Some Assembly Required: Drew Nikonowicz

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

  Cardboard camera.

Cardboard camera.

Drew Nikonowicz, Columbia, MO

Photography student Drew Nikonowicz believes that large format photography should be accessible to all photographers. What began as a craft project has turned into a serious plan to design and construct 4x5 monorail cameras from inexpensive, lightweight materials.

  Photo made with cardboard camera. Note the cardboard silhouette on the right side.

Photo made with cardboard camera. Note the cardboard silhouette on the right side.

Nikonowicz’s first camera was constructed entirely from cardboard. Even the bellows and tripod are cardboard, though two rubber bands are used to hold the ground glass in place and apply tension to a film holder. The cardboard monorail functions similarly to any other model except that the front and rear standards are immobile. He started making the camera for the fun of it, but took a more serious approach after a colleague voiced his disbelief that a cardboard monorail could be functional. Accepting the unspoken challenge, Nikonowicz spent approximately 60 hours over the course of six weeks constructing the camera.  The resulting images show a silhouette of cardboard which act as a sort of signature. While he managed to meet his challenge and build the camera, its cumbersome design, and lack of tripod mount did not make for a user-friendly experience.

  3D printed camera.

3D printed camera.

  Portrait made with 3D printed camera (paper negative).

Portrait made with 3D printed camera (paper negative).

Inspired to continue building large format cameras, Nikonowicz has spent the last ten months designing a 3D printed 4x5 monorail camera. Though it is still in the testing phase, unlike the cardboard model, the 3d printed camera has movements for the front standard, though the rear standard is still immobile.  The current testing model extends from 75mm to 320mm and accepts a standard film holder. Previous version supported a toyo lens board, and the current version supports a linhof lens board for a combined weight of merely 2.75 pounds. “My hopes are that with this [technology] I can make large format photography accessible to those who otherwise might not be able to afford this very expensive practice.” While the cardboard camera was a fun and successful first try, Nikonowicz knows that 3D printing is the way of the future, and he will make sure that large format photography is too.

View more of Nikonowicz’s work on his website.

Have you made or modified your own photographic equipment? Let us know at info@donttakepictures.com.