Krasnogorskistan is not a real place, but I’ve been exiled here, to a land of Soviet delight, seemingly, by forces beyond my control. Let’s start with a little intro to my new best friend, the Krasnogorsk K3…
The Krasnogorsk K3 is a film camera designed and built in the Soviet Union up until the very early 1990s. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist now, except in people’s minds. The K3 continues to exist, both as an object and as a tool of the imagination, its origins of time, place and geopolitics, unmistakable: its design was drawn from the same symbolo-simplo-econo-brutalist well as its evil half-brother, the AK-47, and today, particularly when kitted-up with its optional handgrip and shoulder -stock, its aesthetic positively screams ascetic-guerilla-warrior, bin-Laden in sandals weilding camera as weapon of the imagination. Take a K3 out today in public you are likely to be just as concerned of becoming a victim of a drone strike as getting your exposure right.
It’s a clockwork camera. That’s right, you have to wind the thing up, wrist exercise here putting energy into the coiled spring inside which is released when you press the small trigger button on the front plate, jerking the motor and shutter mechanism into life. And that mechanism actually produces (lots of) real mechanical noise, the pleasing sound of real things meshing with one-another under tension, creating movement. There is no charade here of an electronic chip playing you a pre-recorded sample of a shutter click as an emulation of a life once lived by a smiling face in another time. When you’ve got a K3 you get to be that smiling face when you pull, sorry, press, that trigger. Through a design of pure genius, the K3 is of course, as a silent camera, completely incapable of recording sound, so there will never be any record made of those moments when the camera does its best to wipe that joyous smile from your face and you become audibly frustrated with what you perceive to be its, rather than your own, limitations. Or, god forbid, try and record what someone has to say about something. Let the images tell the tales instead.
As a mass-produced camera, compromises were made in the design and execution of the k3, some of which you and me both may not be zen enough (yet) to fully appreciate, and as if that weren’t enough, the passage of time has intervened too. These cameras are all now over 25 years old, irrespective of whether that means only 25 years of solid use or only 25 years of being sat doing nothing in its original box in a musty basement in Kiev. But don’t let that stop you getting yourself over to eBay and searching for one. There will be plenty to choose from. There always is. A centrally planned economy saw to that. Oh, the irony!
The truth is, when buying a k3 from pretty much anywhere, it’s a lottery. How much you choose to gamble is completely up to you, whether you buy just a bare camera body (and remember that both versions of the K3, the ‘bayonet’ and M42 lens mount versions, have their respective merits, more of which later), or choose to supersize your order with one of the endless numbers of completely ‘unused’, fully boxed K3s with the natty leather box-case and all those mysterious looking lens filters in grease-proof paper. I have chosen to buy a body only, although I might have bought one with a zoom if I had been prepared to wait longer for one at a good enough price.
If, like many today, you share an uneasy sense of impending doom, its certainly not going to subside any while waiting for the sometimes many weeks it might take your K3 to arrive, no matter how hard you try to recover that deeply hidden subliminal memory of AK47’s being used after being stashed in rivers for months, or some such other similar pseudo-military-type reliability fantasy that you try to use to quell your fear. But let me say this now, even if you actually reach the moment of delight after opening the little lead-seal on your just-arrived-from-deep-history package to find that your camera does actually spin into life after giving it a little vim with your wrist, its wise to temper that excitement a little with the reality that while you may be about to embark on an unparalleled ‘artistic’ journey, you will need to suffer more than little for that art, not least in the financial department. You are going to need to buy film, and lots of it, to even begin to make that K3 something other than just another piece of crass, bourgoise, self-indulgent lifestyle ornamentation. You have to pick up your camera and point the lens at something. And despite what you might think if you’ve been spending more time on YouTube or Vimeo watching K3-related videos than a sociology graduate procrastinating outside a brothel, there is actually no obligation to choose to shoot films of flowers or grasses being blown slow-motion in the wind. Those images on your film emulsion then need to be developed, and only when you’ve expended the time, money or effort required by that step are you free to venture into the sunny uplands of expending even more time, money and effort either having your processed film transferred to a digital format or experience the first-time-on-crack-type-high of actually projecting your film onto the nearest wall, the latter being possible only if you were clever, or should I say, ‘mindful’ enough, lest you be beginning to doubt if my words really are right for you after my last few sentences, to buy ‘projectable’ (i.e. ‘reversal’ type) film in the first place. But the best counter to all that nonsense is the fact that it would all still be true if you had chosen any other camera, including, let’s face it, just about anything that eats 8mm rather than 16mm film.