Some Assembly Required: John Sinclair’s Sliding Box Camera

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

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John Sinclair (1843-1925), New Zealand

Born in 1843, John Sinclair was a carpenter by trade as well as a skilled draughtsman and surveyor. He designed and built cottages and buildings in and around Cheviot Hills, New Zealand including the bell tower at Knox Church. In its early days, photography was considered a gentleman’s hobby. Sinclair, which his carpentry skills and interest in engineering, pursued photography in his spare time. In the 1870s, he constructed a sliding box camera. It featured a box at the front where the lens (made by Negretti and Tambra) attached and a smaller box at the back that could slide forward and backward to adjust the focus. Suitable for daguerreotypes, wet collodion negatives, and calotypes. As a carpenter, Sinclair paid careful attention to the dovetail joints used to hold the sides of the camera in place, with biscuits reinforcing the interior’s alignment. The tongue and groove joint prevented light leaks.

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