David Krooshof

A Classic Street Camera

After seeing Anton Orlov's transparant red camera, and Joe van Cleave's many home made cameras, I've been wanting to make a street camera. Such street cameras are often called "Afghan Box Cameras" after Birk & Foley's book, but have been in use to make photos for official documents everywhere.

Such cameras aren't for sale, usually, and the tradition, out of neccesity, is to make your own camera, customized to your own workflow. Just look at the enormous variety in street box cameras by clicking through the images on wikipedia.

The key feature is that the darkroom is built into the camera, so customers could be given the positive prints within minutes.

What I want to expand on is the way to obtain a positive. Street photographers used to re-photograh the negative. The next step is to develop the paper negative further, so it ends up as a one-off positive photograph. As a bonus, it's vey cool see a positive coming up from a white sheet of paper.

I can do this in colour reliably, but a black and white reversal process can be done using only environmentally safe chemistry. I will need to fine tune this skill, though.

  • The camera looking finished and like a piece of antique at the same time!

I had hardly any woodworking skills, so I decided to make several cameras to learn. We have a workshop where I work, but I needed a dedicated place to figure everything out. Therefor I rented this wonderful workshop in Utrecht, on an incredible location, next to a canal. And I stared working.

The proof of concept

  • A view onto the canal in Utrecht, by night. The water is quiet, close to the edge of the platform, and there is a staircase to the left running up to street level.
  • The first camera contraption, seen on the left, that was used to test sizes and concepts. The dreamy selfie and the noisy canal photo were taken with this unit. Above the big tessar lens is a hole and a clamp to put a phone in. The phone can then capture what the lens projects onto the back of this camera.
  • The exit of the workplace offers a great view over the old canal. The little corridor of 2 meters to the door has spare wood on one side, and a bare guitar body on some crates on the other.
  • The view onto the canal as projected with a 300mm f4.5 tessar lens, onto a piece of old, cracked wood. This projection was recorded with a phone. The cracks in the wood make the image look a bit like a bad reception on an old tv.
  • The photographer holds a ring with a wire to his eyes, to place his eyes into the plane of focus. He wears a black leather hat. The image is upside down, because that is how a camera projects.

The first large camera that I made, holds a lens that projects onto a piece of wood and a holder for my phone to photograph that projection. The projection is upside down.

The first build was just a proof of concept, to see if the size I had in mind was correct. To see if I wanted tilt and shift to be built in.

Sacrificing an Antique Cashbox

The second build is my current project. I'm using an antique Chinese moneybox as the camera body. It has wooden nails, as wel as some iron ones. The bottom is not as old as the rest, judging by the modern nails that are used for that part. The first thing I did was making the bottom light tight. With a table saw I made the gaps wider, so I could fit strips of wood in them.

It is fitted with a 1905 brass aplanat type barrel lens. 210mm f8-f45. The lens is branded "Guy de Coral". He was a mediocre photographer himself, but the workshops he gave as a camera seller were instrumental in positioning photography as a hobby in the Netherlands. My ancestors that lived on Curacao at the time, must have been among his customers.

Looking down on a gold coloured brass lens mounted on a dark brown wooden box.

The Guy de Coral lens

To make a working camera, it needs the following:

  • Making the frame that will hold the paper straight up in the camera. The parts have just been glued together, and clamped.
  • The focus screen, still unsanded. The frame only partly painted black. It is in my left hand, and the plastic ground
  • The camera, on a messy work bench, not yet painted black on the inside, the trays on the bottom and the first rendering of the focus rails casually sitting on top of the camera. It gives an idea what will be inside the box.
  • A view into the camera. In the focus screen is a test negative I made. It shows my forehead, upside down.
  • The paper case. Still in plain wood colours. It is kept open with a piece of wood, to show the inside. I later made it black and improve the light tightness, and added hinges.
  • The paper case is modified after it is painted black. Hence the many glue clamps on it.
  • Measuring what the size of the door should be, so the development trays can be slid into the camera without spoiling the chemicals. The images show the frame of the door, a dev tray in an upright position, and a measuring tool.
  • Cutting one of the four edges of the door at 45 degrees without losing a finger. The table saw has a tool for that, and I taped the wood to it using double side tape, so it did not slide
  • The door with a nice oak edge, and a 11cm circular gap to put the trunk through, later. All wood is glued together with epoxy.

