Some Assembly Required: Stephen Takacs

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

Paul Simon , made by Brownie in Motion

Paul Simon, made by Brownie in Motion

Stephen Takacs, Columbus, OH

Stephen Takacs is currently on a road trip across the Western United States. Like many photographers, he has his camera in tow. Unlike those photographers, his camera of choice is large enough to stand inside. Making his way through the States, Takacs photographs artisans and craftspeople who practice trades that are on the verge of disappearing due to technological changes. Fittingly, he is implementing his own craftsmanship on the verge of disappearance with a large camera obscura, dubbed “Brownie in Motion.” The unique design of the camera requires Takacs to physically place himself inside to make an image, using his body as a shutter.

The prototype was designed three years earlier using drywall and 2 x 4’s. Although the concept has remained the same, the original camera was far too heavy and impractical for travel. Thanks to funding provided by Ingenuity Cleveland and the Ohio State University STEAM Factory, Takacs was able to bring his prototype to life. The resulting device is a camera obscura 17x the size of a Kodak Brownie.

The camera’s construction is similar to that of a tent. The frame is made from aluminum pipe and scaffold-type fittings, and the walls are made of a single sewn piece of marine-grade vinyl. The vinyl velcros to the frame and allows the camera to remain light-tight and house its own darkroom.

While the simplistic design of a traditional camera obscura does not require a lens, the Brownie in Motion uses an old 17-inch Grundlach view camera lens to project a 20-inch diameter. This allows Takacs to create large-scale portraits up to 30” x 40”. He records these projections on large pieces of ortho film and rc paper to create negatives. Until its recent discontinuation, Takacs also used direct positive paper to produce the portraits.  

Depending on the situation, the Brownie in Motion functions as a camera, a darkroom, and an interactive installation. It was featured at the 2013 Midwest SPE Conference, Ingenuity Cleveland, and as it journeys across the West, it serves to educate passers-by on photographic history and its role in today’s art world.


Brownie in Motion at Ingenuity Cleveland.

Brownie in Motion at Ingenuity Cleveland.

Learn more about Brownie in Motion and follow Stephen's journey on his blog.  

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