seems possible when this camera comes out of a bag or jacket pocket. The LC-A is lightweight enough to carry up the tallest mountain or fit into an over-packed hiking bag. Its soft dreamy pictures will not reflect the reality of the moment, but instead capture the dream of the memory recalled years later. And of course (and maybe most importantly), the camera is cheap enough that if you break it or it suddenly stops working (as mine has twice now), you won’t cry about having to replace it. This intersection is precisely where the commercial success of the LC-A lies. Its cult is the same as waxed canvas rucksacks and Kelty tents. It is the perfect tool for, and conduit to, adventure. There are other cameras that will do some of what the LC-A does , but the LC-A is the perfect compromise of ethos, quality, and utility. It is the ultimate photographic tool for taking pictures of adventure, rather than adventuring to take pictures. Ultimately, it is a connection to “an immense and unexpected field of action.”

Below is a gallery of photos I took with a Lomo LC-A and generic CVS brand 400 speed 35mm film or Kodak Gold 400. All rights reserved.

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