What do you spend thirty-five quid’s worth of John Lewis vouchers on? I have spent the weeks since Christmas trying to think of a useful solution to this dilemma, being as I am unfamiliar with the shopping experience of behemothian department stores. Last week I gave up trying to think of important household goods I ought to buy with them and spent a Sunday afternoon wandering round the gigantic seven-floor flagship shop on Oxford Street in the hope that something would catch my eye. I walked out with a shiny new Lomography Fish-Eye camera.
Lomography, purveyors of quirky and artsy consumer cameras, claim that this is the first widely available fish-eye camera on the market. It is like any other standard old-school 35mm camera, the kind everyone used to have, where you have to wind the film on manually, and rewind it when you reach the end. But it comes with the most incredible bulbous 170° lens, and accompanying viewfinder.
It’s an extraordinary experience, taking photos with a fish-eye. For starters, I haven’t used or owned a traditional film camera like this in about ten years, and it takes some getting used to. I have almost forgotten how to load a film; and it’s a curious feeling to suddenly find that I can’t immediately view, edit or delete the photo I have just taken – there’s no LCD display with 35mm… Having spent years taking digital photos, I am now re-learning the pace and patience that characterised all of photography for it’s first hundred years.
Fish eye also wildly changes the way you think about photos. You can’t just snap away willy-nilly. With a fish-eye in your hand there is to be no willy, nor any nilly; every shot must be carefully considered. The Lomo guide recommends that you get as close as you possibly can to your subject, and with it’s super-wide-angle lens it is terribly easy to forget exactly how much it fits into the frame. The photos give a unique and dramatically distorted perspective on even the blandest of objects. I took a picture of something as pedestrian as a pedestrian crossing sign and bang! Out comes one Art.
Of my first roll of film of thirty-six, roughly around eleven came out any good, which isn’t a bad ratio for the first batch. A lot came out too dark, or too grainy – it’s a camera which gives best results in blazing sunshine. Spending a weekend with friends in the pretty seaside town of Brighton proved to be plentiful with photographic opportunity. A bit of photoshop tweaking and they’re definite keepers. I’m no pro, and it’s still early days, but I’m already smitten. This is old-school analogue gadgetry at it’s finest. It’s a magic camera – everything looks cool. I’m never going back.