What’s with Kiev?


It’s a short story, I can’t afford a Hasselblad!

Rewind to 2007 when I unexpectedly found myself living in Moscow, and whilst browsing the Russian equivalent of eBay I spotted a Hasselblad for a silly price, a price that was well within my means which meant that there had to be a catch, right?
In this case, the catch was that the camera wasn’t a Hasselblad, it was a Kiev 88, a Soviet copy of my dream machine produced at the Kiev Arsenal in Kyiv with absolutely zero lip service to copyright.

One of my bodies, a later one as evidenced by the Latin script

Having owned several Russian “Leica” copies I was used to the agricultural nature of Soviet engineering and had actually grown fond of the rough and ready nature of some of the kit, sure it often had quirks or operating rules that had to be followed religiously to avoid mechanical catastrophe but on the flip side, they were cheap and dependable with the added bonus of not really having to treat them with the kid gloves I’d don if I was spending many thousands on a body.
So mind made up I contacted the seller and arranged to meet at midnight at Teatralnya Metro station, hey this is Moscow, a bit of spy story drama was part and parcel of daily life.
The equivalent of £80 changed hands and I found myself the proud owner of a Cyrillic script early body, a pair of film backs, waist level finder, prism, pistol grip and original camera case.

Until that time my only experience with Medium Format film had been from a Holga and a Diana F so as soon as I arrived back at my apartment the laptop was fired up and I hit every photography forum or related sites in town, immersing myself in Kiev culture particularly the do’s and don’t’s of ownership, hell, it took me an age to even figure out how to load the film and if anyone says my first attempt resulted in me shooting the backing paper I’m happy to settle the matter with fisticuffs.

Looking puzzled at why I am looking down and not at her

As has become now become the norm, Tamara, at the time my girlfriend now my wife, stepped in as the subject of the first frame from the camera though back then she’d never seen a camera focused from the waist, hence the slightly questioning look, today she is an accomplished photographer in her own right and doesn’t bat an eyelid when presented with new kit.

I immediately headed straight to the darkroom expecting the full gamut of faults I’d read about online, light leaks and poor spacing being the most common.
Fortunately, I had none, whilst not prize-winning my first 12 frames were evenly spaced, reasonably well exposed – I guessed as I didn’t own a light meter then – and in the main focussed.

I soon grew to love this camera and as I could pick them up pretty cheaply in Moscow started to add to the collection, at last count I had 4 bodies, 6 lenses, a dozen backs, 5 prisms and a similar number of waist finders>
And for good measure, I also acquired a pair of Kiev ’60s, a more traditionally shaped if somewhat massive medium Format SLR.
I also have a few 35mm Kiev cameras lying around though I haven’t touched them in an age and don’t recall which models without climbing into my loft to check thought they are a mix of rangefinder and SLR bodies.

So there you have it, the reason behind the website name, if you know me then you may also know me as Johnny Lomo or Johnny Kiev, though they are stories for another day.

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