Brighton-based design student Bailey Elen-Coghlan started this ambitious project as part of his university course with one goal in mind – to somehow combine his two passions of photography and DIY. Little did he know it would lead him down an analogue rabbit hole of experimentation that just kept going deeper. (No doubt a familiar path for many of our readers.) After having fun with the Lomography Konstruktor, Bailey decided he wanted to go one step further and build his own 35 mm film camera using found materials.
He talked us through the process of this venture, from inception to the finished product. We hope his story inspires other talented makers to also get experimenting and inventing.
What made you decide to design and build your film camera?
I would consider my approach to graphic design as hands-on; I would always try to make things and I wanted to link this to photography, but the idea only started when I came across a book titled ‘Holga, the world through a plastic lens’. I was immediately drawn to it. I started to flick through the pages and loved the outcomes, and started to come across things like light leaks and over exposure. Being brand new to film photography I always thought these were negatives and looked down on in photography, but the images were fantastic.
Once I started to research the original Holga camera I found out that it was intended to provide an inexpensive mass market camera for the Chinese working class in order to record family portraits and events and I really like the idea of bringing it back to its origins. I then started to research other cameras that fell under the Lomography category.
I bought the Konstruktor kit and started to build. While building the Konstruktor kit I started to imagine myself building my own camera out of found materials. This would further develop the idea of an inexpensive camera.
Could you briefly describe this project and a bit about the process?
Overall, after researching Lomography and its history I enjoyed the approach of “Don’t Think, Just Shoot”. I had an idea which was to shoot five rolls of film. First using the Konstruktor as it came (as a test), and using a regular 36 exposure roll of film. Then the next two rolls would be my soup. I decided to use red wine and seawater from my local beach. Both were 24 exposure rolls. The fourth was an expired roll of 36 exposures, and fifth and final roll would be double exposed on a 24-exposure roll, which would leave me with a total of 144 exposures.
The final outcome was originally planned to be a book however I had designed books before and wanted something more personal and homemade. I remember as a child my mum shooting film and getting the results back in this little paper envelope from the local shopping centre and I wanted to replicate that but using materials I gathered along the way to make a nice homemade box to store these photos. I used the packaging the rolls of film came in.
The process was to replicate the Konstruktor kit using my own design and go out and take photos on five rolls of film and then learn how to develop and scan at home to make an outcome that included the photos.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
There were many challenges throughout this project, but I think the biggest was trying to replicate the camera using recycled materials. I enjoyed this process, but it did go through many iterations and a lot of redesigns. At the start I wanted to replicate the whole camera from found materials, but I soon discovered this would be extremely hard. So I thought I could reduce the number of materials used to just the main mirror box and lens, and this would then change the whole way the camera was built, and the materials needed were a lot fewer.
I liked the idea of uploading the net online so that people could try this at home, and this would fit into my original idea of sustainability and get people building and discovering Lomography for themselves. All they would need were some components of the original Konstruktor kit and then the net which they could add designs to. This is something I want to test out and explore more to see if it's possible.
Also, the results of building your housing are unpredictable. Sometimes it would let more light in, this furthers the idea of ‘don’t think just shoot’. It also allowed me to add more of a graphic approach by customising my own case. I could add my own logo, add an image to it, the possibilities are endless
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project for you?
The most enjoyable part, also one of the most challenging, was unreeling my film of the spool after development. I was constantly saying to myself, “even if one photo is visible I’ll be happy” and then I removed the film and started to see nearly all my photos came out. I was amazed. I still remember that feeling. This was just negatives and I didn’t even really know if they were focused or anything. I was just pleased that there was something.
I think the joy came from the moment I started to develop at home as I was told it’s hard to get it right on your first go, especially color development. So the reward of it working was the most enjoyable aspect of this whole project.
How has the process of building your camera, and self-developing/scanning, changed your approach to photography?
It’s given me a newfound respect for film photography, but it’s also made me value photography more. I now look at each photo as if I was taking it on film. Throughout the process of this whole project, I wanted it to be as much Do It Yourself as possible. This was not only to try to fit into the sustainable approach but to prove that anyone can do it, even if you have never shot on film before.
The process of building the camera taught me a lot about how a camera worked more than it would have if I had just bought a store-bought film camera. Scanning at home gave me much more control of the process but it was also a lot quicker. Sticking with the DIY I grabbed the box that the developing chemicals came from and started to make a little home set-up. At this point, it wasn’t in my budget or time frame to purchase the equipment needed to scan at home so using things around my house and my old camera I made it work.
What advice would you give to others who want to follow in your footsteps and create something similar?
The advice I would give to others is just go for it. If you've never worked with film before just give it a try. Anyone can do it and I would recommend doing it as much at home as possible. The initial cost can be quite high with the cost of chemicals etc. however once you have these materials and equipment, you'll be able to do it anytime you want and have complete control over the process which means you will be able to experiment more.
I think my generation relies too much on phones as their main source of taking photos and I think you can learn a lot by using a film camera. You start to think about each shot, and this develops the more you begin to take an interest in film.
Also, try developing at home. It is very rewarding. I was initially scared to take this leap, but home developing allowed me to freely do film soups without the worry of ruining lab chemicals. I don’t think I’ll ever go to the lab again now that I know how to do it.
I also would recommend trying unique ways of shooting film like double exposures and film soups as these were some of the best shots throughout my project. I had never heard of film soup, and I thought the idea was crazy but the joy you get from finally looking through your negatives is doubled when they have been souped as it is beyond your expectations. I tried two soups, red wine and seawater, both turned out very different.
Overall, ‘don’t think just shoot.’
Has this project influenced the direction you want to take in your studies?
It definitely made me want to pursue photography, throughout my time at university I’ve discovered that graphic design can include photography, which I had never really thought about. One of our first projects in the first year was a project called ‘Let there be light’ which was a photography project which used objects around the house and the goal was to explore the lighting/shadows scale, impact, and viewpoint and to experiment with different lighting setups. This was the first time I was using photography in my course, and I just fell in love with the project. From there I have tried to use photography in some aspect of all my projects such as earlier this year, I started a documenting project which I chose to document circles I found around Brighton using only my phone camera.
This Lomography project is just another way I’m incorporating photography into my course. I would not classify myself as a photographer, far from it, but I think I’ve discovered I like the unusual. What I mean by that is I like the unconventional forms of photography such as soups and double exposures. I know these are not for everyone, but I think it’s fantastic, and I want to develop this unusual, quirky, and different form of photography and to make it my own.
What are your plans for the future?
I always find this question hard to answer as I’m always finding new approaches to design and life in general so it’s hard to answer about my design plans specifically. However in the future I want to travel and explore. I’m lucky enough to have been to some amazing places but when I leave university, I want to explore these places in-depth and hopefully use these travels in my design practice. I have a love for photography and it's something I want to develop further.
I would love to have my own studio somewhere in the world as well and working with some fantastic clients would be the ideal situation, as I’m still developing my design skills and looking for an area which I can call my own. I am looking forward to what the future holds.
We'd like to thank Bailey for sharing his project with us. To see more of his work check out his Instagram