30 Minutes with Liad Cohen, Lomography General Manager and Chief of Retail
30 Minutes With: Liad Cohen
We tend to believe that technological advancement in the last 20 years has changed the world mostly for the better. Still, the waning of film-based photography is the worst causality in our books resulting from the collateral damage of the digital age. Thanks to a passionate community of shutterbugs and the style elite, however, analogue photography is experiencing a mini-renaissance of sorts. To get a better grasp on this low-flying cultural movement, we reached out to a key player behind the trend, U.S. General Manager and Chief of Retail for Lomography, Liad Cohen.
Read our full interview on the next page.
Gear Patrol: Explain to me what analogue photography is.
Liad Cohen: Simply put, analogue photography is film photography. With film, there is an authenticity that often seems lacking in the realm of digital photography. Because you can’t immediately check the photo you’ve taken or delete it, there remains this wonderful opportunity for accidents, surprises, and the idea that you’ll capture something spontaneous. Film, as a medium, acts as a true moment-catcher; analogue is authentic, real, immediate. And so is life. And so is analogue photography. And so is Lomography. I actually think our new site describes it best. The future is analogue!
GP: How did Lomography start?
LC: The Lomographic Society International was established by three friends in Vienna, Matthias Fiegl, Sally Bibaway and Wolfgang Stranzinger, who fell in love with the Lomo LC-A camera after finding it during a trip to Prague as students in the early nineties.
After sharing their discovery with friends, Matthias often found himself smuggling the cameras back from Russia to Vienna in order to satisfy the growing demand. Impressed with its unique effects and rich, saturated colors, this small community of dedicated lomographers launched an appreciation society for this very special camera, which eventually spawned a global movement for creative analogue photography.
It’s enough for me to claim that I made Lomographers out of Radiohead!
GP: How did you begin to grow the concept to what it is today – products, a magazine, and a worldwide community?
LC: Innovation is at the heart of the Lomography movement. The Lomographic Society International is a globally active organization and community dedicated to experimental and creative analogue snapshot photography, pictures characterized by vibrant colors, shadowy framing, surprise effects and spontaneity. With over one million members across the world, we seek to document the incredible planet around us in a never-ending stream of images. As one of the first “social-networks,” Lomography.com was able to unite people from across the globe around this seemingly niche passion, and was the main driver of the growth of the worldwide community. The site still serves as the Mecca of all things lomographic where people can store their photos and share them on their very own “lomohome”, discuss films and techniques, submit content to the endless stream of information that inspires others, and connect with other lomographers from all over the world.
Lomography offers everything from fish-eye lenses to cameras with colored filters. Lomography now sells thousands of cameras and millions of rolls of films a year – not to mention merchandise and accessories, or the Lomography Gallery Stores and events worldwide. Twenty years later, this hobby among friends is thriving and has expanded into an international business.
GP: What is the story behind “shooting from the hip?” Is that literal or figurative?
LC: “Shooting from the hip” comes from our 10 Golden Rules, which were set up as part of a tongue-in-cheek guide to this analogue movement. This particular meme denotes and hopes to inspire a carefree approach to analogue photography and serves as a reminder that this ain’t your parents’ photo-shoot. But the most important rule is #10: Don’t worry about any rules!
GP: How did you become involved with Lomography?
LC: I started shooting with Lomography cameras in 2003 after suddenly getting the bug to get into photography, and being really bored with the idea of digital photography after snapping away for years with a digital camera and never feeling anything from my photos. I immediately got into the process of shooting with film again, and fell in love with the experimental and surprise aspects of Lomography. I shot for years with many of the cameras, amassing a staggering amount of images and achieving a little bit of fame from my work in the Lomography community. Enough so that in fact that the owners and managers took notice and when I expressed an interest in working for the company, they created a position for me. In just 3 years, I’ve climbed the ladder from someone involved in the Online Marketing department to CEO and General Manager of Lomography USA. I still shoot with the cameras every day, and feel blessed that I managed to turn a passion and hobby into my job.
GP: Is there any sort of aesthetic or subject matter that is associated with this kind of photography?
