By Lee Mei Li
Mopping the sweat from his brow, Mohd Ariff Haji Mat Said (top photo) plucks an antique-looking camera from his bulging backpack, cranks a knob back and forth, and points it at the trees above.
A sound not unlike the crack of a whip follows - and a tiny bulb flashes.
Mohd Ariff is using a Lomo LC-A (Kompakt Automat), a quirky 1980s camera that uses 35mm film. The photos the camera produces have a retro look about them - they are randomly grainy, blurry or come with a striking splash of colour.
With the Lomo camera, still life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.
In truth, though, these effects are easily replicated, post-snapshot, with the photo sharing applications of today. On Instagram, a free app on iPhone, for example, users can enhance their photos with a variety of special effects, layering images with a nostalgic tint, or casting shadows to add a gothic feel.
The modified pictures can then be uploaded onto their Instagram feed, a platform that the New York Times has described as a "photo-only version of Twitter" and shared with friends. CNNMoney reports that an average of 10 photos is posted per second on the network. Since its introduction late last year, the app has attracted close to five million fans and continues to add almost a million users every month.
With photography having been digitised, taking and processing pictures has never been easier than it is today. So why would anyone still bother to fiddle with an old-school camera?
"Well, all I have to do is snap the shutter, and get what people can only strive to replicate in the computer," Mohd Ariff explains.
Hailing from Ipoh, Perak, the 28-year-old government clerk admits that applications like Instagram have helped to spread the "art of lomography", a term often used to describe the practise of capturing vintage-hued images with Lomo cameras.
Lomo, a Russian creation, was rediscovered by curious Austrian students in the 90s, and ever since then, the brand has developed a global cult following. Suddenly, quaint toy-like cameras offering unusual photographic effects were in vogue - nobody could keep their hands off pretty-in-plastic gadgets whimsically labelled as Fisheye, Diana, Holga, Oktomat or Pop9, among others.
The Lomo trend reached the shores of Malaysia in early 2000s, attracting its fair share of fans. But is lomography facing a slow but certain death in the wake of digital photography and apps like Instagram?
Not a chance, says Mohd Ariff, a member of Lomokids Malaysia, one of a few communities of lomography enthusiasts in the country.
Mohd Ariff believes that lomographers have found a satisfactory niche in going against the grain, as film cameras have become more and more alien to people. They revel in the fact that they are doing something out of the ordinary.
"Not everyone can handle an analogue camera," he observes. "Some youngsters see lomography as a fad. They'll experiment with one or two rolls of film, and when nothing turns out, they'll move on to the next best thing."