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Life and lens of a plastic princess

The Age

Saturday February 19, 2011


SHARING its name with the world's most famous woman, the Diana camera was bound to attract attention when it was enlisted by a quirky underground art movement in 2007. Easy on the eye and lightweight to boot, this all-plastic analog snapper was a child of the '60s whose time had been, gone and come again. And like its troubled namesake, there was more to this long-neglected beauty than met the eye.When the Diana World Tour makes its way to Melbourne next week, local devotees will get a new perspective on this photographic princess. The tour, which began in Hong Kong in August 2008 and has since travelled through 15 cities, includes a priceless collection of original and copycat models, images from users across the world and a series of wacky one-off "clones". Created by some of the funkiest designers and illustrators in Australia and New Zealand, these wildly dressed Dianas will be auctioned to raise money for charity.Karen Boudakian, head of Lomography Australia and tour leader on the local leg, says the Diana's cult status arises from the dreamy and often random imagery that it records."It's the blurriness, the old school, it's something that you can't get on a digital camera," she says. "Nothing's perfect ‚€ you get light leaks, and you don't have much control over the images at all. What you are looking at when you take an image is not always what you're going to get. The colours can be more intense or artificial, depending on the film that you use, or the lighting . . . You can just be more creative."Boudakian's journey into this old-school style of photography ‚€ known as lomography ‚€ began during a New Zealand road trip with her husband, when she bought one of Diana's distant cousins ‚€ the Action Sampler ‚€ and began exploring its four-lens, multi-shot possibilities. Smitten by the results, she hooked into the global lomography movement (see panel) and is now its Australian and New Zealand representative.For Boudakian, with a background in graphic design and photography, lomography "went beyond just buying a camera and taking photos, it was actually a global art movement". When she brought lomography to Australia in 2000 "it was very raw"."It was all about community and spreading the word. Ten years ago in Melbourne, they'd have lomo love-ins, so our community would meet up in a bar and bring their photos and talk about techniques."At a time when digital photography would seem to have rendered the analog camera obsolete, lomography's counter-intuitive motto ‚€ "analog is the future" ‚€ is proving weirdly prescient. From a few hundred members 10 years ago, the Sydney-based Lomography Australia is now a 6000-strong movement fuelled in part by that digital upstart, the iPhone."What's interesting," says Boudakian, "is that there's a new generation of people who have never used a film camera who are now using apps on their iPhone to re-create that kind of image and who are wanting to take it to the next step."Senior high school students who tapped into the retro feel of iPhone apps such as Hipstamatic were finding the digital outlet limiting ‚€ images were too small to be enlarged for folio presentation, and there was little scope for pushing the image beyond what appeared on screen ."When I started Lomography Australia 10 years ago, the average customer would have been in their 30s, a creative professional, working in advertising, film, or design," says Boudakian. "But in the last two to three years, the market is 10 years younger." Far from being anathema to a generation used to instant results, the idea of waiting three days for images to be processed has become part of lomography's appeal."Every image that you take, you're thinking about what it might look like when you go to pick up your pictures, rather than just thinking, 'Oh I don't like that, I'll delete it'," says Boudakian. "This is the whole process; you have to take a breath, take a step. It's not only loading the camera, it's finding the image that you want to have on your wall or share with someone on an artistic level or a personal level."Everything is so fast these days . . . People are losing their breath. We're not computers, we can't keep up with technology. I do think people will go back to taking photos with film. It's also not having that perfect, clean image; they're wanting to create a world that is not so hygienic."As part of a more generalised drift away from the fast-paced, mass-produced and instantly gratifying throb of modern living, lomography has also been embraced by what Boudakian calls "the whole retro craft" community. The parallels between their often-quirky handmade toys and homewares and lomography's fun and funky imagery goes beyond pure nostalgia. Process, imperfection and individuality are hallmarks of both movements and the two come together in the Customised Clones Exhibition that forms part of the Diana World Tour.Melbourne designer Beci Orpin is one of 15 Australians and 10 New Zealanders whose customised Dianas are being exhibited and then auctioned on eBay. Orpin, whose feminine and dreamy imagery has a dedicated following in the blogosphere and beyond, sat with her "naked" Diana for some time before clothing it in brightly coloured dots and triangles."I was going to paint it, but I'd been working a lot with cut paper. I had thousands of tiny dots that had been cut out for an exhibition . . . so I thought it would be fun to use that and to cover the plastic . . . and just play around with the three-dimensional aspect of it."A lot of what I do is digital, so it's really nice to have something that's hands-on."Orpin, who studied textile design and worked in the fashion industry after graduating, is now better known for playful illustrations that grace everything from pyjamas and jewellery to her husband's mobile food van ‚€ the Beatbox Kitchen."A lot of my influences used to be my childhood experiences and memories, and it has that quality to the work. I guess it's quite nostalgic, but it's also bold and clean, because I do a lot of work digitally."As for her Diana clone, Orpin says it reflects the current mood of her work. "It's very colourful, it's quite geometric. It ended up looking quite African, in a strange way, because of these triangles that go around the flash. I've been looking at a lot of contemporary African textiles lately, so maybe that came out by accident. I was really happy with how it turned out. I hope it doesn't sell so I get it back."Along with Styleco Ltd's besuited "Karl Lomofeld" and Studio Bomba's big-eared bunny clone, Orpin's Diana is one of Boudakian's favourites. "I love the brightness. It captures what lomography is about ‚€ having fun, and colour."When the fun-loving colour fest that is the Diana World Tour makes its Melbourne stopover, local lomographers will no doubt be taking that breath, pointing those lenses and digging in for that three-day wait. "It'll be really interesting to see what sort of reaction we get, because we haven't exhibited in Melbourne for years," says Boudakian. "One of lomography's goals is to keep the process involved . . . We're trying to get back to people talking to other people."€“The Diana World Tour arrives at No Vacancy Gallery, 34-40 Jane Bell Lane, city, on February 25 and stays until March 11. Workshops will be held at the gallery on February 26 and March 5. The Customised Clones eBay auction ends on March LOMOGRAPHY STORYTHE worldwide lomography movement began with a chance find in an old-style camera shop in Prague in 1991. Among its dusty shelves, visiting Austrian art students Wolfgang Stranzinger and Matthias Fiegl found a discarded Russian spy camera called the Lomo, developed for agents of the Soviet Defence Ministry in 1982. A product of the Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Union, the Lomo's 32-millimetre wide-angled lens was capable of capturing an image in any conditions, from any perspective, even while partly concealed inside a KGB-issue trenchcoat.Ultimately, the ministry deemed its often blurry and skewed images too imprecise and in 1996 the St Petersburg factory was poised to halt production. Stranzinger and Fiegl, by now heads of a global band of lomographers enchanted by the camera's moody and colour-saturated imagery, persuaded the factory bosses ‚€ along with a high-ranking local politician by the name of Vladimir Putin ‚€ that the Lomo had a future.The lomography stable has since grown, with other analog cameras such as the Chinese Holga and the Russian Lubitel once again rolling off the production line. New lenses and attachments have extended the creative possibilities offered by the original models and events including exhibitions, parties and installations are held regularly around the world. The Diana, a star of China's Great Wall Plastic Factory during the '60s and '70s, joined the stable in 2007, when Stranzinger and Fiegl bought the rights to reproduce this age-defying darling of the analog era.

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