Handmade Instant Press Camera: Lucas Landers

We have said it before and we will say it again, the creativity in this community is amazing. Todays post is a prime example of someone thinking outside the box, or better yet, thinking of the box. Lucas Landers sent us a picture of a camera he built around a Fuji 90mm large format lens and a Polaroid back. He included some images taken with the camera and man, we were impressed. Hopefully this post will encourage more readers to get out there and try something new or to just have fun and experiment. You can see more of Lucas’ work by clicking here.




Here is a much more in depth breakdown of my camera and one of the current projects I am working on. If you have any questions pleas don’t hesitate to ask! 




The camera:    


Inventing and building are two things I have always been good at. As a child, this came out of necessity. I was raised in a very poor household in the south where hiring someone to do repairs on the house or car was out of the question. It was a rare occurrence that we would even buy something new. Most things we owned were either handmade or bought secondhand and had to be repaired.


Today, money isn’t as much of in issue but the habit of doing things myself has stuck. This applies to all aspects of my life, but when I decided to pursue a career in photography and art is was only natural for me to start making my own cameras.


This is the second camera I have built. The first was a 4×5 monorail I built out of laser cut plywood. This camera started as an improved model but halfway through I drastically changed the design. The two frames are made of planed oak and were designed to work with a ground glass back on a monorail. During the construction I became interested in instant photography so I scrapped the monorail design and replaced the ground glass with a Polaroid back.


To keep the camera as small and light weight as possible I made a lead screw focusing knob on the left side of the camera and a telescoping guide rod mechanism on the top of the camera to keep the frames parallel. I made all the parts by hand in a machine shop over a period of about four months.


Shooting with this camera is unlike any other. To use it requires an intimate knowledge of its construction and an advanced knowledge of the math behind how a camera operates. Focusing the camera, for example, is no small task. It took weeks and hundreds of test shots before I was able to accurately focus the camera. The process starts by approximating the distance between the subject and myself. Then I use a formula to find the distance between the nodal point of the lens and the film plane. The lead screw is then turned till the lens is the correct distance from the film plane.


F=((1/(.0111) – 1/D) – 4.4)


This process has been improved upon with the addition of an external rangefinder and a simple slip of paper with predefined focal lengths on it.


When I use this camera, I feel much more involved with the process. The camera acts as an extension of my eye. Its operations have become second nature at this point and I don’t have to think about the settings of the camera. There is no view finder on the camera, instead the compositions are a result of me holding the camera in front of me in a way so that it acts more as a third eye. What ever I see I know that the camera is seeing the same thing.


The Film (FP-100c)  I use produces two parts: a positive and a negative. The positive is completely useless from my perspective. I usually give them to friends or people who stop me on the street and are interested in the camera.  The part I use is the black sheet that most people discard. Through a bleaching process I turn it into a usable negative with a surprising high resolution. Unfortunately, the whole process is extremely destructive. The negatives themselves are extremely fragile and any bleach on the emotion side will dissolve the images.


Because of the unique properties of this film, I had to drastically change my way of shooting.




The Project:



When I first made this camera, I designed it so that I could shoot in close quarters with the subject matter, which, at this point, was primarily people. I did this for several months and got some interesting results. All the while, I was also shooting landscapes but paid very little attention to them. I would let the landscape negatives age quite a while before scanning them, resulting in a heavy distressed look to the images. At first I didn’t like these quality of the film and worked very hard in trying to fix the damage in post process.  I was used to the Ansel Adams approach to landscapes where everything had to me microscopically correct.


It wasn’t till I started to embrace the imperfections of this type of film that I was able to embrace the landscapes. I learned to work with the distressed negatives and used the look to its advantage. At this point I came up with the idea for my ongoing project called “Falling.”   


Falling is a project about the impermanence of the world around us. We take our current civilization for granted and believe wholeheartedly that it will be around forever. The instant process I am using acts to illustrate this idea. We see photos as perfect and permanent. We take them with our high-resolution cameras and upload them to the Internet where they will never disappear. My photos are taken on a type of film that quickly falls apart. They are then printed on uncoated paper that is meant to fade away over time and eventually disappear.


I find locations where I can capture a contrast between modern civilization and forgotten spaces or nature. The qualities of the film create a world unfamiliar to people who are familiar with these locations. The colors and textures put the viewer in either an alternate reality or a dystopian future. Most of these images would feel more at home in the Mad Max trilogy rather than the bright and shinny world of New York.


All images below were taken with this camera on Fuji FP-100C film.





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