The World’s Strangest Cameras

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Plenty of us had that moment when we tried to justify spending a month’s (or few months’) salary on a fancy Leica camera. But who needs the newest point-and-shoot when you can have DIY cardboard camera obscura? In fact, who needs a camera lens? Plexiglass bits will do, or better yet, pinholes drilled in shells and organs. If you like them strange, this one’s for you. Behold, the world’s oddest cameras, conjured by artistic intent and by accident. What’s your favorite?

Prague’s Miroslav Tichý said poetry was a mistake and “for that you need a bad camera.” He fashioned various ones from shoe-box cardboard, tin cans, cigarette boxes, toilet paper rolls, and elastic string. His lenses were Plexiglas rounds polished with ash and toothpaste. He took dreamy, distressed, voyeuristic photos of young women around Prague, mounted them on newspaper and bits of taped cardboard and hoarded them in his hermit apartment for decades before being reluctantly discovered. He died at 85 last year.

This 4″x5″ pinhole camera is made from aluminum, titanium, acrylic, formaldehyde and a human infant’s heart. Wayne Martin Belger crafts some of the world’s strangest, darkest cameras, each for a specific purpose. The Heart Camera one was designed for his photo series of very pregnant women, exploring the artist’s relationship with his twin brother who died at birth. Some of his other materials include gold, wood, ivory, deer horns, 150-year-old skull of a 13-year-old girl and HIV positive blood that pumps through the camera in front of the pinhole and functions as a #25 red filter.

The DORYU 2-16 pistol camera is not a novelty gun nor an art. Made in ’50s Japan, this 16mm police-issue camera equipped with a Cine-Nikkor 25mm F1.4 lens was used to snipe proof of crime and capture demonstrating protestors. It looks dangerous, but its burning magnesium powder and hot temperatures actually made it physically riskier for the cop behind the gun cam sight.

Berlin-based duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs assure that this turtle shell camera would work, they just haven’t tried it yet. Their DIY cameras forged from rocks, instruments, photography books and other unorthodox bits was a reaction to strict documentarian photography — “a very German 1970s way of thinking about pictures” — and looks like fun.

Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal implanted a camera mount between his skull and his skin for project The 3rd I. The web cam in the back of his head was meant to periodically stream shots in real time to a museum in Qatar for a year, but hit a snag when his head rejected the transplant and the steroids and antibiotics couldn’t alleviate the pain.

Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence had lost an eye in a shotgun accident, so he had a digital camera implanted into the socket. There is no connection to the optic nerve, so it transmits the visual data to a receiver, however, the actual technology to replace broken organic photo receptors with digital chips is currently being developed and successfully tested on blind subjects. Call him the Eyeborg. Meet the future.

German artist Jochen Dietrich made this alarm clock camera in the ’90s with a pinhole at each hour mark, taking photographs at hourly intervals. The resulting 12-part polyptych reminds one of zoetropes and dreams and Surrealist films and everything nice like that.

Italian photographer and influential experimental filmmaker Paolo Gioli made several enchantingly strange cameras, including this delicate beauty from a shell in 1986. Unlike Dietrich’s clockwork, the shell camera took six photographs at once, creating ghostly, multi-angle analog images.

Contemporary Italian artist Francesco Capponi installed this camera obscura into a cavity of an olive tree, filling the slits of the trunk and stringing pulleys through the branches. The internal, mostly wooden device supports 120mm film.

Voilà. Kodak’s first digital, film-less camera invented by Steve Sasson in 1975, an unintentionally bizarre gadget. It was constructed from old Super 8 movie camera and a cassette recorder — each image took 23 seconds to record and had to be transferred to a black and white television. It’s a Frankencamera!