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Thread: Portable Paper Negative Darkroom

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  1. #1

    Portable Paper Negative Darkroom

    I came across this article about a long-time street portrait photographer in Bangladesh. The technology of the camera interests me. Contrary to what the article states, I think the camera uses a glass lens with very small aperture, for wide DOF yet shorter exposure time than what pure pinhole can do.

    The images in the slideshow reveal the size of the paper negatives to be much smaller than the size of the camera, hence my feelings that this is a portable darkroom. I see a cloth arm sleeve in the rear of the box, and there may be some additional light baffles (cloth curtain with hole, or some sort of labyrinth?) The negative also looks pretty sharp, again indicating a stopped-down glass lens.

    One of the image also shows him focusing the front lens, by peering through the back door. Must be a removable ground glass.

    I believe the photographer processes the paper negatives in the box right after exposure. Not sure if he even uses fixer for the paper negative processing. I'm assuming he then contact prints the resulting negative straight away, while the negative is still wet, inside the box, and processes the resulting print. He is quoted as being able to turn out a completed print in "five minutes." Perhaps uses a diffuser on the front of the lens as the contact printing light source? The last image of the slide show reveals several objects atop the camera, one of which looks like a diffuser built into a frame, perhaps for contact printing in direct daylight (and then processing inside the box.)

    I'm interested in pursuing building a version of this camera/portable darkroom, to experiment in making finished prints out in the field. Will use a glass lens, perhaps variable aperture for various bokeh effects, although a fixed, tiny aperture would make the process more reliable in terms of focus accuracy and repeatably good exposures (in bright light.)

    Any thoughts?

    ~Joe

  2. #2
    Senior Member spiffytumbleweed's Avatar
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    Brilliant.

  3. #3
    What a brilliant idea guys. I am really encouraged by the thought and discussion that continues into the 21st C about developing ways to continue the work of pinhole imaging through innovations like those discussed here. As long as the ideas and practice keeps up, it is healthy for the continuation of analogue imaging amidst the ephemeral world of digital technologies.
    John 8:12, Follow the LIGHT
    ~~~~~

  4. #4
    I've decided to update this old thread with more recent news on the subject.

    For those of you new to the forums, this started back in 2009 as a project to make a portable darkroom box, for processing paper negatives out in the field. It evolved over time into something similar to what's now know by various names, such as Afghanistan Street Photography, the Cuban Polaroid, Camara Minutera in Argentina, Instant Box Camera, etc.

    The idea with these is combining a paper negative portrait camera with simple B&W processing, all in one box. These box cameras are seen in various countries with a variety of designs.

    Some of them use a bellows camera attached to one end of the box, with processing trays inside the box and a rear door used for focusing and also access to the interior via a light-proof arm sleeve. Many also have a red-filtered viewing port, to permit the photographer to watch the processing happen.

    Other designs use the camera lens mounted directly to the front of the box without a bellows, with a movable GG view screen internal to the box that's operated by a guide rod. Some of these cameras have the arm sleeve mounted to the side of the box instead of the rear; this configuration is commonly seen in Afghanistan.

    Many of these photographers use only two trays, developer and fixer, while others, with larger boxes, have room also for stop bath. There were also some commercially made "itinerant photographer" or "postcard photographer" cameras made about a century ago that incorporated in-camera processing; many of the ads from that era show thin metal chemical tanks extending below the floor of the camera, making for more room inside.

    The way that positive prints are made is through re-photographing the developed but still wet paper negative, using a wooden copy stand bracket that folds up in front of the main camera lens. Operating in 1:1 mode, the GG view screen needs to be drawn back inside the box camera a distance of twice the lens' focal length. The size of the box obviously limits how big negatives and prints can be made.

    I also experimented with using my Polaroid Model 800 camera, modified as a contact-printing accessory; this is documented earlier in this lengthy thread.

    Since my last update to this thread, there's been the Afghan Street Photography website, which is well worth reading about, and also watching their various videos here.

    Also, if you search in Google for "camara minutera," (the term used in Argentina and other Latin-American nations) you get a large set of images that provide a wealth of detail important to building such a device.

