Written by Daniel van Flymen in December 2010, this is a piece is about the current wave of digital-lomo-photography. Daniel shares “I find it interesting for a number of reasons, all of which have their dis/advantages…”

Modern photography can trace its early roots back to 19th century France when a scientist by the name of Niepce started experimenting with lenses and photo-sensitive chemicals. The famous lensmaker equation was known centuries before, which allowed Aristotle to describe pinhole cameras in ancient Greece. Niepce however, produced what we can call the world’s first photograph in 1822. Since then, the world changed forever. Photography, for the first 100 years or so was not considered an art—it was documentation. Before this the world had relied on paint-craft to document history. The camera single-handedly changed the world forever—the world suddenly became a place where repercussions were loftier, swifter and more truthful with the aid of “true documentation”.

The entire history of Photography up to the digital age was more than a medium and artform, it had the invaluable property of truth. Sure, retouching had existed since the 1950s but practice was very expensive and limited somewhat to the fashion industry in selective circles. The bottom line is that the medium was never doubted. It’s important to highlight this fact because today the process of modifying a photograph is cheap, simple and for intensive purposes, free. Today we have a “default” system of doubt when met with an astonishing image, this doubt is very much different to the doubt a man living 50 years ago would have—our doubt would lie in the image itself—his would lie in the situation the image documented. It is fairly obvious to see where our doubt stems from: features like digital redundancy (ability to take lots of shots with no expence), auto-correction etc.

Of-course, Film manufacturers like Kodak, Agfa, Eastman and Ilford—as well as the lens manufacturers—camera manufacturers—in fact all the photographic industry relentlessly pushed technology with the goal of ridding the flaws in the medium: high grain/noise, light leaks, color shifts, abberations, rayleigh’s criterion etc. All this progress and evolution eventually culminated in the digital camera. I find it very interesting that today, with most of these flaws eliminated, we have suddenly become enthused by them. The Hipstamatics, the Holga’s and the cross-processing are all testament to the fact that people seem to miss the nostalgia of the technology in the same way that a rock ‘n roll enthusiast may enjoy the hiss and crackle of an old LP.

For those that do not know the difference between analogous (film) mediums and discrete (digital) mediums, think of a flight of stairs (digital) and compare it to a wheelchair ramp (analog). If one were walking down the stairs, he could accurately quantify his descent (he is on the 5th stair down) whilst the man on the ramp could not (he would say that he is 50% of the way down). The difference between the two systems is the idea of quantification. The colour of the sky in a film photograph set in the Swiss Alps at dawn could be described as “cold crystal, icy quartz, royal blue”—words which resonate with the human being in us. Whilst a digital photograph could also be described the same way but with the underlying knowledge and quantification that the sky is simply R: 150 G: 160 B: 240 in RGB terms. Perhaps the idea of imperfection that film photography inherently has resonates with us on a psychological level more than an aesthetic one? Of-course, if Photography was meant to document and the careful selection of documented pieces is what we call art so that the authenticity of the medium cannot be doubted, then surely the best route to choose is the one with the most accurate and thus most quantifiable attributes instead of clutching to the past?
As a side note, I know that I am perhaps taking this subject very seriously and I understand most shooters out there probably just want to make colourful, snappy snapshots but they must have the foresight to know that in today’s world these lomo-pics are exactly what they are: lomo pics… and perhaps in 10 years they will be iconically comical of an era obsessed with nostalgia and treated as such—much like leopard skins, lycra and disco in the 80s.