The Camera is a Prison

Object Day Berlin: Valentin Lutset

“Show us your story!“ – Beginning last year, the Jewish participants in the Object Days project have followed this invitation by recounting their migration stories.

A young man with a cap and beard in a brown corduroy jacket is holding an analogue camera in his hands.

Valentin Lutset, born in Legnica, Poland, in 1989, and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Living in Germany since 2005.
Photographer.
Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Stephan Pramme

This camera was a gift for my first day of school. After perestroika, all schoolkids received this analog camera as a gift. It’s a SMENAСМЕНА in Russian – and was produced in the USSR from 1953 to 1991. When I hear the word camera, I think of a cell, a jail cell. It is very dark in a jail cell, just like in a camera, where only a little light passes through the shutter. You can adjust the shutter; it depends on who’s using the camera: how do I want to perceive the world out there? How do I see the world? That’s how I set my camera, and that’s how I set my vision. That special part is the interior of the camera. The light coming in, the exposure time, the shutter speed, the sensitivity. That shows the person, their sensitivity, their soul, their mind, their heart.
This insight and this parallel are very important to me as a photographer, at least as an art photographer. Because I got this shitty camera as a gift in first grade. That’s why I brought it along.
What does my camera have to do with migration? The first roll of film in this camera was exposed by accident. It was pulled out and was completely blank. It’s as if someone’s life so far, everything they saw up to then – has been erased. On the other hand, you can use a roll of film for years. You could take one picture a year, and then you’d spend thirty-six years filling one roll. Half of a lifetime on one roll of film. The camera’s name, Smena, means “change.” I associate this with leaving behind something old and starting something new.