An Interview with Photographer Stephen Takacs


Exactly one month ago, we featured a fascinating project called "Brownie in Motion" by Columbus, Ohio-based photographer Stephen Takacs. We've recently had an interview with the man himself, in which he discusses in great detail not only his "dream project" but also his other works in various photographic processes including the ambrotype, tintype, and platinum palladium! Read our exclusive chat and take a look at his awesome work after the jump!

Ambrotype portraits of Stephen Harrig and Stephen Haulden from Stephen Takacs’ A Case Study of Stephen series

Hello, Stephen! Kindly introduce yourself first to the members of the Lomography community.

Hi everyone! My name is Stephen Takacs. I’m a teacher and freelance photographer from Columbus, Ohio. I’ve been photographing for over 10 years now and work a lot with modified cameras and 19th century techniques. Much of my personal work deals in some way with history and portraiture.

The Brownie in Motion in an event held Friday, May 30

We first learned about you and your work through Brownie in Motion, which we’ve featured here on the magazine last month. Please tell us more about it. How did you come up with the idea? How does the camera work (i.e., take pictures)?

Over years, I’ve worked on a number of projects that deal with camera making or modifying. It’s been a natural, albeit somewhat unusual progression. I started by making a pinhole camera backpack out of wood. This led me to modifying Holgas, first by adding extra apertures, later by adding a component for shocking either the photographer or sitter when the shutter button is pressed. When I was in school, I made a camera obscura for drawing portraits out of an old Victrola cabinet that I found in a trash pile. I even have a 16×20 studio camera for shooting ambrotypes that I cobbled together out of a broken stat camera, a doctors exam table, some wood, and an old bed frame. Brownie in Motion is the latest step in this ongoing exploration.

A photo of Stephen’s old camera obscura made out of an old Victrola cabinet, and another of his 16×20 studio camera

Brownie In Motion is a 17x’s enlargement of an old Kodak Brownie that is a portable art installation, darkroom, and ultra large format camera (obscura). I’m currently using it to create a series of images that focuses on artisans and craftspeople. In particular, I’m interested in spending time with and photographing people whose rare skills are at the risk of disappearing because of technological changes.

Although the camera obscura looks like a solid structure, it’s actually designed more like a tent. I wanted to make it as lightweight and portable as possible, despite the large dimensions (5’x7.5’x8.5’). The frame of the camera is made of aluminum pipe and the skin that makes up the walls is made up of one large (and HEAVY) piece of sewn marine grade vinyl fabric (like the material that boat seats are made out of). The skin Velcros to the frame. When Brownie In Motion is broken down, it can fit into a Kia Sportage.

Shooting images with this camera is a very physically demanding process and typically requires some help. I’m used to working alone for most of my projects but the camera obscura has, by necessity, forced me out of my comfort zone. It has required me to reach out for help at every step of the way, from constructing and moving the camera, to funding the project, and to actually making photographs.

Brownie In Motion requires me to be physically inside of the camera when making photographs; I’m both the shutter and the “film advance.” (Those terms are probably misleading because the method of taking photos with this camera is, in some ways, even more rudimentary than it is with a real Brownie!)

The process of making images with this camera is as follows:

1.) Frame a shot by moving a piece of foam core attached to a light stand back and forth inside the camera until the desired composition and focus is achieved.

2.) Cap the lens and attach lights-sensitive paper or film to the foam core using pins or tape under the dim illumination of a red safe light.

3.) Pray that your subject doesn’t move and that the light doesn’t change!

4.) Remove the lens cap for the duration of the exposure (and possibly fire strobes).

5.) Replace lens cap and remove paper.

6.) Develop the image inside of the camera obscura or store the paper in a black bag for later development.

Portrait of Paul Simon, a blacksmith, taken using the Brownie in Motion camera obscura

We understand that you are currently seeking funding for this project because the photo paper that you have been using for your camera obscura has already been discontinued. In line with this, you also intend to create a series of portraits of “artisans whose highly-specialized skills are in the verge of extinction.” Among all the subjects that you can have for portraiture, why choose them specifically? Can you tell us more about this project?