    Since my interest in this project has recently been revived, I'm seriously thinking about building one of these all-in-one, "instant box cameras," instead of using a separate camera + tripod along with this processing box. I have three ideas. One is to take the current dark box, which is nearly too big and bulky, and add a built-in camera lens that would permit it to process images up to 5"x7" in size. I would also like to relocate the left-hand arm sleeve to the left side of the box, where the 3-tray processing box will be located, along with a red-filtered viewing window in the top lid above this area, to enable development-by-inspection; this is a feature many such photographers already use. The camera section would be located in the right side of the box, operated by the right arm.

    Second, I could build a new box optimized for 4"x4" or 4"x6" sized images, much smaller in size than the current processing box and using my old Kodak Ektar 127mm lens, with an internal sliding focusing mechanism; and the third idea is to built a miniature version for medium format, 2"x2" small prints.

    Here's an image of someone else's implementation of this idea, with some build photos here.

    This last idea I might build first, using my Holga GFN, glass-lens plastic camera built into the front of the small processing box. I could mount the camera with the rear door permanently opened inside the larger box, then using an internal focusing mechanism to position the small GG and paper negatives as needed for proper focus. The small size of the negatives (2"x2") would enable three processing trays plus a film storage box all located inside of a very small enclosure. This project would serve as a test-bed for ironing out the bugs in such a design before embarking on a larger project, especially in terms of using such a device out in public.

    I'll keep this thread updated with further progress.

    ~Joe
    Last edited by JoeVanCleave; 01-28-2015 at 07:16 PM.
    "There was just that moment and now there's this moment and in between there is nothing. Photography, in a way, is the negation of chronology."-Geoff Dyer, "The Ongoing Moment"
    My Writing Blog: Joe Van Cleave's Blog
    My Pinhole Blog: Obscure Camera
    Visit my F295 Gallery

  5. #5
    Administrator Tom Persinger's Avatar
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    looking forward to seeing how this evolves for you Joe!

    as an aside, I love seeing these old threads revived and given new life. I look forward to new members participating and reading them!

    onward!

  6. #6
    500+ Posts Ned.Lewis's Avatar
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    All very neat. I remember your box version with the three little drawers for photo chemicals. Will be interested to see where this leads.

    Slightly related, there are some old cameras that were also the containers for developing. Like this Dubroni camera with in-camera processing. In the picture you can see the bulb pipette that was used for putting the developing chemicals in and taking them out again.

    I was thinking of getting a tall stainless daylight developing tank and drilling a hole in the side for a pinhole. You could take the image and then cover the pinhole and develop... but changing paper or making a contact print inside it seems clumsy and messy and needs a changing bag.... the idea needs something more to make it worth the trouble.
    Last edited by Ned.Lewis; 01-29-2015 at 07:17 PM.
    Some photos: Ipernity
    ( pinholes and solargraphs mixed in among the rest)

  7. #7
    DSCF3130a by jvcabacus, on Flickr

    So now I'm committed (or should be committed?) Started this project last weekend. An Afghanistan-style camera, 4"x4" format, will have side-mounted arm sleeve and internal focus mechanism (note the aluminum rods that the GG paper negative holder rides upon). I'll be using a 127mm Kodak Ektar lens and an improved binocular lens for portraits. The top panel will have a red-filtered viewing port to permit develop-by-inspection. I'll be using little square plastic containers for chemicals. Overall dimensions are 9.5"x9.5"x21".

    ~Joe
    "There was just that moment and now there's this moment and in between there is nothing. Photography, in a way, is the negation of chronology."-Geoff Dyer, "The Ongoing Moment"
    My Writing Blog: Joe Van Cleave's Blog
    My Pinhole Blog: Obscure Camera
    Visit my F295 Gallery

  8. #8
    Here's an update on the project, which I've documented on my blog:

    http://joevancleave.blogspot.com/201...-progress.html

    ~Joe
    "There was just that moment and now there's this moment and in between there is nothing. Photography, in a way, is the negation of chronology."-Geoff Dyer, "The Ongoing Moment"
    My Writing Blog: Joe Van Cleave's Blog
    My Pinhole Blog: Obscure Camera
    Visit my F295 Gallery

  9. #9
    Administrator Tom Persinger's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing the link to your blog Joe. I've long enjoyed your typecast missives over there. Looks like the camera is coming along well too. I'm anxious to see pictures of it & from it in the streets of ABQ! #Onward

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