When you have imagination and skill, almost anything can become a camera. Photographer Brendan Barry is skillful and loves to build cameras, so he bought an old camper trailer off eBay for £150 (around $200). After some work, it became a giant, functional, and a rather stylish camera.
Other than taking photos with it, this “camper camera” doubles as a portable darkroom, so he can take and develop his photos anywhere. And just like the regular camera, he can always bring this one with him. If there’s a place to park it, though.
Brendan shared some details about his awesome camera with us, as well as the photos he took with it. It’s not just the camera that looks beautiful, but the portraits Brendan took with it are amazing, too.
This isn’t the first DIY camera Brendan has made. A while ago, he started building cameras out of random things: Lego bricks, a log, even a pineapple. He says he noticed that people were more interested in the cameras than the photos he was taking. Because of this, it was his idea to try and combine camera building and images. He wanted to capture the imagination of audiences and make them participate more. And the ideas began to develop.
First, he built a 16×20” ultra large format camera from plywood, a pane of glass and some blackout material. He set up a temporary studio and darkroom in the basement of a castle in Latvia, but he found this camera pretty awkward to use. When he got back to England, he built a Shed Cam. As you can probably imagine, this is a combination of a camera and a shed. It allowed him to get inside and operate from within. As Brendan says, this one worked great, but it wasn’t mobile at all. This is when his idea evolved to the mobile Caravan Camera.
He bought the old trailer, removed everything from the inside and blacked it out. He built a mount for the lens and the space for darkroom trays inside the trailer. To produce the image, Brendan uses a variety of Apo Nikkor process lenses. He had a friend Pat Cullum do the design a paint job for the outside, and he’s responsible for making the camera look as good as it performs.
When the Caravan Camera was ready, he parked it at the local pop up art space, The Boatshed. The camera was there for a week, and Brendan made hundreds of portraits of the people passing by.
During this week, over 300 people experienced the Caravan Camera. Since it works as camera obscura, people would step inside to see the outside world projected onto a screen. Later on, they’d pose for a portrait and then get back inside to see the photo come to life in the darkroom. Brendan says that the reactions of people were really positive, and I can imagine that the overall experience is really fun and educational for everyone. Although, there are some obstacles to overcome when shooting portraits with this camera.
Brendan tells us that the Caravan Camera has a very shallow depth of field and the materials he currently uses have the ISO of 3. This results in very long shutter speeds, so the portraits require the subjects to stand still for quite some time. Sometimes this results in blurry photos, but there’s also a positive effect of standing still for a long time. Since people can’t see the photographer who’s inside the trailer, they lose the feeling of awkwardness they might generally have when posing. This results with portraits that emit a kind of “relaxed/unforced feel.” I picked some of the photos Brendan took, and you can see them below. It wasn’t an easy choice, but if you like them as much as I do, you can see plenty more here.
After shooting portraits for a week, it was time for an exhibition. Since Brendan contact printed over 100 of the 16×20” paper negatives into positives, he displayed them inside the Boatshed, the old Maritime Museum.
Although Brendan’s process of image making with the Caravan Camera isn’t the fastest there is, it definitely has its charm and magic. As Brendan puts it, “sometimes it’s nice to slow things down a little as this can allow for the richer, deeper and more tangible experience, and it’s great to actually produce something physical.”
I’d say Brendan’s Caravan Camera is the best thing you can do with a trailer, in addition to camping. I like the nostalgic, sometimes even a bit eerie feel to these photos. And most of all, I believe the experience of posing in front of this camera and seeing your portrait come to life is exceptional. Indeed, sometimes is worth it to slow things down for a deeper photography experience.
About the Artist
Brendan Barry is a UK-based photographer and lecturer. He studied photography at degree level and then worked as a commercial graphic designer and photographer for years. After a while, he quit working commercially and went to Plymouth University to complete his Master’s Degree. This led him into teaching, which he’s been doing since, and which he loves.
Other than teaching photography, he’s also passionate about building his own cameras, and you can see some of them here. For more of his work and his crazy DIY cameras, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.