On location with the Afghan Camera

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Having had a few test shots in my house, it was time to take the Afghan Box Camera out into the big wide world. I had to choose a site where there was a few different views in one place as the once they trays are filled with chemicals, it is a job to move very far. Also – it needed to be somewhere within walking distance, not keen on using a car unnecessarily.

I decided on the quay, it is a nice spot and one of my favourites in Exeter. On the walk down, I had 4 groups of people stop to ask me about the camera. ‘What’s that?’… ‘That looks like a very old camera’… ‘Does that use glass slides?’.. Lots more people wanted to ask.. but simply gawked or pointed. It is not a subtle machine! One little girl asked her father ‘What’s that Daddy?’ pointing at me across the road.. ‘Well, that’s a.. I’m not sure what it is’ was his response – I shouted across that it was a camera, twisting to show them the lens.

Once I got to the quay I quickly got set up. I’d premixed the developer and fixer at home so it was a fairly easy job. It was time to start shooting. Framing the shot was beautiful – it was a bright day, and the image on the screen was beautiful and glowing which made focussing much easier. The first few shots were over exposed, the paper turning black immediately. In my house, I’d learnt to over expose if in doubt as my estimates were generally too quick – outside, it was the opposite. The low winter sun meant I had the lens stopped right down and was still having very quick exposures. Of course this all changed once the sun dipped behind a cloud which made for challenging guess work but I am pleased to have a few well exposed negatives from the trip. Another unexpected problem was the chemicals becoming a lot less responsive as temperatures dropped. Although it remained warmer in the camera than outside, it was a long way from the recommend 18-20 degrees the chemicals prefer to be working in, so I left the prints in the juices that bit longer just to be safe.

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A paper negative looking upstream at the quay

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The above picture, digitially inverted. This gives an idea of the the image will look when inverted by rephotographing it with the afghan camera.

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The paper negative on the camera, with the view beghind. Note how the view is flipped left to right

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Again, I’ve digitally inverted the digital photo to preview the paper print

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My technique is improving all the time and I’m constantly thinking up new additions and improvements for the camera (a flash unit… a letter box for removing prints more easily… a magnifying glass to make focussing that bit easier…). I also have got to add the all important device that allows you to rephotograph the paper negatives in order to make them a positive. MY addition of a red bike light is working great for previewing the images in the developer but I also need to come up with something more elegant than a box of paper to cover up the viewing hole when not in use!

In summary, the Afghan Camera is as challenging as it is rewarding. I’l be taking my light meter out next time to see if I can add a more scientific approach to my exposures estimates – hopefully saving time and paper! Anyone thinking of making their own – get on and do it!

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