The craze started among feather-weight belly shirts, distressed denim minis and gift books like “The Big O.” Prominently displayed there in the windows of Urban Outfitters stores nationwide was a selection of vintage-looking plastic “toy” film cameras which could produce artsy, light-streaked prints. The Diana, the Holga and the Lomo LCA+, along with various pinhole camera kits and mini-Leicas, have been huge sellers for the clothing chain, which caters primarily to the under-30 crowd.
Now, The Lomography Society, the Vienna-based manufacturer responsible for the resurgence of many of these hipster-adopted film cams, is trying its own hand at direct retail in the U.S. Early in 2009, on a tiny lane in Greenwich Village, the Lomography Gallery Store opened its doors to a throng of young enthusiasts who’d become familiar with “lomo” cameras and shooting techniques through Urban Outfitters and an impressive viral marketing campaign (www.lomography.com). Though a full retail environment, the Lomography Gallery Store also offers seminars, film processing, parties, photo walks, camera loan programs and a space for customer exhibits. We asked store manager Nicole Bogatitus to tell us about what’s developed in the first 100 days…
PB: We’re fascinated by one of Lomography’s tag lines: “The Future is Analog.” Can you tell us about the rebirth of interest in film cameras and techniques in the U.S.?
NB: Film still has warmth and depth to it that digital has not yet been able to duplicate. There are many that are still fiercely loyal to film and will not go digital, as they realize that digital is not a replacement for film but simply an alternative. There’s also the spontaneity that shooting with film allows you; with film you don’t know what result you are going to get until you get your film back. It seems there is a whole generation that has grown up with the completely digital lifestyle and film is something that is entirely new and exciting to them.
PB: Your new store looks to be much more than just a Diana & Holga shop. What’s the product mix?
NB: We carry everything that Lomography has to offer! Everything that has been available on our Web site, from the latest selection of Diana+ cameras and accessories to our complete selection of film, bags, books, picture frames, albums, stationary products and even rare deadstock Russian cameras are available in the store.
PB: We’ve heard of a “Lomo Wall” featuring 35,000 hand-mounted photographs. True story? What other design elements are you planning for the show room?
NB: We have a three-story tall structure in the rear of our store, which has affectionately been dubbed “the tower.” It is plastered with the LomoWall, which has the 35,000 photos you mentioned. These photographs were culled from an online submission where we called for New York photographs, so they are from Lomographers all around the globe. We also have in the works Gallery showings, so we will have removable gallery panels where we will have Lomography exhibitions.
PB: What sort of events will you be hosting at the Lomography Gallery Store?
NB: We will be having gallery shows in the future. There are also going to be several workshops a month. We will also host parties from time to time; we have the huge birthday party for our core camera, the LC-A, scheduled this upcoming June. There will also be a stop by the Diana World Tour in November, which is a traveling exhibition featuring hundreds of classic Diana camera models from the 60s and 70s. Of course, there are all sorts of other plans in the works as well.
PB: We’ve seen retailers do equipment rental programs, but your store is offering customers the chance to “check out” loaner cameras for neighborhood shoots. How will the “LomoJourneys” program work?
NB: We’ll schedule these in conjunction with our workshops and also as events on their own. We’ll loan out a camera and go shoot at a particular NYC location. The goal is go from one point to another and document as much of it along the way as possible. These results can be submitted as Lomo Locations to our Lomo World Archive, which aims to have an analogue snapshot of every corner of the world.
PB: What retail lessons have you learned from the Lomography Stores in destination cities like Paris and Tokyo?
NB: What we’ve seen is that it’s important to offer the community a real central location for their needs so they can feel confident to make Lomography a real part of their lives. Offering as many analog photography products and services as possible, providing real hands-on instruction and support by a qualified staff, keeping the community active through workshops and other events, and creating a strong brand presence and aesthetic in the shop are all important to building a passionate and inspired core of Lomographers that become the nucleus to any local (and global) community.
PB: It was gutsy to open a retail operation in New York in the middle of a recession. How’s business been so far?
NB: It’s been really good, surprisingly. We were a little worried with the economy and everything, but we’ve had a great response. We’ve done lots of workshops and lectures and had events where we lend out cameras. We’ve had great response for that. People love the hands-on opportunity.
Workshops are $10 or so and you get a free roll of film. We’re having a workshop soon where we’ll take people out to shoot on a double-decker tour bus. Our customers are realizing this is a whole community they can be a part of.