LC: I don’t really think the subject matter is important, it’s more about the process. I like the idea of shooting on film because film is real. Film is not ones and zeroes translating your emotions into something that machines can process! Film is light and chemicals and time. So the process is what really matters. The subject matter is all equal. The thing I love about Lomography is that it makes no aesthetic distinction between a high-concept photograph and a photo of a birthday party. The process of capturing what your eyes and mind told you was beautiful and interesting and sharing the result of that process with whomever is interested. It’s honest, tangible, emotional, beautiful. The aesthetic that is often associated with Lomography is bright colors, contrast, vignettes, etc. These are all beautiful effects that when achieved create the ooh and ah factor of the response to a beautiful photo. But it’s the honest photograph of a smiling face or a playful moment that gives you the true emotional impact of a great lomograph.
GP: What are the Gallery stores like?
LC: The Lomography Gallery stores serve as meeting-points, galleries, workshops, event locations, and fully stocked analogue shops where you can find all Lomography products and services.
Designed by the architects at the Lomographic Society International’s Headquarters in Vienna, Austria, the Lomography Gallery Stores feature our signature and unique “LomoWalls”, comprised of 1000’s of hand-picked and hand-mounted lomographs. The result is a mind-blowing experience where visitors can submerge themselves in a sea of spectacular Lomographic images, amidst vintage furniture and spectacular camera displays.
All products are on display for a hands-on experience – the stores offer the opportunity to touch, smell, hold, and lovingly gaze upon the object of your Lomographic desire.
GP: If you could travel anywhere in the world with your Sprocket Rocket where would it be and why?
LC: I would love to take my Sprocket Rocket on a road trip. I’d visit the Grand Canyon, and the sprawling hills of the plains, and I’d go to Graceland and Niagara Falls and anywhere else where I’d like to capture a scene without those side walls closing in on my memory. I love that the camera can capture a scene that is wider than or, as wide as what your eyes would normally see if you were in the moment. It gives the photo room to breathe. I would take my Sprocket Rocket to all the places where it could breathe.
GP: How does the global Lomography network work? Who is a part of it, and what is the story behind it?
LC: Pictures are what Lomography is all about and nothing compares to the feeling of visually diving into a pool of shining, new, sweet lomographs. Lomographers live offline but share online, it’s that simple. My pictures, your pictures, pictures of the world, pictures of fleeting moments, secret passions, left feet, right hands or just blurred nothings. The Lomography network collects, treasures and presents all of this, and everyone is welcome.
We believe that when you own a Lomography camera, you are granted lifelong membership into our Lomographic Society and our extensive website acts as our global HQ where we can meet, share and inspire one another. Members can create a LomoHome, search their dusty archives, and flood us with their pictures. It’s a way to show the world their masterpieces, lucky accidents, and most personal Lomographic views. Lomography.com is fully ready to consume all of these beautiful analogue pictures.
GP: What is your favorite shot that you’ve seen from Lomograph-ers across the world?
LC: One of the inspirations in Lomography is Natalie Zwillinger, who is in my opinion to this day the greatest lomographer who ever lived. She pioneered the multiple exposure technique, and experimented with different film processing techniques, like dipping her film in the Dead Sea, or cross processing slide infrared films. The results of her techniques are awe-inspiring. There is one photo in particular that she took that includes the inside of the train station in Berlin with birds flying across the sky from another exposure she took somewhere else that is probably the reason I bought an LC-A camera. I’m thankful to say that Natalie and I became close friends over the years and she is still one of my best friends in the whole world. It’s part of the fun of Lomography in that it brings you together with people you probably would never have met before. It’s people communicating their lives with each other through beautiful images.
The thing I love about Lomography is that it makes no aesthetic distinction between a high-concept photograph and a photo of a birthday party. The process of capturing what your eyes and mind told you was beautiful and interesting and sharing the result of that process with whomever is interested. It’s honest, tangible, emotional, beautiful.
GP: Who is the most interesting/unexpected/unique person you’ve photographed with an analogue camera?
LC: The most interesting people I photograph with analogue cameras are my friends and family. Over the years I’ve been drawn to the type of people who don’t hide their face when a camera is in your hand. Those are the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever taken. My friends Beetle and Nicole are the two best examples of people who have let me shoot hundreds of photos of them, and hopefully I have captured them honestly.
GP: Has Lomography seeped into the high art scene? If so, how, and if not, do you envision it doing so?
