Our new series Handcrafted celebrates the work of analog artisans. In our first installment, Wayne Martin Belger talks about packing the 200-year-old history of photography in one elaborately inlaid camera.
Wood on glass on brass on copper on steel on aluminum on titanium. Wayne Martin Belger likes a different kind of riddle, one that needs hand-operated tools to make. He files the components decisively. The main materials hark back to the earliest cameras, and the flourishes reference the work of Kodak founder George Eastman. The result is the Modern Industry Camera, now a fixture at Artisan Works in New York.
Diamond in the rough. This is how Belger describes the first forms of an iconic invention. “Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell and George Eastman knew how to flesh out the true beauty of the diamond and build a strong foundation for it to shine,” he tells Lomography.
Belger took the same course of action for three years. He honed base materials and brought out their brilliant facets. He turned polished brass into something of a symbol for cameras dating back to the 19th century. Wood from the focusing screen of another camera is no longer just a vintage curio but a moldable found object. Aircraft aluminum becomes the skin of his 8×10 masterpiece, while steel trusses surround the camera body like armor.
He was also keen on making image processing more transparent to people who use and love cameras. He explains, “The frosted glass mounted on the back of the camera gives a misty view of the inner workings of the machine.”
Though the project celebrates design, it also alludes to the destructive side of creation. The polarities fascinate Belger. A machine or innovative object is passed on, and with this transition may come the “modern caretaker’s visions that are often motivated by greed and self-interest.” He explores the theme of destruction in the form of photographs. Using his 8×10 Modern Industry camera, he did “faux nature diaromas.” These include taxidermy animals and plastic foliage inside rundown buildings along Rochester in New York and Detroit in Michigan. He wanted to capture theaters, churches and other establishments in various states of deterioration. Consider it a prognosis he wishes not to happen to more innovation-centered companies.
The Modern Industry photo series is also a tribute to George Eastman the game hunter. “Toward the end of his Africa trips, he would leave his rifle at home and just bring a camera,” Belger shares.
Belger lives in what he describes as a “100-year-old stone house in the middle of a cactus-filled desert.” His unique lodging is consistent with his solitary work process. He reveals, “I usually jump into some deep rabbit hole where others really don’t want to go down.”
His past projects include skull pinhole and other galactic-looking cameras. Also lined up in his studio is an X-ray camera that he has been bolting and assembling for the past six years. It may come as no surprise to Belger’s followers that his work space is an old industrial building, as he is prone to finding new purpose for abandoned things.
Belger did not attend art school. He had the fortune of belonging to a family of engineers and tool makers. He built his first pinhole camera using aluminum and steel. It is an amazing feat for someone who just tinkered with an existing model. “I made my first camera to be an extension of my vision of beauty and my personal history,” he says. “With this tool I was able to engage with people, situations and subjects I normally wouldn’t be able to.”
All photos are provided by Wayne Martin Belger.