Have you ever imagined what it feels like to shoot with a 100-year-old camera? In the past four months, I have been shooting hundreds of photos with a Contessa Nettel Tessco. I don't know when was the last time its previous owner shot pictures with it. Perhaps 20 to 30 years ago?
Though surviving for a century, the camera is still in very good shape. Its Compur shutter still works like it did a hundred years ago and all shutter speed clock accurately. Its lens remain in almost mint condition after cleaning, thanks to the housing of the folding plate camera, which protected the lens from animals and others dangers.
Origins of the ideas
Many people asked me about the inspiration behind this camera. It relates to my passion of old cameras. Some time ago I have an inspiration to shoot with a hundred-year-old camera and see how the photos look like. I met a collector in Hong Kong who have hundreds of these cameras. I was attracted by his Zeiss Ikon camera which was made around the 1920s.
It is a folding plate camera which looks like a box. I reckon that it may be suitable to modify it into an instant camera using Lego bricks as the camera body, while retaining its vintage feel. This is how I got started. Through some experimentation, I come up with the first version of the camera. Afterwards, I also made the same design using another camera,a Contessa Nettel Tessco, which I carry for daily shooting.
Bringing the Camera for Everyday Shooting
During the course of shooting with this camera, I got some heart-warming responses that encouraged me to continue with this project. A friend of mine was a journalist when he was young and he's now around 60 years old. When I showed him this camera and explained to him how people use plate film in the past, he immediately understood and it reminded him of the large format camera that was used to take class photos in school. He felt like going back to the old days.
I'm using these two Lego cameras for a few months. I brought it to volunteer work, Lego shop, gatherings with family and friends, kids's birthday party, etc. The camera is quite convenient to use and the folding design has saved a lot of space for a lens that extend so far away from the camera body (at least as long as the flange distance). I'm impressed by the design and craftsmanship of these vintage cameras. The kids are always very excited for this camera and they are usually the first to point out that it is made with Lego. They typically request a lot of pictures and always ask me what the small window, which is for ejecting the pictures, does.
One time, when I took it to a kids birthday party. The little girls frequently grabbed me to take pictures for me. I'm flattered when they said their fathers never taken any pictures as good as my Lego camera. Despite at a young age of six to ten years old, these girls seem to recognize the full merits of my pictures with sufficient expertise, which seems to relate to their aesthetic instinct.
I also brought it to Lego shops in Hong Kong. The shop owner and his good friend were very impressed by the design by it. They have seen some very nicely built Lego models everyday but have never seen a vintage camera modified with Lego. They described it as "crazy idea" but "extremely interesting".
Most Precious Experience in Shooting
I think the most precious experience of using this camera is that it relates to people, and most of them are strangers. We start our conversation on cameras, then on photography, old memories on Polaroids, last time we took pictures with films, how our family like these photos. It is the beginning of all different interesting topics.
It also brings us back to the origin of photography. It is not about how high the resolution is. It's not about how beautiful the camera looks. Photography was invented to record the precious moment in life. The Lego brought back childhood memories where we all enjoyed playing Lego at some point in our life. The old age of the antique camera also reminds us that our life is short. It makes the present moment the more precious and we should, for at least one moment, put down our cell phone and live this moment to the fullest.