The Art of the Camera

The cameras I make aren’t for everyone . . .

Much of the world of photography is driven by the growing passion for a DIY approach to enhancing creative expression. Any open-able, hollow object that can be made light-tight can be made, with very few constraints, into a pinhole camera. And the pride of accomplishment that comes from making one’s own tools is undeniable.

But an accomplished maker will eventually develop a fondness for well-made tools. The experience of laboring with partially adequate tools will foster an immediate sense of appreciation when the opportunity arises handle a finely crafted and well-conceived tool for the first time.

P.90 camera – top view

But there is a line which separates appreciation for such things from the path to obsession. And in photography, the side of the line on which one stands can be a matter of significant debate. Some will proclaim “it’s not the camera but the person behind it that makes the picture”. This individual may own sophisticated tools but will insist (with some justification) that great art is made by the spirit and not by the tool. For others, there is an unabashed passion for owning and using finely made cameras with no thought of presenting themselves as accomplished photographic artists.

Between these extremes, most people develop their own philosophy to balance these seemingly conflicting views. There is nothing to prevent one with very basic tools from making bad images or one with the best possible tools from making beautiful work.

5 inch panoramic camera

I happen to be a bit obsessed with the notion that camera making is an art unto itself. The combination of practical constraints ranging from the mechanics of handling of light-sensitive materials to ergonomic considerations to the demands of the construction materials are all bound up in an aesthetic appreciation for the final result of meeting these demands. The range of possible outcomes is vast and the ones that work can range from the most prosaic to the unbelievably outlandish.

120 degree panoramic pinhole prototype – 6 by 12 cm

Of course photography has a rich history of makers finding solutions to the task of making a photograph. The earliest examples were simple boxes like the famed “mousetraps” of William Fox Talbot. From there, the efforts became more sophisticated as a cottage industry developed around cabinet makers, opticians, saddle makers, telescope builders and the like involved in the various tasks. Each of these specialties brought with it a particular standard of excellence.

Image of box camera
Pinhole box camera 1983 – (missing the sliding rear box!)

The coalescing of those varied disciplines into a standard camera making practice brought with it a profusion of ingenious and often beautiful solutions. The historical point at which those solutions retained the hallmarks of their craft-based genesis before evolving into a full-fledged, modern manufacturing process is what originally inspired the work I do. The inherent beauty of natural materials like wood and leather combined with hardware of brass, aluminum and stainless steel is an intoxicating combination. The fact that the result of this work is a creative tool that can inspire other creatives is the icing on the cake.

Opened view with back removed – Pinoramic 120 Series 2

Unlike the guitar building I used to practice, camera making has generally moved away from these traditional roots as digital photography has become the norm and analog photography increasingly becomes the realm of the serious amateur. Sophisticated, mass-produced digital wonders from China dominate the market for modern equipment along with the increasing capable camera in your cell phone or iPod.

But the digitally instant world of the present has led to a flowering of interest in the contemplative pace of traditional photographic practice. And just as is the case when seeking to purchase a guitar, there are many choices across a wide range of prices for the photographer looking to purchase tools for analog image making.

shutters 1
Early pneumatic shutter for Pinoramic cameras
What I offer is an enthusiastic homage to the historical camera maker. Every part of my typical camera is considered, designed and made from the raw material. Each individual bit of hardware is designed with consideration for both functional and aesthetic issues. Even a wind knob design receives careful evaluation for how it will fit into the overall form of a camera. In each of my designs, I seek to respect the historical practice while finding my own unique solution to the challenges posed.

Manually operatedPinoramoc camera shutter
Manually operated Pinoramoc camera shutter

If you would like to consider owning an example of my camera work, check out the P.90 page for a currently available design.

But I don’t just make cameras so check out the rest of the site and let me know if I can help you with any projects you have in mind.

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