An Introduction to the Weird and Awesome World of Camera Collecting


Over the weekend, Vienna-based auction house Westlicht sold Albert Eisenstaedt’s Leica IIIa rangefinder camera for €114,000 (about $147,000), nearly six times their anticipated sale price, according to AFP. The purchase is likely reignite the debate over gender relations and forceful smooching in photography, as the camera was used to shoot Eisenstaedt’s iconic “V-J Day in Times Square,” the subject of a heavily commented blog post subtitled “The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture.” It’s also the first time in a while that the handsomely nerdy subculture of camera collecting has been brought to the public’s attention. Click through for an introduction to some of its most fascinating art and tech historians and their wares.

An unnamed, exceedingly charming South African with a German accent is the subject of “The Collector,” a short project by New Zealander film production company Green Renaissance. Shot in a soulful black and white with a Nikon D800 (exactly the sort of equipment the main character might yearn for), the doc is composed mostly of long, wordless pans across the 1,000 items in The Collector’s home, coupled with soft-spoken comments that affirm a universal truth about camera collectors (and probably collectors in general): they can’t explain why they started, and they’re impossible to stop.

The winning bid for the collection of Ebay user Brian Cue, from Alameda, California was $34,999 — hardly pocket change, but not a bad deal for a stash with more than 2,000 items that took half a century to amass. Filling room after room and shelf after shelf of Cue’s storage space, this is obsessive eye candy at its finest.

People love Sphericam, the multi-lens camera that allows users to take pictures and video from a 360-degree angle, but for many enthusiasts, the design just isn’t weird enough. Knowing what we do about Japanese design from the 1980s, we’d much prefer this 360-degree “camera hat,” a classic example of chindōgu: useful but also wholly impractical design. [Image via]

Camera freaks breathed a collective sigh of grief following the death of Frank Spira, a Vienna-born inventor and hobbyist whose holdings formed the basis for the American Photographic Historical Society. Spiratone, Spira’s camera store on West 27th Street in Manhattan, was one of the most respected in the country when it operated from the 1940s until the 1990s, and was one of the first places in New York where customers could access Japanese lenses, flash units, and accessories. Among the highlights of Spira’s personal collection was the Pistolgraph, a camera made by Thomas Skaife in the late 1850s, which was built to resemble a pistol. [Image via]

Sculptors and collagists are already used to making art with their camera, but it’s rarer to see art from their camera, i.e. sculptures that are also functional photographic machines. Knowing that you can make a camera out of pretty much anything, so long as it has a tight channel to let in the light, Swiss artists Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs successfully experimented to make cameras out of the most bizarre materials possible: in this case, hollowed-out turtle and armadillo shells from their friendly local taxidermist. Vegetarian options made from bricks of clay and hollowed-out stacks of books have also been made available. [Image via]

This darling instrument looks like it was fashioned from a human skull because, well, it was fashioned from a human skull. Made in the same spirit as a camera that pumps HIV-positive blood through a series of visible chambers each time it takes a picture, the object is a bread-and-butter opus for Wayne Martin Bleger, an artist who works in precious stones and human organs, which he says convey “horrors of creation and the beauty of decay presented by the author light and time.”