Yes, I’m seeking funding to buy up any remaining paper stock that I can find, as well as purchase some used lighting gear. Between the super slow sensitivity of the paper and a bellows extension factor that is almost unheard of, shooting direction positive paper requires A TON of light! I’ve been rating the paper at an ISO of about ISO 1.5, which should give you a sense of the challenges of working with this camera!

My friend and I intend to camp out or couch surf most of the time while on the trip but other supplies like food, fuel, and ortho film can really add up over a several month time span. So, I’m really hoping that people will come forward and make this project possible!

As the world has become increasingly digitized, we are losing a connection to the physical world. This project seeks to resist that trend. I want to document, preserve and, perhaps, garner interest in this crafts before they disappear.

A couple of samples of the dry plate tintype photos that Stephen took at a wedding recently

Now, let’s talk about your work as a photographer in general. We understand that you shoot both in analogue and digital formats, and even make ambrotype and platinum palladium prints! When do you shoot in film, and when in digital? What are the cameras and/or equipment that you usually use?

Sometimes the softness of a Holga seems more appropriate than the crisp pixelation of a DSLR. Much of the time, the format I use depends on the feeling I’d hope to evoke about a subject or the concept behind a body of work. I’m also really interested in process and personally love geeking out and being forced to problem solve, tinker, and get my hands involved in a technique. As I said earlier, there is something about making images by hand that has always enticed me.

But if I’m doing freelance work for someone, the clients’ desires, budget, and how quickly they need images also affects my choice of format. I’d love to have people hire me shot editorial work in tintype or with Brownie in Motion but that work tend to be harder to come by!

I shoot with a Nikon D800 (which is an amazing camera) for most of my freelance work. My first camera was a Nikon FG20 film camera that I love and still use periodically for personal projects. When I shoot tintypes, I use a lovely old Crown Graphic that I picked up on eBay several years ago. I just used it this past weekend to shoot some dry plate tintypes at a wedding.

What inspires you? Who are the photographers and/or artists that you look up to?

Richard Avedon’s work and his ability to connect with his subjects and express so much with so little has always had a big impact on me. Tehching Hsieh ’s durational work is amazing as well. I’ve always admired his conviction and belief in his artistic process. I appreciate artists who go out on a limb to create something that goes against the grain.

I’m continually impressed by Elizabeth Roberts ’s work, which engages personal narrative, the cinematic history, and immersive experience. She is also from Columbus, Ohio and is making some really interesting things happen!

A photo of the 100-year-old wrench owned by blacksmith Paul Simon taken using the Brownie in Motion camera obscura

Do you have a favorite project or photograph among those that you’ve done so far? Any interesting and memorable story behind it? Please tell us about it!

Recently photographing a blacksmith friend’s prized 100-year-old wrench with Brownie In Motion presented some fun challenges. I really wanted to highlight the texture and age of the wrench by floating it on a black background. What we ended up doing (since we couldn’t just put the camera on a tripod and tilt down towards onto a tabletop) was hang the heavy 20+ inch-long wrench from the ceiling with lots and lots of fishing line. Besides worrying that the historically significant tool might somehow come crashing to the ground, we had to tiptoe the whole time so that our movements wouldn’t cause the hammer to start vibrating and ruin the shot! Ultimately, the image came out great but it was definitely a toughie!

Photos from Stephen’s Sing the Body Electric series

Several years ago, I did a series of portraits called _Sing the Body Electric_ that explores how a person’s body or facial expression reacts to electrical stimulation. Basically, my friends and I used an electrical therapeutic device to trigger involuntary muscle contractions in our faces. After applying electrodes and turning up the TENS, half of the face would contort while the other half would not. It was a rather amazing exploration of the malleability of the human body. I shot that project with an 8×10 camera in an effort to capture as much detail as possible, so that one could get lost looking at the final prints.

What is your dream project?

I have to say, I’m kind of in the middle of a dream project right now! Brownie In Motion had existed only as an idea for years and I feel so grateful to have been able to actually build and work with this camera! I’m really excited to continue sharing and shooting with it in the coming years! I’ve always been interested in stories and learning about other people’s passions, so this is a dream come true.

Are there other hobbies or interests that you have aside from photography?

Personally, I’ve always had a passion for music. Although photography has taken over as my main creative pursuit, I still find music as one of the most viscerally engaging arts there is. I play the ukelele, and in the coming year, I hope to make more time for collaborative music making with my friends

Photos from Stephen’s Convergence series

Are there any ongoing/upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us aside from Brownie in Motion? Exhibitions you’d like to promote?

