Cameras are tools for documentation, creating art and expressing one’s self through photographs. But for some photographers, they are extensions of their own bodies. This is exactly how photographer Lucus Landers sees his handmade cameras.
Necessity trumps luxury, and New York-based photographer Lucus Landers is a living testament to this. The Brooklyn, New York-based commercial and fine art photographer exclusively shoots with his handmade analogue cameras for personal projects. Landers is an alumnus of Pratt Institute in New York and the man behind the handmade 4×5 instant press camera featured on the magazine a while back.
Landers’ story is greater than the sum of its parts. Piecing his camera’s story and his own goes to show that there are some who live and breathe photography more than others. His camera is just a material representation of his passion to build things with his own hands.
Even before he started building his camera, Landers gathered as much information as possible regarding the pieces he would need to work with: lenses, backs, focusing apparatus, etcetera. And like an artisan, heworked on the camera piece by piece, part by part. He then tested each part to make sure it worked the way it was supposed to.
His instant press camera is the second he has built; the first one being a 4×5 monorail camera. Landers’ instant press camera actually started out as an improved version of the first camera but claims he got into instant photography halfway through the process and changed the design. Hence, the instant press camera was born.
“The camera is a bit of a hotchpotch actually. In fact it can still operate as a normal 4×5 with a ground glass. I just never use it like that. But in the middle of building it, I really got into instant photography and wanted to build my own instant press camera type set up. This presented a lot of issues. I needed it to be as light and small as possible and it needed to be quick and easy to use,” Landers shares.
Almost everything in the camera was crafted by Landers by hand. The only parts that he didn’t build are the rangefinder, Polaroid back, bellows and the lens. Everything in between was built specifically for the camera. Even the focusing on the camera was formulated by Landers. Instead of using a viewfinder and easy focusing settings to shoot with the camera, Landers does it all by doing mathematical calculations.
“On the back I have the formula written down with a few commonly used distances. I also have a slip of laminated paper taped to the side that I can use for focusing.” However, Landers admitted that he has gotten so used to shooting with his camera that he doesn’t even need to look at the table. He just shoots and goes with the flow.
Landers feels a connection with his creation. “I really feel like it’s an extension of me. I have had to work so long and hard to learn how to use it that shooting with a normal camera is child’s play now.I have direct control of the images. I’m not going through some pre-made interface to try and get the photo I want. So it’s all about control and connection.”
It is that rare connection that is remarkable about Landers’ and his camera’s story. It isn’t just an analogue device that screams “DIY or die,” but rather an ode to inspired photography and craftsmanship.
While his instant press camera may have an offbeat appearance, the images it produces are on a different level where instant film is concerned. Landers uses a specific technique in creating his images – he actually uses the peeled backing of the instant film to create negatives that yield highly detailed images. The camera has a Fujinon 90mm lens and uses FP100C instant film. Landers goes through two to fifteen packs of instant film per week.
The old-school press camera is a nod to creativity, passion for photography, and craftsmanship.It took Landers about four to five months of manual labor to complete it.
Landers credits Ansel Adams, Timothy O’Sullivan, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Richard Billingham and Nan Golding as some of his greatest influences. He also mentioned Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco as inspiration for his conceptual work, and thinks that working with Edward Weston would be quite pleasurable, but added that he would prefer to just sit back and watch Weston work as he thinks they work in a similar manner.
Despite his apparent devotion for his craft, Landers is not disconnected from the rest of the world. “I have to think about the group of people I want to target more than anything. But what the individual takes away is up to them.”
Visit Landers’ website to see more of his photos shot with his handmade instant press camera as well as his other works.
All images used in this article were provided by Lucus Landers and were used with permission.
Photos of the photographer were taken by Eleazar Teodoro.