Camera artistry by David Lo


by Bellamy /

4 min read

Camera artistry by David Lo
David recently got in touch with me about some drawings that he has been working on, and I am really glad that he did. Because now I get to share with you this unique and beautiful work. Incredible drawings of fantasy cameras and camera hacking.

First of all, welcome to JCH, please tell us about yourself

I’m a street photographer based in New York and I have a background in Engineering. My street work is primarily of Manhattan’s Chinatown where I’ve lived all my life. When I’m not shooting, I design fantasy cameras, most of which can actually be built. My background is also in poetry. Writing and design seem to go hand in hand. I’m in the process of putting together a book of camera drawings and studies based on various themes.

What inspired you to re-design cameras?

My dream has always been to use classic cameras. Originally I was working on some broken cameras, modifying them to shoot digitally. After I had done quite a few of these, and shot with them on the street, I started to have ideas of cameras I wanted to modify but couldn’t find or just didn’t have the time to do. Then I began to create drawings of camera designs.

The most fun I have had was doing designs for variations on the humble Sunpet 826, a simple Diana-like camera. These free variations on a single theme already affect the consciousness of photographers who venture to ruminate on their simple structure and who read my writings. My drawings work like an architectural sketch that is intended to convey the experience of their subject through studies into their architecture, studies into form, feeling and function.

One thing has led to another. My drawings have three functions: to persuade the viewer to reflect upon the camera as a structure, to see the form and function of the camera in a new ways, and by the insight of the design, whether visually or in its intention (by way of the presentational text) to affect the way that street photographers take pictures— as any architectural project worth its salt should have a social function.

I understand that you have also modified a few cameras, can you tell us about that?

My desire was to shoot with classic cameras, most of which cannot be used anymore. However, I believe a camera performs best when it’s used often. I learned how to modify them to accept a digital back and I took the modified classics to the streets. Each camera is different with its own problems regarding modification. Some of my cameras can still be switched back to “film” mode as this sort of modification doesn’t damage it in anyway (although some are permanently altered). I have a 1908 Vest Pocket Autographic owned by a World War One soldier who kept it in fine working condition. I was particularly gratified to put a few hundred digital exposures through it after it sat unused for 100 years. It can still shoot with film.

Do you have a favourite camera that you own or draw?

Yes, it’s my Polaroid Swinger Model 20 (ca. 1965-70), a beast of a camera and I was able to actually construct the modifications. It exists both physically as well as on paper in my drawings and notes. It is immensely fun to shoot with. I’ve outfitted the camera to house a tiny exhibition gallery, it can display 6 photographs and one slide projection at any one time, all without affecting its performance as a digital street camera. As a mobile gallery inside of a camera, it can be viewed by the public anywhere. Please visit it online or in person.

If you could make one of your designs which one would it be?

Every time I create a camera drawing, naturally I feel that I want to make it. But I think I’d enjoy making a camera that is from my series devoted to Weegee. It has a lighted bar inside.
Thank you very much Bellamy for this feature. Let’s have a virtual drink together one day when my bar is opened!

David’s Flickr page

Thanks to David for sharing his wonderful designs with us. I love the development of the ideas that you can see running through the pictures. Wonderful stuff. David has a bag shot coming up soon too. A very interesting one.

Please remember that the images are reproduced with the kind permission of David Lo and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

5 comments on “Camera artistry by David Lo”

    Jan March 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm / Reply

    David is a breath of fresh air in a world of formula photography. No discussion of megapixels, lens size, ISO’s reaching for infinity. Just cameras and their construction. A flight of fancy? Perhaps but all great things come from those flights of imagination.

    Can you imagine the streets filled with people using cameras David has created?

    ZDP-189 March 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm / Reply

    I have some concerns with those digital conversions:

    First, I think you may have trouble focussing to infinity because the sensor is not moved far enough forward to be in the original film plane.

    The second problem is that using a 4/3 sensor on a 6×7 back, you give an extreme crop factor, resulting in an effective focal length that may not be useful and the cropped image may lack the character of the original lens, particularly with respect to distortion and vignetting.

    The next issue is that while you preserve the wonderfully eccentric look of an antique folding camera, you detract from that somewhat (to my eye at least) by attaching a M4/3 camera to it. Furthermore, important functions such as the rangefinder and viewfinder are rendered unusable because the M4/3 camera is in the way.

    Given these issues, I would recommend alternate approaches commonly used by modders:

    (1) Abandon the look of the camera body and image rendering and remove the lens, making an appropriate adapter for M4/3 that takes into account the long register.

    (2) Attempt to replace the film with a digital sensor. Find a way to embed the digital camera deeper into the body so that the sensor is at least as to the lens as the original film plane.

    (3) Decrease the minimum bellows extension or add optics to the lens to compensate for the change in flange-focal distance.

    (4) Place a ground glass in place of the film and build a darkened box so that a digital camera with a close focus lens may photograph the image projected onto the ground glass. This has its limitations in terms of image quality, but it achieves the depth of field, angle of view and much of the look and feel of the original image.

    I hope you take my suggestions in the spirit that they are intended: without disrespect and with a view to stimulating many more creative ideas.

      David Lo March 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm /

      Hi Dan, thanks for all the nice suggestions. I have worked with these issues in the past in order to complete my real-life modifications. You can see the results on my Flickr page as well as the street photography I’ve done with my modified machines. I also want to point out the impressionistic effects one can get from these that the original camera and the digital attachment are not easily able to garner. For me, that alone as well as the chance to use a vintage again give me a very valuable tool in my real-life street shooting arsenal. People on the street are less annoyed with me, they are usually extremely interested in what I’m using.

      As for my fantasy designs, they are meditations on classic cameras and a study into them from a structural, aesthetic and imaginative viewpoint. My goals are entirely different. They are homages and fall into the realm of assemblage. I am not looking to replace the respective cameras in any way in my designs or optimize their optics.

    Dave Powell March 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm / Reply

    A very cool post. I met a guy on the train last year who machines his own cameras. They were very cool. I wish I had the talent and skill to do that…

    M. Crouch March 21, 2013 at 5:05 am / Reply

    I am lucky to have been following David’s work on Flickr for a while – I admit to small technical knowledge of his creations and how he makes them, but I can’t help but be inspired by his vision and his generosity in explaining their workings to other photographers and artists.

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