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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Virtues of Humble Lomo Are Back in Focus

In Russia, the cheap, mass-produced camera known as the Lomo Kompakt Avtomat is more often the object of scorn than respect. In some Western European circles, however, the small, black camera has vaulted to a position of supreme hipness.

The elevation of this humble, plastic camera is largely the work of a small group of Austrian artists who, some three years ago, fell in love with its toughness, cheapness and versatility.

"It all happened in my apartment in Vienna," explained Wolfgang Stranzinger, an avid Lomo photographer, or Lomographer. "A friend came in with a Lomo that he bought on the black market in Prague for $15. Then people started talking about it."

Stranzinger, 27, lanky and dressed all in black garb, said the popularity of the Lomo, manufactured in St. Petersburg, snowballed, eventually growing into the 1,000-member Lomographic Society with headquarters in Vienna.

This week, Lomographers are staging their first Russian show with an 18-day exhibit of photographs at the Photocenter called the Third Lomographic Happening. The display, which opened Wednesday, features 9,882 2 3/4-by-4-inch photos of New York taken with the Lomo. Thursday, a similar exhibit of Moscow photos opens in a New York City gallery.

"I think the people in New York will be surprised to see Moscow from another side, not just the Kremlin," said Rada Krevenko, 22, a Moscow Lomographer who helped to prepare the exhibits.

The individual Lomographs on display at the Photocenter at 8 Gogolevsky Bulvar have a spontaneous, amateurish quality because the 50 Lomographers were encouraged to point and shoot without taking time to compose the photo or, in some cases, even look through the viewfinder.

"We don't think about the picture," said Stranzinger, who has taken some 2,500 Lomo photos in Moscow alone. "We just live our life and have fun."

Stranzinger says he has taken many pictures of himself kissing women. "If I'm interested in a certain person, I just say, 'Would you like a picture? Give me your address.'"

Part of the camera's appeal is its 32-millimeter, wide-angle lens and lack of a built-in flash. In dark situations, the shutter stays open for up to three minutes for a proper exposure, but without a tripod, the photos often become just streaks of color.

These characteristics are also why Russians don't have much use for the Lomo and have a hard time understanding what Lomographers are up to.

"When they are both together -- New York and Moscow -- it is interesting to see the flash of color from New York, and Moscow is very silent, very black and white," said Stranzinger, who helped put on the Photocenter exhibition.

"It is very colorful because it is New York. You will get the feeling of being in a sea of pictures. You will not know where to look."