Designing a room sized camera obscura has opened up some unexpected creative avenues! In addition to the artisan portraits, I’ve been working on body of work that I call the Convergence. This series uses the lens of the camera obscura to project the image of one person onto the body of the other without the use of Photoshop. I hope to illustrate the voluntary merging of two individuals into one. The photographs are rather surreal and I find them to have an uncomfortable, but somewhat seductive beauty.

While traveling around this summer, I plan to continue shooting images for my series of landscapes, titled _Intersections_, which explores interaction between build and natural landscapes. Besides being a beautiful process, printing this series in platinum/palladium allows me to use images taken with variety of camera formats and integrate them into a single body of work

Platinum palladium prints from Stephen’s Intersections series

What tips or advice can you give aspiring photographers?

Be curious! Shoot a lot! Look at what you shoot! Respond! (repeat!)

Any last words?

Please donate to the Brownie In Motion project at Indiegogo today and help me share and preserve the important stories of endangered arts before they disappear (Editor’s note: The deadline for this has recently been extended until June 23!). Even if you cannot donate at this time, simply sharing the campaign with your friends is a huge help! To see more of my work, please check out and follow my Facebook page. Thanks for reading!

All photos in this article were provided to Lomography by Stephen Takacs.

Related article: *Stephen Takacs' 'Brownie in Motion'*

written by chooolss on 2014-06-04 in #lifestyle #stephen-takacs #brownie-in-motion #tintype #camera-obscura #interview #ambrotype


  1. chooolss
    chooolss ·

    Thank you for granting us this interview @brownie_in_motion!

  2. pan_dre
    pan_dre ·

    Great Interview!

More Interesting Articles

  • Giles Clement: The Wayfaring Tintyper

    written by jacobs on 2015-08-27 in #people #lifestyle
    Giles Clement: The Wayfaring Tintyper

    Reminiscent of traveling photographers of the 19th century, Giles Clement tours through the country with his assistant, Zeiss (an Irish Terrier), offering everything from portrait sessions to wildly creative photographic projects for magazines and companies. And although his mode of transportation may have evolved with the times, his photographic method and gear have changed very little compared to the photographers of days past. Now, with over 3 years of tintyping experience under his belt and an impressive list of clients, he's carved a name out for himself as an accomplished tintyper and continues to spread his passion for this ages-old technique everywhere he goes.

  • Seeing the Beauty of Destruction in Seung-Hwan Oh's 'Impermanence'

    written by chooolss on 2014-10-08 in #people #lifestyle
    Seeing the Beauty of Destruction in Seung-Hwan Oh's 'Impermanence'

    In this follow-up, in-depth exclusive interview, Seoul, South Korea-based photographer and filmmaker Seung-Hwan Oh discusses the inspiration behind his ongoing photographic series "Impermanence" and the painstaking process that goes along with it.

  • Angela Izzo on Shooting with the Diana Mini, Photographing Musicians, and Then Some

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-04-29 in #people #lifestyle
    Angela Izzo on Shooting with the Diana Mini, Photographing Musicians, and Then Some

    While many of us can only dream of working with musicians and photographing them, Angela Izzo's job entails exactly that. Apparently, this is a fulfillment of her own dream that she had when she was younger. In this interview, Izzo talks about her beginnings which, of course, included going to as many shows and festivals as she possibly can; some of her most memorable on-the-job-experiences with the likes of The Doors, Lykke Li, Jack White, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Chris Robinson Brotherhood; her inspirations and other interests; and her love for film photography and Diana Mini. And to those looking into fulfilling their own dreams of working in the same industry, Izzo also shares helpful advice based on her own experiences.

  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • Petzval LomoAmigo: Lomokev

    written by hannah_brown on 2014-11-06 in #people #lomoamigos
    Petzval LomoAmigo: Lomokev

    By now most of you would have heard of Lomokev, one of the UK's most prolific film photographers. Based in Brighton, Lomokev loves to shoot with the trusty LC-A and his work has been featured in numerous publications and projects. Here's an exclusive interview, along with a several fantastic shots by the talented UK-based photographer.

