Comrades! Pause briefly from your labors and I will share with you some exploits of glory in the name of International Commie Camera Day (ICCD). When is this glorious day you may ask? May 1 !
I don’t know when it started (1917!) nor do I know why (oppression by the ruling class!) or where (Petrograd!) but it is an illustrious day to observe in honor of the workers who labored to make Soviet cameras. It is a day to take that odd bit of gear from its customary spot on the shelf or repair bench and coax from it the magic of the worker’s utopia once more.
What cameras apply? Anything made in a communist country is fair game. Choose a simple toy camera made in China or a precise (if spartan) instrument made in East Germany, it’s all good.
There’s a perception that Soviet cameras are just crude copies of western designs, and while there was indeed copying, there was also a tremendous amount of innovation and just straight up weirdness on display. There are FEDs, Zorkis, Lubitels, Sputniks, Zenits, Moskvas, Horizons, Kievs, and Lomos. Formats range from sub-mini to sheet film, half-frame, stereo, swing lens panoramic, SLRs, rangefinders, fixed focus and scale focus, and the alarmingly named fotosniper. Lens mounts for 35mm alone include M39, LTM, Contax RF, M42, Pentax K, and even Nikon F.
I can’t fail to mention the rock star FSU (Former Soviet Union) camera, the Lomo LC-A. This 35mm automatic compact launched an empire when clever marketing turned optical quirks into desirable assets, and Lomography was born. The LC-A proved so popular in this incarnation that a new version, the LC-A+ was manufactured in China, making it something of a ICCD two-fer (or, alternatively, a commie zombie). I’ve owned a FED that was dressed up to look like a Leica IIc, a Zenit 12, and a Zenit 19 (dreadful viewfinder). I still own a Chinese Seagull TLR, which a friend says smells like cheap shoes. My passion runs to half-frames however, so the focus of my efforts on ICCD has been with two 18x24 format cameras
The first is a Tchaika (or Chaika) 3, a camera made in 1973. This is a solid camera with a metal body, not very small, with a winding knob on the bottom. It is scale focusing with a 28mm Industar lens in a 39mm mount. The story is that the lens was threaded to allow it to double up as an enlarging lens. It has an uncoupled selenium meter. Like most half-frames, the viewfinder is in portrait orientation when held in the conventional manner.
This is the Benefit St. Armory in Providence photographed with a Chaika half-frame camera. This is the building that I like to point out to anyone who will listen that was moved in 1906 (rolled on logs, mind you) to its present location in order to make way for the east side railroad tunnel, which lies a couple hundred yards to the south. The west portal of this tunnel was the site of the May Day "riot" in 1993, where some student partying got out of hand. This lead to the tunnel being sealed up. May Day became associated with the Communists in the 20th Century. Now that area is a parking lot. So it all comes together. Sort of.
The second camera I used is a small plastic camera called Agat. Made in the 1980s, it is also scale focusing with a fixed 28mm f2.8 lens. There is no meter, but it has a clever sun and cloud exposure scale around the aperture ring. The body of the camera is oriented vertically, putting the viewfinder in landscape mode. The film winder is crude, and so if it feels like the frame spacing is uneven and the sprockets are getting torn, it is and they are. If you like overlapping frames this is the camera for you.
Below you will find the contributions of a few of my comrades-in-film who also participated in this momentous event!
I took this shot on Fujicolour 200 with the Lomo LCA which is a Russian 35mm compact cam. Shutter speed is fixed at 1/60th second, lens is 32mm. It zone focuses. It's known and liked for the heavy vignetting and its way with colour. It's new to me, but I really like it. I'm looking forward to getting to know it - Lucy Wainwright
My old Kiev 88 took some great pictures - the standard lens on these, being a Zeiss "clone" has that distinctive sharp feel to it. The only problems for me are that about once a year, I have to replace one light seal or another as its just getting old now, and from time to time, the film back on these Hasselblad clones won't attach quite properly to the body.
Winding on the film sounds like grinding glass inside the camera, but I know better. It’s just the way they are designed. Anyway, here are a few images, all cropped down, because of the light leaks in the thing, even if you can still see the leaks creeping in on some of the frames. - Brian Richman
The Pentacon Six was one of East Germany's finest examples of camera design from the beginning of the cold war. Unlike its Russian cousins, it still exhibits most of its German design and quality, having been built by a group of former Zeiss engineers. It manages to exhibit its communist roots with its practical lines and no frills design, while still having Zeiss lenses and Zeiss quality behind it. I've long thought that the Pentacon Six was one of the most undervalued and oft overlooked cameras to come out of the Cold War. Kelly-Shane Fuller
Join us next May Day comrades, if only for just the day. It can be a fun adventure and at the very least you will appreciate all the more the competent machine with which you normally toil. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a few rolls of film.
Erik Gould, our intrepid writer and student of history, was born and raised in upstate New York, and now lives in Pawtucket, Rhode Island with his wife and young daughter. He is the museum photographer for the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design. His work can be found on his website, on Twitter, and on Instagram.
Brian is a film enthusiast based in Texas. Learn more about him on Facebook.