The various parts that need to go into the box.

The Learning Opportunities

I started out by making the paper case, the rails and the focus screen. I ended up making magnetic clamps in that, so the screen presses the paper flat.

After making a light tight rim for the lid, I found out that there was no way could put the focus rails I had made earlier, into the box. So I had to figure out a new way to add the rails. The New rails.

While figuring out the exact height the rails should be on, I found out that I had only 5mm to spare! The height of the trays plus the paper case plus the paperholder fit into the box, but with very little room to move. That's close fit is not by design, but by luck.

However, the trays with the liquids no longer fitted through the top after I made the lid light tight. I had not thought of that. So now I need a door on the side. That turned out to be the biggest challenge so far. I made the door of an old picture frame, to keep the outside of the box completely old. That wish caused a lot of extra work.

Plus I found out I cannot make a proper hole for the door. I simply lack the skills to mill reliably. Good thing I practiced on a piece of garbage wood, as to not ruin the Chinese box over a bold overestimation of my abilities.

To not get frustrated during the many hours spent, seemingly without results, I remind myself of my higher goal of learning. Ultimately, I want a much bigger camera than this one, and the only way to learn how to do that, is to make this one first.

  • Camera is on it's side on the work bench. The door is getting finished, the hole for it is not there yet. The truck that allows for access to the camera, is draped on top of the door. It will be mounted into the round hole in the door. The feet and legs in the back are Pelle's.

Boom Box

Also worthy of note: spray painting the inside of a box, captures the propellant. This can be ignited by the heater. And it did. The gas exploded with a loud, but resonant bang. A flame engulfed me for a very brief moment, burning all hairs on my hands and arms, and my eyelashes. The beard was largely saved by my face mask. This must have happened to more people that day, because every place I went that night, smelled like burnt beard.

Close up of the photographer, showing his burnt eyelashes and eyebrows.

Close up of the photographer, showing his burnt eyelashes and eyebrows.


I could not have gotten so far without the help of Pelle Kuipers, whom I'm renting the workshop from and who has a lot of knowledge and skills I can learn from. Or without my colleague Judith van de Pas who answered many questions I had.

And the tailor round the corner, Nemat, who made the sleeve of the camera for me. He happens the be from Afghanistan, and told me that as a kid, he always saw several photographers with such cameras near the Iranian ambassy. Not only did they take passport photographs, they also helped with filling in the official documents. That is a social layer to the story I was not previously aware off.

And thank you, Vasilis, for making this website!

A test run, using the workshop as a darkroom

Building and Testing the street camera

After some thougts, I decided I would not make a door, just a circular hole for the sleeve. So I printed a hole :-) and Pelle copied that hole to the box.

I also printed a clamp to mount the sleeve to the box. That seems to work.

The development trays will need to come in through the original lid at the top. I will need smaller trays for that.

  • Pelle and Dave wearing hearing protection while making the hole.
  • Pelle grinding the hole. On the box is a black 3D printed circle, other diameter similar to a 7” single record, the inside has an 111.7mm wide hole. The sleeve holder fits in this exactly.

Making the hole for the sleeve.

  • The box camera, on a wooden table, both dark brown stained wood. On the front, a lens in a brass barrel. On the side, a 30 cm sleeve black sleeve comes out. The end has elastic bands in it, like a changing bag. The box still looks as antique as it is.
  • A look inside the box. On the bottom, a wooden paper safe. No details in sight. The wood is black. To the left side, you see the back wall. The glass of a loop is mounted in a 5 sided holder. The pattern of the 3D printer is visible. To the right, the mount for the sleeve is seen. It has a round brim that is screwed to the inside. This brim is black, but a bit too shiny.

The current state, inside and outside

To do

I'm printing new development trays. I'm also rethinking the paper safe. I want an upright box screwed to the back.

I need to discuss developing techniques with Yevgeny Dyer, a very creative photographer whom I met in Iceland.

After that, I ready for the spring, to meet people and make portraits of them. One off, real objects to touch, real conversations to be had.