My 1986-era Lomo LC-A, with a Soviet badge replacing the name, worn off after years of use (Photograph by Stephen Dowling, used with permission. )

Stephen Dowling, founder of Kosmo Foto, has published what is, in essence, a 20-year review of the Lomo LC-A. The LC-A is now considered one of the most important cameras in film photography history, despite its subpar image quality and primitive design, which was inspired by a camera from a manufacturer that far better known – and respected – at the time of its release.

Dowling begins his review with a quick history lesson of the Lomo LC-A, a camera whose design is effectively a Soviet copy of the Cosina CX-2. As Dowling details, ‘The Soviet Union’s vice minister of defense, Igor Petrovich Kornitsky had encountered the quirky Cosina [CX-2] at Cologne’s Photokina trade show in 1980 – and wanted the Soviet Union to produce something even better,’ something Dowling calls ‘quite the Tall Cold War Task, given that Japan had become world leader in compact camera design.’

The Cosina CX-2, shown with its twisting front cover which the LC-A (bottom) did not feature. (Photograph by Stephen Dowling, used with permission. )

Kornitsky instructed various Soviet entities to start the construction of the Cosina copycat and after some deliberation on how and where to manufacturer this new camera, it was decided that Leningrad-based camera manufacturer Leningradskoye Optiko-Mekhanicheskoye Obyedinenie, better known as Lomo, would be the producer. Thousands of these cameras were made by Lomo, but due to their plastic construction, few have survived the decades since.

While the camera's optical design and overall construction contributed greatly to the aesthetic of photographs it captured, the Lomography world often cross-process their film in different chemicals than the film stock manufacturer recommended, resulting in very saturated, contrasty images, as seen in the image below:

Shot on a Lomo LC-A in Sri Lanka with cross-processed slide film, 2016 (Photograph by Stephen Dowling, used with permission. )

Still, The Lomo LC-A has built its reputation, not only matching that of its Cosina counterpart, but surpassing it, thanks to the LC-A’s role in the experimental film photography scene throughout the 1990s, which itself was kickstarted thanks to a ‘happy accident’ in the Czech capital, Prague, in 1992. Dowling explains:

‘In 1992, a group of Austrian art students found an LC-A for sale in a junk shop in the Czech capital. The camera looked little like the usual Soviet cameras and the Austrian students discovered it was an electronic camera with some very noticeable quirks […] The Austrian students discovered a few things about the camera. The saturated, contrasty lens was one. The trippy results from the ultra-slow shutter speeds, light trails and blurred movement, were another. They were so impressed that they set out on a mission to find every example they could lay their hands on, trawling East European markets and camera shops for surviving LC-As. The camera inspired them to come up with a new school of experimental photography – Lomography – built around their new discovery, and 10 rules to break free of creative constraints.’

Production of the original LC-A camera was discontinued in 1994, just two years after its ‘happy accident’ discovery, but due to its revival from the Lomography crowd, production was restarted by post-Soviet Lomo and was marketed by the Lomography Society.

Photograph by Stephen Dowling, used with permission.

As Dowling details in his full review, the Lomo LC-A is anything but a quality camera. The original design had plenty of quirks and the optics were less than impressive. But the combination of its ease of use and the unique look it captured on film has cemented the camera in analogue history and will continue to for decades to come (many of the original Instagram filters were based off the aesthetic of photographs captured with Lomo LC-A cameras).

‘Born in secrecy at the peak of the Cold War, this curious compact started life as a copy but ended up finding its own place in photographic history,’ says Dowling. ‘To me, it’s a perfect tool for the simple joy of taking photographs.’

You can read the full Lomo LC-A review by Stephen Dowling over on Kosmo Foto:

Lomo LC-A review — Kosmo Foto

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