I Built an 8×10 Paper Negative Box Camera! Huzzah!

I know, I know. It’s been done before, but not by me, so I gave ‘er a go. It started when I discovered a blog post online: DIY Foam core 8×10 camera by Cory Norton. Norton outlines a detailed and inspiring tutorial on how he constructed his box camera with affordable materials, specifically foam core. With his box-within-a-box design in mind, I began to plan my own version made of wood. I headed to the craft/hobby store, played around with a few ideas, and then slapped her all together.

That makes it sound seamless. It wasn’t entirely seamless. There were a few bumps in the road and many trips to the craft / hardware stores —  7 or 8 trips in total. A 3D printer sure would have been convenient during this process… but tape and glue are more my jam. Without going into too many details, here are the plans and the general idea behind the camera: 

DIY 8x10 Paper Negative Box Camera Plans / ©Dre L Hudson 2016, All Rights Reserved

Oh, and because I am a bit crazy moneyless crazy, I also constructed a DIY paper/negative holder and ground glass holder to fit a custom back. Honestly, the film holder took longer to put together than the camera itself. More on that below.

WHY BUILD A BOX CAMERA?

 

  1. An available weekend + the will to create + abstaining from Pokemon Go.
  2. A lens collecting dust on my shelf + curiosity. Could I put a 300mm Fujinon f6.3 (intended for 6×8) on an 8×10 format camera? How large would the image circle coverage be? There’s only one way to find out. Shout out to Maria!
  3. Piles and Piles of Darkroom Enlarging Paper. I received an unimaginably generous gift from a local printer who could no longer print.  Upon receiving the bounty, I was told to “do right” by it. And that is what I plan to do.
  4. The tonality of this paper is breathtaking. These web-ready jpgs do not do it justice.
  5. I have a darkroom in my apartment.
  6. The element of the “unexpected,” so like, art, and stuff.
  7. This is my passion, and I won’t apologize for it.
  8. I recently sold all my digital equipment.
  9. Because Hipster.
  10. Still avoiding Pokemon Go.
  11. Why not?

Here she is: 

DIY 8x10 Paper Negative Box Camera // ©Andrea Dre L Hudson 2016, all rights reserved

And here’s a .gif cuz people like those

boxcamera gif / ©andrea dre l hudson 2016, all rights reserved

THE PAPER NEGATIVES & PRINTS: 

 

If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect much. After all, I am making images through a medium format lens, attached to a cheap wood box, focused onto “scotch tape” ground glass, projected onto 25 year old paper, that’s held in place by a DIY foam core film holder. I wasn’t sure what this contraption would capture. I figured it should work in theory because it has the basic makings of a camera: a light-tight space, a lens of sorts (a way for light to enter the box), and a light sensitive material (shout out to John G!).

Fortunately, all those hours of cutting balsa / foam core/mat board and watching Stranger Things paid off because as it turns out, you can attach a medium format Fujinon lens to an 8×10 camera and you can use scotch tape ground glass …. and the results are, well, take a look:

Paper Negative Camera

Jay Anderson, Milwaukee Musician // Printed on Agfa Brovira #2

Jacob Salzer, a Milwaukee Painter  // on Kodak RC Multigrade Lustre

Jessi / Paper Negative / ©Andrea Dre L Hudson 2016, all rights reserved

Jessi Paetzke, a Milwaukee Photographer // printed on Agfa Brovira #2

If you’re curious, the exposure times for the portraits above were between 3.5 and 6.5 seconds when shooting wide open at f/6.3. Each paper’s sensitivity reads a bit differently… generally between ASA 2-6. This lens doesn’t have a built-in shutter (because it isn’t intended for this use), so I am timing my exposures by plugging my continuous day-balanced lights into a digital enlarger timer. I have not yet experimented with strobes.

How did this happen? 

 

I have been incredibly fortunate and very patient. Professional photographers, Instructors, hobbyists, and old-school printers have reached out and donated or sold analog equipment/supplies they had once used, but longer found use for. This generosity has allowed me to pursue my passion wholeheartedly and without hesitation. You know the saying, “Go Big or Go Home…?” I guess you could say I went big at home because about a year ago I converted my bedroom to a darkroom… and threw my mattress on the closet floor. Recently, after completing the box camera, I figured, “Why stop there?” So, I sold most of my furniture to make room for a small studio set-up in my living room. Who needs a couch?

DIY Apartment Darkroom Panorama / ©DL Hudson 2015, All Rights Reserved

Former Bedroom

What will I do with this camera? 

 

Making these sacrifices has allowed me to streamline the process. I am able to make a portrait with my box camera, turn around, enter the darkroom and immediately process the paper. How cool is that? I think it’s pretty cool.

Here’s where I think it gets even cooler: The experience of this camera — both for subject and maker — is incredibly intimate.  Aside from the subject entering my home and having his/her portrait made, he/she can enter the darkroom with me and watch their likeness emerge in realtime. For those who haven’t experienced this, it’s magical, I tell you. MAGICAL!

Ultimately, my camera is a means to an end. The camera was created through passion; with it, I want to photograph passionate people. My vision for this portrait project — currently in the beginning stages — is to get to know inspirational individuals in my city through the lens. By welcoming a stranger into my home and darkroom, he/she will better understand me as a passionate creative, and I them through our conversational exchange. I hope to develop a visual network of inspiration… a web of positive energy. 

If you’re in Milwaukee, get in touch, come on over, grab a beer from the fridge, take a seat, and experience the magic for yourself. 

PS. Still abstaining from Pokemon Go.

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Author dre lynn hudson

Dre Lynn Hudson is a Milwaukee native who loves the magic of light, conversation with strangers, and fish tacos. She is drawn to the quirky details of seemingly simple surroundings, and aims to capture the quiet and contemplative moments around her. You can find Dre eating the world with her eyes and keeping rhythm with the shutter. Dre is a freelance commercial photography assistant, who happens to carry her camera everywhere she goes. When she isn't assisting, she is working on a few personal projects to satiate her hungry eyes and eager fingertips.

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