February 11th, 2014 By Jack Morton
Last October Instagram was in the news for reaching 150m users, not bad for a service that had just reached it’s 3rd anniversary. Such growth for the platform led to its much publicised purchase by Facebook in April 2012 for a cool $1bn, 7 years after Facebook first introduced photos to their own platform in 2005.
It’s safe to say that photography has been an integral part of social media platforms for nearly a decade.
But 20 years ago, a movement was born online that was soon to form a social community based on people sharing their photographs all over the world when Master Zuckerburg just entering his teens.
The birth of Lomography.
In 1991 a group of students from Austria came across an old LOMO LC-A in a quirky old camera shop whilst visiting Prague. On their return, having had the films developed they were seduced by the quirky colours and strong vignettes the camera produced. Soon family and friends were keen to own their own LC-As.
The following year, after a few trips to Russia coming back with more than there permitted allowance of cameras in their back packs, they published the ‘10 golden rules of Lomography‘ and later that year the Lomography manifesto.
The movement continued to gather pace with exhibitions taking place in Berlin and New York (where else), and in 1994 they launched their first website, lomo.com. Then in 1996 the Lomography movement faced its biggest challenge, the Russian manufacturers decided to stop manufacture this little gem of a camera. The group, believing that they had more work to do, bringing Lomography to the world, headed to Russia to plead their case with the manufactures and then-Vice Mayor Mr. Vladimir Putin to continue with the LC-A production!
With renewed vigour, having saved the fate of their beloved LC-A camera they set about launching lomography.com, an online community platform for lomographers to share their photography and connect online. Sound familiar?
This was 7 years before Facebook launched, and it’s success was down to a few principles that are still relevant in todays world of numerous social platforms.
Principles that enabled a community.
- Enable community interaction
It seems obvious to us now, but lomography give users the tools to communicate with each other in public and in private, allowing users to rate and comment on each others photographs.
- Have a personality
Every private message you received was heralded as such ‘a secret love message? a blind date? a careless whisper? an amazing insult? a tasty gossip?’ This human approach for system messages added a personality and charm to the experience where it would have been easy to go with ‘you have received a new message’.
- Incentivise the community
Regular themed challenges were launched, encouraging users to submit their own photographs into competitions to win ‘piggy bank credits’ to spend in the Lomography store, see Instagram’s Weekend Hashtag Project.
- Enable ownership
Lomography offered each user their own LomoHome – a space for users to store all their photos, make LomoWalls, and receive comments on their profiles.
- Local vs Global
Whilst Lomography was a global movement, they empowered people on a local level, encouraging members to set up local Embassies to facilitate meet ups and a global/local network developed culminating in the first Lomo world congress in 2002.
Analogue vs Digital
For me, Lomography was one of the first true social networks, and it grew from a love of photography as a physical medium. In a world where everything is moving towards digital form and perfection, there are still products that people like to have in a physical form. Products that can surprise and delight in imperfection, whether that’s the crackle of a record, the smell of an old book, or slightly blurred, saturated photograph from an old camera; the desire was there, and the lomography movement gave people the tools to connect with other people with that same desire.
Does size matter?
In terms of numbers, other social networks gather more members in a week than Lomography has in total. But 20 years on, they still have an truly engaged membership that delight in taking and sharing photographs, and I for one I happy to be part of it.
If only film development was cheaper.
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