Photopia & the Russian Camera Industry, July 1959

The following is an extract from Chapter 31 of Charles Strasser's autobiography, 'From Refugee to OBE'

"Eventually I got the chance to take on the agency for the entire Soviet camera industry.

This was an interesting exercise, completely in contrast to all our previous experience. We never knew where the factories were or which product came from which factory, because the whole business of exporting for different industries was carried out by different state export organisations. The one that looked after all the camera manufacturers and photographic and optical equipment in general was called Mashpriborintorg.

I went to Moscow and got the agency after lengthy negotiations. I realised that the cameras could only sell if the prices were crazy low, because although the product was made very solidly, in terms of design and technical features it was at least five years behind the times compared to products made in Germany. The prices were interesting, and we took on the agency and brought in cameras like a twin-lens reflex called the Lubitel and 35mm cameras like the Zorki and Fed and others.

That relationship, as opposed to any other country's, never was on a personal basis because we were dealing all the time with bureaucrats, which I'd never been used to before. Everything that was promised was honoured. Contractually, you could rely on it. The big problem was that nobody would make decisions. When I went to a camera factory in Germany and we wanted to have a psychological price level to fit in the market place, you could negotiate and somehow find a compromise price. With the Russians, they would listen, but nobody could make a decision, basically because of the system. If they made the right decision, there was no benefit for the guy who had made it. If he made a wrong decision, he could finish in Siberia. So there was nobody making decisions and I think that some of the things must have gone through the hierarchy, right up to whoever was the President of the country at the time. That was one problem.

The other problem was that everything had to be done according to the Soviet five-year plan. So for example, we might want cameras early in the year so they would be in the shops ready for the summer photographic season. But if their five-year plan said cameras will be exported to the UK in September, there was no way you could budge them from that. We worked well together for about two years, and then their methods were just unacceptable and could lead to an early grey hair situation. I decided to drop the agency, and a company called Technical and Optical Equipment Ltd., (ToE) took it on.


'Sputnik' was the earth's first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union on 4th October 1957.

After several failed attempts, the US successfully launched a satellite, named Explorer I, on January 31, 1958.


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