If Hipster Cameras Are So Popular, Why Did L.A.'s Lomography Stores Close Down?
Tanja M. Laden
As early as 15 years ago, if you wanted to take a picture, you'd need to bring your film into a lab and wait to see how the images developed. A semi-working knowledge of film speed helped, as did a bit of familiarity with shutter speed, aperture settings, and other variables required to produce a decent image. The whole process was prolonged and tedious, yet it was rewarding, too -- not only because of the anticipation involved, but also because you'd have something to hold in your hands after it was over.
Obviously, this all changed with the advent of digital photography in the late 1990s, but if old-school camera-makers like Lomography are any indication, film isn't going away anytime soon. The hipster-driven manufacturer thrives in the face of digital photography while former film giants such as Kodak and Polaroid have struggled. But even though Lomo believes that "the future is analog," it's definitely not brick-and-mortar. On March 24, the Lomography Gallery Store Los Angeles closed its doors, a little more than three years after its grand opening. The Lomo Gallery Store in Santa Monica also shut down, on January 26, just 15 months after it first opened. Today, the only Lomography Gallery Store on the west coast is in San Francisco.
Wiki Commons The original Lomo LC-A
Lomographic Society International was born after Matthias Fiegl discovered the Russian Lomo LC-A on a trip through Eastern Europe in the early '90s. Charmed by the low-tech camera's ability to yield artsy images, he decided to distribute it himself, with help from his wife Sally Bibawy and friend Wolfgang Stranzinger. They formed Lomography in order to bring cheap, user-friendly film cameras to the public, just as the 35mm film industry began to wane. Today, Lomography is a global brand that keeps the tradition of film-based snapshot photography alive, attracting new customers every year -- most of whom are too young to remember anything but digital cameras. But if Lomography is so popular, why did its L.A. stores close down?
"The space was too big for a brand like ours," says Lomography USA's Chief of Marketing and PR, Angela Bilog, referring to the WeHo branch. In other words, maintaining a store is expensive. But there are a few other reasons why the local Lomo stores may have closed down as well.
To begin with, going into a store with nothing but plastic cameras is overwhelming. Lomo carries nearly 200 different kinds of 35mm, medium format, and 110 film cameras, including a hand-cranked movie camera, a 360-degree "spinner" camera, and a bunch of panoramic, fish eye, instant, pinhole, and premium cameras, too -- not to mention a long line of lenses and other accessories, along with a range of different camera styles and special-edition products as well.
Tanja M. Laden Photo of LACMA with Lomo's Fisheye No. 2
Bilog says, "As you know, we continue to come out with new cameras, accessories and film every other month, so we aren't going anywhere any time soon!" For example, Lomo just issued an exclusive 35mm "Coachella" camera that's only available at the Coachella boutique, and it isn't being sold anywhere else -- not even online.
Of course, the Lomo gallery stores didn't just offer cameras, which is why it's kind of a bummer to see them close down. Both locations hosted low-cost special events such as photo-themed, hidden-L.A. scavenger hunts, workshops, and "Lomojourneys" to places like the Venice Canals. The Lomo stores were also generous enough to supply "loaner" cameras to workshop participants who didn't have cameras of their own -- all they needed to buy was the film.
Lomography USA The special-edition Coachella camera
Speaking of film, the Lomo gallery stores also offered film development services, but so do places like Walgreens (at least for the time being), and they're a lot easier to drive to -- which brings us to the next reason why they closed down: driving to either of the Lomo stores was a pain in the ass, not to mention dealing with the parking.