“Box Camera Now” by Lukas Birk

reviewed by Christopher Osborne,

Silvergrain Classics – the analogue photography magazine.

Afghan Box cameras have been used on the streets of Europe and the Americas since at least 1910. Part camera and part darkroom, these devices enable an image to be made straight onto photographic paper.

A courier turned up at our door with a parcel earlier today. Inside was a book which has unexpectedly found a place in my most cherished photo book list. “Box Camera Now” by Lukas Birk is certainly a handsome book. Unusually it has a front and back cover made of veneered wood. The moment that it is removed from the shrunk wrapped plastic layer, the mixture of cut plywood and freshly printed pages creates an olfactory delight.

Afghan Box cameras have been used on the streets of Europe and the Americas since at least 1910. Part camera and part darkroom, these devices enable an image to be made straight onto photographic paper. The negative image is either re-photographed or contact printed to make a positive image. The whole process takes less than ten minutes.

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The work of each of the 54 photographers is prefixed by a small back story to how they became interested in the medium, and what they do with their work. One quickly realises how strong a passion that runs through the community of photographers who choose to work in this medium. And that Afghan Cameras attract some of life’s most colourful and eccentric characters.

  • Aurélien de Saint André for example “travelled from Afghanistan to France in a VW bus taking images along the way, and hasn’t stopped since”.
  • Taiwanese photographer Chen Zi Wua built her first camera in 2016, and mainly photographs her family and herself.
  • Clémant Marion is planning in building a camera capable of making 18 x 2cm inch images to travel the world with. Ferdows Fadir was born in Afghanistan and uses his camera to capture Afghani’s in The Netherlands. Flo Gales is a software engineer and hacker. He usually gifts the images that he makes.
  • Gianni de Gregorio “loves the time necessary for a momentary relationship of trust and complicity”.
  • For Indonesian photographers Irwandi M. Fajar Apriyanto and Ade Aulia Rahman, their Afghan Box Camera is a “performative and participatory”
  • Marc Kairies bought an Afghan Box Camera for his 45th bithday, and has been taking photographs at fairs and events.

Reading each brief synopsis creates the feeling of a guilty but pleasurable glimpse into someone else’s world. This is one of those books that should be consumed when comfortably seated in a favourite chair. One can’t help enjoying a sense of time travel and physical travel all at the same time.

The book measures 14×19 cm but is chunky, almost 4 cm thick. The paper is matt and is almost thick enough to be called card. The pages are black, and the text is white. The overall impression is of a well thought out and designed book. There are 338 pages, and it is released in an edition of 500 books by Fraglich Publishing. It can be ordered here https://www.fraglich.com/product/box-camera-now/ at a cost of €32.00 + shipping.

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