Surrealism has always courted accidents, welcomed the uninvited, flattered disorderly presences. What could be more surreal than an object which virtually produces itself, and with a minimum of effort? An object whose beauty, fantastic disclosures, emotional weight are likely to be further enhanced by any accidents that might befall it? ¹
Toy cameras are surrealist tools. Their crude plastic bodies are housings for unsophisticated mechanisms, requiring little to no input by the user, effortlessly producing images with artefacts that prompt unexpected and spontaneous results.
Though I am not a Surrealist, these qualities that move beyond reality and predetermined modernism are attractive to me as a photographer. They serve as a reminder that ‘photography is not bound by any obligation to reality; like any other art, it is a set of resources which can be put to a variety of uses, and out of which a style can be forged’².
Shifting this surrealist unpredictability from the toy to the handmade camera is an exercise in problem solving by working within the basic parameters of photography. An understanding of the integral theories behind the photographic medium are applied to practical and physical attributes: a light tight box, a means to prepare the recording medium (sensor, film or plate), an operational shutter, and an aperture to allow light to enter the box.
Cameras are tools, a means of capturing a scene on to a photographic medium. It follows that the handmade camera is a customised and specialised tool to meet the individual photographer’s needs. Just as an artist may use a handmade brush, material or tool to create a unique look and style, a photographer looking to create a unique representation or interpretation can do so through the act of making the tool.
Seeking to explore the landscape of the British countryside with a surrealist undetermined nature, which underlines the toy camera and lo-fi imagery, took the form of a four month final major project building two cameras and shooting with them.
Camera one started life with the premise of creating a wooden toy camera. It is a simple box camera made from 3mm balsa wood, housing a roll of medium format, and a 6x6 mask. An Agfa compur-rapid shutter sits at the front, of which the original lens elements are replaced with a meniscus element suitable for a 21mm focal length. The original plan was to implement a viewfinder, however the wide focal length made it easy to compose with. To load the camera, the top plate comes off, and film can be slid inside, similar to the Leica cameras.