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Lomo Sapiens: Do you see what I see?

These images were taken with LOMO Kompakt Automat camera using 100 ASA colour slide film which has been cross-processed to glossy print format without colour correction or any other manipulation. First manufactured in 1983 in Russia, this small, manual camera has a loyal and growing international cult following.

Lomographs are part of an art movement that’s been growing since 1992 when a group of Viennese students travelling in Prague stumbled upon the LOMO Kompakt (LOMO is an acronym for Lleningráádskoje optiko mechanitschééskoje objediniéénie, a description of the type of lense the camera uses) while looking for an inexpensive camera with which to shoot holiday snaps. Subsequently, when they developed their film and saw what the LOMO had wrought, they founded the Lomographic Society to organize exhibitions, market the camera, teach people the anti-rules of Lomography and spread LOMO lore. The Lomography website, (www.lomography.com), offers LomoHomes (independently controlled websites, which are available free of charge to members), competitions, and LOMO merchandise. The site also propagates apocryphal stories such as one claiming that the Kompakt (which is equipped with an automatic shutter that simply stays open until it has enough light for a photograph, no matter how low the light source is) was regularly used by the KGB to shoot clandestine photographs of transport systems, civil buildings and military facilities at night, without a flash.

Lomographs tend to be evocative rather than documentative. These aren’t snapshots that encapsulate a moment for subsequent examination or analysis. They’re curiously fluid, giving movement shape and shape movement. Images can appear diffused, distorted or emanate from an unexpected or warped perspective. Conversely, images can intensify and offer pointed focus on normally insignificant details. Colours, particularly if you cross-process from slide film, are super-saturated and can appear as distinctly unnatural. The LOMO Kompakt recognizes the ordinary minutiae of daily life in unfamiliar ways. Finally, you don’t really look at a Lomograph but into it.

My work with the LOMO is in a state of constant evolution. It began in January, 2000 during a project mandated to delineate and field-test new methodologies for devising and dramaturging Image Theatre entitled Joyous City/Secret City . (Image Theatre is a term that has come to refer to live performance that may use text, but doesn’t rely on written or spoken words as the primary language of communication. The work is often employs physical vocabulary, is collectively or collaboratively created and, increasingly, is site-specific).

My collaborator at the time, Anthony Dean, was a teacher at Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England and to prove a point, he purchased a LOMO camera for me and insisted that we try to incorporate photography (or rather, lomography), into the artistic process we were evolving.

I was highly skeptical. Coming to the project as a writer and dramaturg who, as Helène Cixous might describe it, paints with words, I didn’t understand how a finite, two dimensional image could fit into the creative process of initiating and shaping live performance. Dean, originally a theatre designer/scenographer, couldn’t understand how I would be able to rely only on creative memory and words on a page to transfer and translate images I was observing into theatre or dance.

Through a series of explorations of and experiments with each other’s process, we were able to move closer to a hybrid. Tony began to admit the value and evocative possibilities of words and their ultimate accessibility to anyone who spoke the language, even those who resist the act of writing. As a writer, I became aware of the curious fluidity and depth of lomographs and their potential to inspire creativity beyond the borders of the image. I also came to understand that the images encouraged a new and often unexpected way of perceiving what is comfortably familiar.

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My creative process, from this point onwards, entwines image and word in ways I didn’t anticipate. I began, experientially, to understand the role both ought to play in the transcultural process I’m currently shaping for a new way of practising developmental dramaturgy across artistic disciplines. I’ve since worked with theatre, dance, visual artists on three continents using lomographs (or Lomograms, as I’ve started calling them) to provide a non-prescriptive, visual spark that has made it possible to move past, and in some cases, overcome linguistic and cultural barriers in creative workshops. I have discovered that the images are both peculiar and evocative to everyone: from a throat singer in Iqaluit, Nunavut to an elementary school child in Nyanga Township, South Africa to a visual artist in Central Cuba.

While artists are going to make art, with or without any methodology or dramaturgical development, I’m convinced that the Lomograms can offer a jump start to the process as well as a relatively unencumbered perspective on the landscape with which we are engaged when creating work.

If any or all of this sounds a bit sketchy (or if the lomographs just look like bad photographs to you) and you’re still dubious about lomography and all of its potential uses, I encourage you to seek out a LOMO Kompact and experiment with it. Or contact me and I’ll share more of my lomographic images. And the stories attached to them. Or, better still, you can tell me the stories the images elicit from you.

891 words February 26, 2005

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Judith Rudakoff

A professional dramaturg, Judith Rudakoff teaches at York University, and travels widely, lately with a strange camera.

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