Join the race for amazing prizes and everlasting glory and submit your finest photos to our ongoing competitions such as Road to Photokina 2016 - Hiding Places. Good luck!

An Interview with Photographer Stephen Takacs

2014-06-04 2

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 stakacs.com 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 #stephen-takacs #tintype #interview #brownie-in-motion #camera-obscura #lifestyle #ambrotype

2 Comments

  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 #people
    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.

    2015-08-27 6
  • Fulfilling Dreams with Dreamy Images: Kevin Biberbach

    written by zonderbar on 2015-08-31 #people
    Fulfilling Dreams with Dreamy Images: Kevin Biberbach

    In every aspiring photographers' dream - Turn the hobby into career, leaving the part time job, putting all of the efforts into one's photography project. Kevin Biberbach did it. Biberbach is a student from Aachen, who has completed a 365-day photography project called "EVRY DAY" with his passion and insist. The project is widely getting attention throughout the internet, which includes a variety of portraits content such as wedding, family and couples. Biberbach shared to Lomography exclusively about his work, passion to photography, and also his experience with the Petzval 85 Art Lens.

    2015-08-31
  • Political Activism and Legitimate Alternatives: An Interview with Kevin McElvaney

    written by Teresa Sutter on 2016-04-01 #people
    Political Activism and Legitimate Alternatives: An Interview with Kevin McElvaney

    When German photographer Kevin McElvaney tackles a new project, he regularly steps out of his comfort zone to take a unique spin on social and political issues such as the current European refugee crisis. In this interview, he tells us about the role of political activism and a fascination with people that fuels his work.

    2016-04-01 2
  • Shop News

    New Item: iBlazr 2

    New Item: iBlazr 2

    Light up all your shots with this light-weight, versatile and wireless LED flash! Works best with any iOS and android platforms.

  • A Talk with Kurt Prinz: Pictures of Apocalyptic Decay

    written by jennifer_pos on 2016-07-11 #people #places
    A Talk with Kurt Prinz: Pictures of Apocalyptic Decay

    In winter 2015 Robert Rothmann talked with photographer Kurt Prinz. The interview provides an exclusive and humorous peek into both, the practical and technical approach to Prinz’ documentary series of Viennese edifices in the transient state of their construction.

    2016-07-11 4
  • Human Desires through the Lens: An Interview with Nathalie Daoust (NSFW)

    written by Teresa Sutter on 2016-02-15 #people
    Human Desires through the Lens: An Interview with Nathalie Daoust (NSFW)

    Artist Nathalie Daoust dives into unknown realms to explore questions around escapism. For her project “Tokyo Hotel Story” she was granted exclusive access to the Alpha-In, one of Tokyo’s biggest love hotels and spent several months photographing the dominatrixes who work there. In the following interview, she talks to Lomography about sexuality across cultures and the importance of darkroom experiments in her creative process.

    2016-02-15
  • Abstract Visions and Phantasmic Monochromes by Ian Llewellyn

    written by hannah_brown on 2015-08-28 #people
    Abstract Visions and Phantasmic Monochromes by Ian Llewellyn

    As a wildlife cameraman and photographer, Ian Llewellyn has worked on a number of television projects. The UK-based lensman breaks free from the strict confines of his profession by engaging in monochrome photography. His personal work is a plethora of abstract and experimental imagery, created in a style distinctly his own. Llewellyn is an ardent user of a Leica Monochrom camera, on which he mounted the Lomo LC-A Minitar-1 Lens, producing the most imaginative, phantasmic results.

    2015-08-28 1
  • Shop News

    Great discounts abound with the Great Fisheye Sale!

    Great discounts abound with the Great Fisheye Sale!

    See the world in a whole new way with our Lomography Fisheye cameras! Selected editions now on sale at 20% off! Fisheye cases at 50% off! Order within the month and get a free Fisheye keychain with every camera, and a free Circle Cutter when you buy a Fisheye case with your camera!

  • LomoAmigo Luka Tacon: Demasiado Sabor!

    written by katphip on 2016-02-10 #people #places
    LomoAmigo Luka Tacon: Demasiado Sabor!

    We met our new LomoAmigo Luka Tacon as we danced to the hypnotic beats of his music project Heartbreaker at our Lomo'Instant Wide Launch Party in NYC. Now, the brooklyn-based DJ and electronic music producer is preparing for an epic Lover's Ball at House of Yes with his friends at Might Get Weird, experimenting with the La Sardina and LC-A, and feeling the Latin rhythms of Costa Rica. Read more about his inspirations and analog adventures. As a special bonus, you can listen to his exclusive Heartbreaker set!

    2016-02-10
  • A Hybrid of Drawn Photograms by Vanessa Marsh

    written by lomographymagazine on 2016-08-25 #news
    A Hybrid of Drawn Photograms by Vanessa Marsh

    Contemporary artist Vanessa Marsh redefines the printed photograph in the absence of a camera, and with the presence of paintings and drawings assembled in the darkroom instead.

    2016-08-25
  • A Russar+ Roadtrip with Mowgli

    written by rosalbavasc on 2016-08-25 #people #places
    A Russar+ Roadtrip with Mowgli

    Adrian Morris is a young photographer who also goes by the name of Mowgli. His combination of sharp details and insightful portraiture caught our eye so we had a chat with him about what attracted him to the photographic world and his travel goals.

    2016-08-25
  • Shop News

    LomoLab: Panoramic & Sprocket Development Services

    LomoLab: Panoramic & Sprocket Development Services

    Panoramic shots are here ready to be processed by our dedicated team experts! Development, prints and scans included. (Service availability depends on your markets)

  • New Magazine Series: Around the World in Analogue

    written by lomographymagazine on 2016-08-25 #places
    New Magazine Series: Around the World in Analogue

    Calling all Lomographers who love to wander (we know there's a lot of you)! We're introducing a new series called "Around the World in Analogue". It's your bite-sized guide to all the amazing destinations you've been to. We're collecting submissions, so share your travel tidbits with us!

    2016-08-25
  • More Helpful and Practical Pointers from Street Photographer Eric Kim

    written by lomographymagazine on 2016-08-25 #people #tutorials #videos
    More Helpful and Practical Pointers from Street Photographer Eric Kim

    If you're a budding shutterbug impatiently waiting for your 'decisive moment', street shooter Eric Kim has some easy, yet surefire composition tips that will turn you into a professional in an instant.

  • Urban Landscapes of New Jersey by George Tice

    written by lomographymagazine on 2016-08-24 #people #places
    Urban Landscapes of New Jersey by George Tice

    The renowned American photographer George Tice's visual, photographic novel of his hometown New Jersey graces Lomography with some teaser photos.

    2016-08-24 2