Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lomographic Memory

Brandon Ly

The Lomography Gallery Store, situated in an unassuming white building on the corner of Herengracht, is an ode to the beauty of analogue photography. Their camera products, all visible moving parts and plastic construction, are a nice departure from modern technology. With so many touch-screen devices and miniature electronics permeating our world, something about Lomography’s physical buttons and wind-up film reels generate a nostalgia that outweighs modern sensations of taps and swipes.

            Upon entering the store, one is immediately struck by the juxtaposition of plastic and metal. Lomography’s many lines of cameras, from pinhole to fisheye to multiframe to color-corrected, are moulded from plastic casings and faux leather textures, a far cry from the aluminum unibodies of our digital cameras. However, these seeming antiques are displayed on pristine wood and metal stands with spot lighting; this gives the store a whole sense of modern luxury, but with a touch of heritage reminiscent of a museum display. I found it oddly similar to a modern Louis Vuitton retailer, whose leather-bound trunks impart a weathered history of both leisure and adventure, but are contrastingly displayed in glass cases to be ogled like specimens.  In fact, the dreamy, oversaturated and even blurry photos that the Lomo cameras capture elicit memories of old photo albums. Even looking at example photographs on display give a viewer a private glimpse into a life apart from our online presence and ubiquity of social photosharing networks.  These are film prints likely to have been made only once, that can only be held by one person at one time, which is a genuine effect that only can be imparted by film photography.
            This voyeuristic nature brings me now to the gallery aspect of the space. Aside from the shimmering and almost fetishistic displays of the cameras—which come in all colors and sizes—what also stands out immediately is the spiral staircase in the center of the store, whose adjoining wall is utterly plastered with the Lomographic prints.  This mosaic of identically sized photos captures family members, girlfriends, dogs, old homes, and more.  Are these from the life of one person? Or from the employees? Or contributions from passersby and Lomography fans?  --These are questions that the great wall evokes.  But it is the fact that these photos come with no explanation that reflects perfectly the mood of Lomography—blurry, mysterious, yet imparting a sense of familiarity and nostalgia that few products can do similarly.
            A further exploration of the building reveals a startling addition—that the shop is actually a converted home.  Travelling up the spiral staircase, I stumbled upon a living room that had been converted into a private gallery.  The store ‘s effort to maintain a theme of home works successfully in this area complete with sofas, coffee table books, and a fireplace.  The walls, decorated as if by a homeowner filling their house with photographs of their family and vacations, are lined with Lomographic prints donated from customers around the world, each with their own backstory.  It’s a quiet resting place to peruse other people’s lives while reflecting on one’s own, which was only accentuated by the fact that no one else entered the space while I was there.
            A house and a home are utterly different things, yet Lomography’s interior design as well as product line blur the boundary between what one can consider a familiar space.  Likewise, cameras are only a tool to capture our life’s moments, but the prints’ ability to touch a sensitive emotion place—home and family, are what make their cameras almost intrinsically like family heirlooms.  By projecting nostalgia through their photographs and minimalist presentation of their cameras, the store invites a viewer to contemplate their own history and seek a nostalgia of their own.

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