  • Skate Photographer Joe Brook Shoots with the Petzval Lens

    written by antoniocastello on 2015-02-06 in #people #lomoamigos
    Skate Photographer Joe Brook Shoots with the Petzval Lens

    Joe Brook is one of the most popular photographers in the West Coast skate scene, shooting for magazines like Trasher, Juxtapoz, Rolling Stone, and different outlets such as PDN and Kodak. Having previous experience with an old Petzval lens mounted on a 4x5 camera, it was but natural for him to try the new one. Brook talks about finding himself, his work, and shooting with the Lomograhy Petzval Lens in this exclusive interview.

  • Lomo'Instant LomoAmigo: S.F. Said

    written by hannah_brown on 2015-02-09 in #people #lomoamigos
    Lomo'Instant LomoAmigo: S.F. Said

    London-based children's writer and photographer S.F. Said is also an avid fan of instant photography. He talks about his work, as well as his experience with the Lomo'Instant, in this exclusive interview.

  • Shop News

    Try the LomoLAB Development Service!

    Try the LomoLAB Development Service!

    Whatever kind of film development you're after, you'll find it here! Now you can confidently shoot from the hip without having to worry where to develop those film rolls!

  • First Impressions of the Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Lens by Fashion Photographer Issa Ng

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2015-06-10 in #people #lifestyle #reviews
    First Impressions of the Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Lens by Fashion Photographer Issa Ng

    Issa Ng is a Hong Kong-based fashion and commercial photographer. Leveraging on many years working as an art director and stylist for several international brands in the advertising industry, he was able to develop a strong sense of style and talent for conceptual execution, composition and intense imagery. He now specializes in portraits, and is continuously on the lookout for new and exciting projects. He talks about his experience shooting with the Lomography Petzval 58 Bokeh Control lens in this interview.

  • Petzval LomoAmigo: Singapore's Darren Poh

    written by edwinchau on 2014-12-19 in #people #lomoamigos
    Petzval LomoAmigo: Singapore's Darren Poh

    Clean, moody and spontaneous are three words to describe Darren Poh’s work. The Singapore-based wedding photographer shot with the new Petzval Lens recently, and talks about his experience in this exclusive interview.

  • Markus Andersen Talks 'At the Edge of the Earth'

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-04-08 in #people #lifestyle #videos
    Markus Andersen Talks 'At the Edge of the Earth'

    "At the edge of the Earth" is an ongoing yearlong project by documentary photographer Markus Andersen in which he captures the coastline of Sydney, Australia on black and white film with the Diana and Lomo LC-A cameras. In this interview, the Sydney-based photographer opens up to Lomography about his latest endeavor as well as on shooting on the streets of his city and the importance of photographing in analog.

  • Shop News

    Immortalize your best shot on Aluminium!

    Immortalize your best shot on Aluminium!

    Carefully enlarged from your negatives onto premium photographic paper by lab professionals, each picture is a unique piece of craftsmanship.

  • Through the Eyes of Wolf Colony

    written by givesmehell on 2015-04-02 in #people #lomoamigos
    Through the Eyes of Wolf Colony

    LomoAmigo Wolf Colony is an incredibly talented NYC-based anonymous singer-songwriter who has taken Lomography's La Sardina camera out for a spin! Let's take a look at the series of photographs in an exclusive interview with Wolf Colony.

  • Petzval Artist: Professional Photographer Derrick Ong from Singapore

    written by edwinchau on 2014-11-15 in #people #lomoamigos
    Petzval Artist: Professional Photographer Derrick Ong from Singapore

    Derrick Ong's portraits give off a feeling of nostalgia and old-world charm. The Singapore-based photographer specializes in pre-nuptial and wedding shoots, and loves to capture moments in vibrant hues as well as in black and white. In this exclusive interview, he tells us about his experience shooting with the New Petzval Lens.

  • On Music, Travel and Photography: Alex Grünig of Old Gypsy Man's Hat

    written by Samantha Norman on 2015-07-30 in #people #lomoamigos
    On Music, Travel and Photography: Alex Grünig of Old Gypsy Man's Hat

    Alex Grünig is an ardent traveler,and he has taken his La Sardinia across Canada. Old Gypsy Man's Hat's frontman is making music and roaming around Montréal. In this exclusive interview, he recounts how Lomo and Photography have been with him along the way.