Reliving an old principle of photography – Manila Bulletin
MB Lifestyle photographer tries out the handmade street box camera
Many seasoned photographers who have been able to shoot with film cameras would still say that today’s photography is nothing compared to what it used to be in terms of the application of skills, techniques and creativity. While it can be debatable, what I do know is that if someone wants to know a particular art, they have to study its roots and learn its ancient principles.
The art of photography and its evolution is what I discussed with lifestyle photographer Jovel Lorenzo when we had a photoshoot with a classic street box camera, also known as the Afghan box, which he has. created out of love for photography.
According to Jovel, the camera has become a way for him to grow in his appreciation of the nature and culture of photography as an expression of art. He therefore wishes to share it with other photography enthusiasts, like me. And so I had the pleasure of trying out his street box camera.
Seeing this camera beast was already a feast for the eyes. Watching it closely while Jovel taught me how it works made me even more excited. It was the first time that I used photographic equipment that uses a 100 year old system. The box, which is both a camera and a darkroom, can only be operated manually.
According to Jovel, memorize the steps and interior parts – the photographic paper compartment, the focus pole, the developer and fixer chemical trays, the lens filter, the tweezers and the paper holder. photo attached to the rotating focus plate – is very important so that I can define and develop the photo even without looking at them.
After familiarizing myself with its interior parts, I made Jovel sit comfortably in a chair against a dark blue-green wall. Then I set the large format (180mm fixed lens) to its largest aperture, which is f5.6, and opened the shutter. I immediately went to the back of the camera, opened the viewing hole door to look at the frame, and adjusted the focus. I slid the string connected to the lens filter and hung it up to see the normal color of the inverted image. To get a clearer view of the upside down image reflected on the acrylic sandpaper backing, a slight push and pull of the focus pole did the trick.
To get the framing I wanted, I used the adjustment knob on the tripod where the camera was mounted. After seeing my subject clearly, I asked Jovel to cross my legs, look away from the camera, and hold his pose. To mark the focus, I slipped the paper clip marker over the focus pole on the back wall of the box.
Then I closed the viewing door where the sleeve access was attached. I pushed the pole to position the focus plate forward so my hand could have more room inside. I went in front of the camera and closed the lens shutter before setting the photo paper. I then inserted my right hand into the sleeve access and squeezed it around my arm using a ponytail so the light wouldn’t get in.
The procedure became more difficult afterwards because I had to do the next step as if I was my blind. Using my sense of touch, I imagined the parts and how I was to make them work inside the miniature darkroom.
After making sure that no light would pass through the box that could affect the light-sensitive photo paper, I wasted no time unlocking and pulling out the holder. On the left side below, I opened the compartment door to take out the plastic envelope containing 5 × 7 multigrade glossy photo paper. I took one that would serve as a negative. Then I pushed the tray to place it neatly and correctly facing the shiny side. I touched the edges of the backing to make sure the photo paper was in place before locking it into place. I reinserted the plastic envelope and closed the compartment securely. Using my right hand, I slowly remove the sleeve while grasping its edge, which I twisted and hooked onto the rod after taking my hand out.
Before reading the light on my subject using an analog light meter, I moved the focus pole up to the marker. I then positioned the light meter in front of Jovel’s face to get the suggested shutter speed that would compensate for ISO 3 and f5.6 aperture. With an overcast sky as the light source, reading gave me a five second exposure. But Jovel suggested changing it in four seconds. So I grabbed the trigger cable, clicked and held the button, started counting 1001 to 1004, but in a hurry. Maybe I was just able to expose the photo for two seconds. But finally, after about a minute, my model can sit back and relax as I become more tense while wondering what the result might be.
Next step: develop the negative. Again, I pushed the focus pole forward, then carefully inserted my right hand into the sleeve access. To retrieve the negative, I grabbed the lock on the photo paper holder to put it down. After unlocking, I squeezed the negative paper with my thumb and middle finger, and slowly dipped it into the chemical developer placed in the lower left corner. I grabbed the tweezers that were attached to the platter and jabbed the negative with it to make sure the negative permeated the chemical. While doing this, I placed the index finger of my left hand on the analog watch affixed to the top of the box to mark where the second hand started so I could start timing the hustle and bustle.
To agitate the photographic paper with the chemical, I had to gently move the platter for a minute. Due to the limited space in the bin, picking up the 5 × 7 photo paper was also quite difficult. After taking it out I had to let the chemicals drip off for a few seconds before soaking them in the fixer tub. The same procedure was performed while he was in the fixer. Then came the moment of truth.
Access to the negative was in the lower right corner of the camera. When I pulled out the drawer where the chemical bin was, I was shocked to see that the negative photo was mostly black, meaning it was overexposed. I wondered if there was something wrong with my calculation or if I had just missed something. Jovel asked me if I had put the filter back in place to reduce incoming light. I did not do it. My fault.
Some Afghan tins don’t have filters, but Jovel thought to include one to solve the overexposure issue and well compensate for the suggested exposure time. It was one of the many great solutions he used to get the best result.
Unhappy with my first try, we retook the shot, but I made sure to unhook the filter lock before placing the photo paper on the platter on my second try. Even though I still overexposed it a bit, I settled for the second negative. By the way, it is a must to soak the photo paper in water for about a minute after removing it on the fixer to remove chemicals.
To come up with a positive black and white photo, I had to take the negative photo. So after taking it out of the water, I glued it to the wooden platter stand attached in front of the lens. Then I repeated the initial steps.
Shooting and development seems complicated with so much detail to remember, but it was fun and satisfying to relive old-fashioned photography. It not only brought out the creativity in me, but also memories of wasting a handful of black and white photo papers in a real darkroom to perfect the result in our creative photography class at the end of the years. 90s.
For photographers, trying out this classic manual method of taking and developing photos using a bulky wooden box is a true experience of photography as an expression of art. It really takes dexterity and, above all, a special love for photography.
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