Some Assembly Required: Site Specific Cameras

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

Front view of the camera. Photo: Matthew Brown

Adam Donnelly, Oakland, CA
David Janesko, Houston, TX

Taking location photography to a new level, photography duo Adam Donnelly and David Janesko construct camera obscuras in the landscape using only materials taken from the surrounding environment. Donnelly and Janesko met while attending graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. Donnelly was building cameras from hardcover books and Janesko was building his own lenses for his digital camera. Both students were interested in using found apertures rather than constructing them. Living in the Bay Area, their first site-specific camera attempt was constructed on the beach. Since then, they have traveled the country building numerous cameras on site.

Each camera begins with a “found aperture” which have been made from a leaf, shell, bone, rock, or wood with preexisting holes. The location of this found aperture becomes the location of the camera, and all the rest of the building materials are gathered within walking distance from this point. Rocks, wood, grass, leaves, seaweed, sand, and mud have all found their place in one camera or another. Depending on the complexity of materials, the location, and weather, the cameras can take between two and six hours to build.

Their most recent camera was constructed on the slopes of the Organ Mountains in New Mexico. Measuring approximately 4 x 3 x 4.5 feet, this camera is one of their smaller designs. Beginning with a found aperture of a hole, bored by an insect, in a leaf, the main structure was built from sticks, bark, and rocks and made light tight by stuffing grass and juniper needles into the cracks of the rocks. Once the camera is finished, it cannot be moved, so the resulting photographs can only be made from this one angle. The mountain camera faces north towards the Tularosa Basin, which serves as the subject matter for the resulting photograph. To make the image, the team used instant film, direct positive paper, and photographic paper in the camera. After the photographs have been made, the camera stays behind as part of the landscape and left to the elements.

4x5 Color Film (Ektar 100) Photo: Adam Donnelly and David Janesko

View more of the team’s work on their website.

Have you made or modified your own photographic equipment? Let us know at