Cracker Box Camera Obscura

First image from the cracker box camera

This must be my technology regression phase.

An old family projector found its way to us, along with several carousels of slides from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. . I scanned the slides, and put them up in galleries for distant relatives to enjoy.

But examining the projector, it was clear the mechanical parts no longer work. No surprise, given its age. But still a shame. These were staple appliances of many families when I was growing up. In the age before digital cameras and cellphones, before online galleries and social media sharing, places like Facebook and Instagram, slide shows were the way people shared their family photos. It was a rare event, often held decades apart, but a truly social one. Something people usually did together, sharing stories of separate but braided memories.

I pulled the lens out, mostly to have a look inside the case to see if there was an easy fix. Setting it aside, an inverted image of the window streamed through the lens and across the table. Picked it up and saw I could project a view of the yard on the palm of my hand.

Hmm.

A short time later, using only a cracker box, piece of white cardboard, and a utility knife, I had a rudimentary Camera Obscura in my hands.

A smallish hole cut in the front above the lens, allows the lens of my phone to peek inside the box. Sliding the projector lens in and out by hand adjusts the focus.

This first prototype is pretty finicky, but with a bit of juggling: Presto! I have an old style view camera, with that super narrow depth of field, vignetting corners, and light-struck images from leaks in the seams.

Just like a vintage camera from the early 1900s.

Might be fun to make a more permanent wooden box, maybe even salvage the focusing knob and gear and some other parts from the old projector.

Zenza Bronica S2A

Bronica S2A kit from

A good friend, a lifelong professional photographer, still had his old film camera kit from back in the early 70s. We share a fondness for old tech, and hang onto things longer than most rational people. When he saw that I was playing with my grandfather’s Grayflex, he offered to give it all to me. Just wanted to see it used again. I had some old computer hardware I no longer use, so we worked out a nice barter.

When I went to pick it up, I found a whole pile of stuff in boxes. He threw in a bunch of other old gear, too: Developing tanks, a darkroom timer like the one I had, light kits, a meter, cases, even the original boxes, film, winders, some Holga plasticams, etc.. Quite a haul.

I won’t have film developed from this for a few more days, but the camera is an amazing piece of brilliant engineering. Like the Grayflex, there are no electronics. Everything is mechanical. And it’s completely modular. The film backs are interchangeable, and can be removed mid-roll so that different types of film can be used for the same shots, moments apart. The view finders are interchangeable, as are the lenses and even the focusing ring. The dang thing weighs 4 pounds.

I’ll be posting photos from this one soon. This will be fun.

Almost Annual Equinox

HomeHenge

This old house is oriented on the cardinal points – the word oriented derives from “facing east” – so around the equinox, the sun shines straight through the house at dawn. It’s especially dramatic in Spring, when the trees are still bare.

I love these remnants of old analog time. A more primal rhythm than the digital clocks that measure out our days, one that doesn’t run on batteries.

Speaking of analog, this is that old borrowed camera. It belongs to an artist friend, the one who painted the large canvas over the sideboard in the living room, of the field on fire. Doug’s wife, Giselle, actually. Usually it’s sitting on a shelf in her studio, next to bees nests, bird bones, fox skulls, and painter’s palettes covered in wax.

She has a new show up this month in Charlottesville, that we really, really like. Each piece is a pastiche of map details and gold flake land masses floating in pale blue seas, all covered in wax encaustic.

detail of “Mapping the Seas” by Giselle Gautreau

Here are some more photos from that camera, taken around the equinox. Including some from Terri’s studio with works in progress.

First Graflex Photos


Selfies are a real challenge. Guess at focus and framing, guess at exposure, trip the shutter with a long cable, and hope for the best.

I’ve started getting back the first photos from that old Graflex camera.

These Black and White images were all shot on Ilford HP5.

I say first photos, but it’s 75 or 80 year old camera. It took a LOT of photos through the 40s and 50s. Then a few more in 80s when it was handed down from my grandfather to me, and I first played with it in college. So these are the first photos taken with the camera in about 40 years.

I no longer have my darkroom equipment, or even a scanner, so sent the film out to a mail order place in California. They develop the film and post the high res scans online for download. I should get the film back in a few days. It’s a good way to see if the camera still works, before considering replacement of any darkroom supplies.

I had no idea if any of these would come out. What a pleasant surprise.

The camera has certainly been through a lot over the better part of a century, including a fire. It was stored in a camera bag on a shelf in my office. The bag melted, along with everything else on the shelf. But what was inside the bag was remarkably well preserved. A few accessories were stored in tubs in the basement, and those came through fine, aside from some mildew. It’s all been sitting in the new bookcase for the past two years, and looks nice there; but I grew increasingly curious to try it again recently. Mostly inspired by reading the remarkable autobiography of Sally Mann, Hold Still.

But wow, it still works amazingly well. The light meters are toast, so I have to take readings with my phone and translate, sort of. And the mechanics of all the old analog dials and knobs and buttons is a charming challenge. But it clearly works.

I still get confused. There are so many things to remember. More than once I got everything carefully set up and took the shot, only to realize I forgot to remove the protective light shade from the film pack. So no exposure.

Or forgot to wind the film between shots, resulting in double exposures. Some of which are interesting duds.

Or trip the shutter by accident, while trying to figure out the cable release.

But overall, it’s amazing how well the camera still works. I sent out another three rolls today. They should be ready in about a week.

It’s definitely not an “everyday shooter” but fun to experiment with. A creative diversion from the easy and always perfect iPhone photos, the magical camera always ready in my pocket.

I’ll also be curious to see what’s on the rolls of those expired-30-years-ago rolls that I shot when Doug and I first went out with it. Those won’t be ready for another month or so. A couple of those rolls were already exposed, and may have been shot by me long ago, or even by someone else – I won’t know until I see the results, if any.