LC: I think there are people who use Lomography cameras with high-artistic intentions, and in that regard, the answer is yes. I think there is definitely an understanding of the possibilities of what can be done with an analogue camera. Art is never about the tool, it’s about the intention and execution of the artist. It’s great to see so much creativity from people using the cameras, and some of the exhibitions that we’ve seen and the quality of the work in them is simply stunning. I think it’s great to see the aesthetic of analogue photography become more respected and becoming part of the high art conversation.
GP: What is the story behind the Sprocket Rocket – the film has a pretty distinctive look, with the sprocket holes, and the camera itself has a pretty cool vintage vibe.
LC: Ah, the Sprocket Rocket – a sleek and retro miracle in analogue photography! The Sprocket Rocket pushes the boundaries of technical evolution with the world’s first panoramic camera dedicated entirely to sprocket holes.
When it comes to technology, we decided to keep the Sprocket Rocket as simple as possible: a plastic body, a super wide-angle lens, a shutter and light. The Sprocket Rocket is the first analogue camera to be fitted with a reverse gear, allowing you to rewind and remix your photos. Travel back in time with its ultra-convenient dual scrolling knobs. Feel like overlaying a brand new moment on top of that beautiful shot you took last week? The Sprocket Rocket can make it happen! It’s also fitted with a super wide-angle lens enabling you to open up your world and snap those breathtaking panoramas. Don’t be fooled by its small and compact shape, the Sprocket Rocket can fit more in a single frame than you ever thought was possible!
GP: How do those two aspects come together in Lomography? Obviously it’s a pretty hip, current kind of art form, but it draws pretty heavily on a retro vibe.
LC: Well, I think people have a natural tendency to feel emotion where there is nostalgia, and vice versa. I think Lomography is often pigeonholed as this “hipster” idea of how to approach photography, but I don’t think that at all. I think it’s hip because it attracts people who some consider to be hip. But it’s also quite nerdy in that you can totally geek out about it too. People will always be drawn to both aspects of Lomography, the hip and the retro parts. But those are hardly all that there is to it. It’s so much more.
GP: Where do you see Lomography growing and expanding in the future? An iPhone app?
LC: The sky is the limit. One of our “10 Prophecies of An Analogue Future” states that you should “Expect the Unexpected.” I think that’s always been a part of the spirit of Lomography and I don’t see that ever changing. So you never know what might happen! One thing I know is that Lomography will continue to grow for many years to come. We plan new stores, new cameras that will blow your mind, and new ideas and projects that will keep the community of people around the world engaged and inspired for many years to come. Those are the core activities of Lomography, and there is no limit to what can be done for a long time.
GP: Do you have any good stories from your experience helping to create this world of Lomography?
LC: One of the most interesting moments that’s happened to me was when I got to present some cameras to Radiohead. They’ve been my favorite band for the past 15 years, and on their last tour I decided to ask if they were interested in shooting with some of our cameras, as I had seen on their website that Jonny Greenwood liked to shoot with film and pinhole cameras and I thought he’d be into our products. So I contacted their management and made my offer, and to my delight and surprise I was invited to one of their shows in North Carolina to give the cameras to the band. I arrived with a giant box of cameras, LC-A+’s and Diana F+’s and enough film to shoot an entire tour. I contacted the office, and quickly a road crewmember arrived, hauled off the box, and handed me an envelope with some backstage passes in it for me and my friends. I had also included a letter to the band in the box, thanking them for their music, telling them of my obsession (this was my 20th tim e seeing them play), and letting them know that their music has been the soundtrack to the best moments of my life.
So after the show we headed back to the fence that we were told to meet at if we had passes, and waited. We were marched by security guards to a meet-and-greet area with picnic benches and some cold drinks. I thought to myself, this is nice… a good way to wind down after an incredible show. But then I noticed that people were talking on walkie-talkies and pointing at me.
Next thing I knew, I was being pulled out of the group, and Jonny Greenwood emerged from a room and walked right up to me and shook my hand and started thanking me for the cameras, saying “wow, 20 times?” He seemed so genuinely moved by my letter and by the gesture to give them cameras. Later that evening, I was told by the crew members that I had befriended after that incident that Thom Yorke had taken a camera and said “cool, my first camera!” This was probably one of the coolest moments of my life. I ended up getting tickets and passes to 5 more shows on that tour, and brushed shoulders with the band on many occasions. I’ve never seen any pictures that I know for sure were taken with an LC-A+, but there are a few black and white shots on their website that look like they could be.
It’s enough for me to claim that I made Lomographers out of Radiohead!