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Continued Aesthetic Investigation

Exhibition catalog for

"Jno Cook, Continued Aesthetic Investigation"

March 7 - April 19, 1992

DiverseWorks 1117 East Freeway Houston TX 77002 (713) 223 8346


Discovering the world of Jno Cook and his art has been a wonderful adventure. I would like to thank him for his hard work to create this catalog. I am grateful to him for his enthusiasm, energy and especially his sense of humor throughout this project.

Special thanks goes to Dana Friis-Hansen for encouraging Jno to contact me.

At DiverseWorks I extend my appreciation to Deborah Grotfeldt for her coordination of this project, to Andrea Lazar for her thoughful editorial assistance, to Sam Jones for his careful assistance with all aspects of the installation, and to Valerie Greiner, Patty Shepherd and Jan Werner for their efforts on behalf of this exhibition. Special thanks are due Michael Peranteau, Co-Director of DiverseWorks, who helps make all the programs at DiverseWorks possible.

Programs at DiverseWorks are unique, in part because of the participation of the Artist Advisory Board, made up of artists of all disciplines from this community. The Board of Directors provides continuous support and leadership. To both boards we extend our heartfelt thanks.

Caroline Huber Co-Director, DiverseWorks



Jno Cook's cameras are both familiar and alien: made from cookie tins, door peepholes, cardboard camera boxes, lamp shades, fans, and old camera parts, these cameras trigger a wide range of familiar associations and unsettling questions. The 110 Fish-eye Camera, made from a small pocket camera and an old door peephole, suggests something unseemly or perverse. 16 x 20 Backyard Camera, an old and cumbersome box camera perched on a child's red wagon, embodies Cook's playful ingenuity. The 120 Panoramic Camera, fashioned from an ordinary round cookie tin and rigged to rotate while photographing, exemplifies Cook's extraordinary ability to create a unique camera out of throw-away materials.

These cameras represent Cook's pragmatic approach to photography. He begins with a concept and then invents the cameras that symbolize his idea and record it as image. These images center on the theater of the personal: his backyard, home, and family. Yet through Cook's eyes the everyday becomes skewed. Cameras record events from 45 degree angles, or they rotate for a 360 degree view; they double as alarm clocks or roach exterminators; they blur and distort expected perceptions. The art of Jno Cook is an honest attempt to capture random fragments of daily life.

Caroline Huber


Purple Martins

Purple Martins send scouts north in spring, to inspect housing, and report back to the migrating flocks. Purple Martins only live in Purple Martin houses, and are very fussy about the square footage, the size of the door, and their neighbors. If apartments have not been cleaned by the humans who build them, they will not be used as nesting sites. Before the arrival of the Europeans their houses were built by the Indians.

My father cut down a dying tree in the backyard, leaving a stump six feet high. To this he hinged two two-by-fours which supported a Purple Martin house some 16 feet up in the air. The levered and counterweighted design would allow cleaning of the apartments early in spring. We were scouted out, and a colony took up residence. Over the course of a few years it grew in size, and we were serenaded every spring and summer with the screeching of Martins. One spring he didn't find the time to clean the apartments, and they didn't come back. Sparrows learned of the housing and took over the apartments.

Cover: "Purple Martin Housing (Camerorum Aviorum)" 1991, reclaimed materials: Sixteen defunct cameras with lenses and backs removed, 1/2" plywood, sheet metal canopy, bug light, stand, 3/4" galvanized pipe.

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In exhibiting these cameras I hope to encourage some demystification of the "technology" which obfuscates the manufacture and workings of modern cameras for the purpose of elevated prices and profits.

The camera is a tool in the production of images, just as film and paper are, and a change in a lens or camera body affects the aesthetics of an image. Yet most artists will not touch their camera equipment for modification -- or even for repair....

These cameras were built over a period of 17 years; most were built to conform to some ideas about an image or series of images I wanted to produce ... and a few were constructed in attempts to recapture or test some aesthetic of the 19th century.

(from a statement to "Reclaiming Technology" exhibition catalog, Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago, 1989)

I have supplied some anecdotal notes to ground the building of these objects in my life experience. There are, after all, reasons for constructing all this equipment, other than as investigations.

Jno Cook

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Film-can Camera

[] []

"Et nos non invenimus ita" - Abu Ali Al-hasan Ibn Alhasen, 1021

Made as a reaction to the design change in cameras 15 or 20 years ago, when they went from chrome bodies to black plastic. It is comment also on the useless gadgets found on most cameras. Used it only once, for it is just not a good idea - 35mm pinhole images have terrible resolution, and it would be very inconvenient to have to process a single piece of film in an 8 oz tank (although perhaps the developer could be poured directly into the film canister).

"35mm Film-can Pinhole Camera" 1975 WHD: 1½x4x1½" Reclaimed materials: film can, tripod socket, accessory shoe, viewfinder, brass pinhole.

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Cockroach Camera

[] I used to sit in my kitchen and shoot roaches with an airgun loaded with half Q-tips -- if I missed, the exploding cotton would get them. I also wanted to photograph cockroaches -- they were, after all, part of my life. This camera was built for this purpose. My ambivalence toward the roaches led me to disregard matters of roach safety. Thus the trigger circuit was wired at 120 volts because it was convenient to do so. But if the roach misstepped he might get electrocuted.

A number of critics have expanded on this concept -- to where it is currently thought that this camera "hunts down and executes cockroaches." This is not so. The cockroach exoskeleton insulates to several hundred volts.

"35mm Cockroach Camera" 1978 WHD: 8x7x7" Reclaimed materials: Exa camera, wood stand, 24 vdc solenoid, DX type strobe tube, 340 v voltage doubler, 500 mfd capacitor, tinfoil tripping circuit, relay, motorized out-timer, modified unidentified 8mm projection lens.

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Metrogon Camera


This is a workhorse of a camera, and has been in regular use for a decade. It has a groundglass back, and takes standard 8x10 filmholders. I use it with graphic arts film, and generally shoot at f-stops of 45 or 90, with exposures from 4 seconds to 20 seconds. There is no way to focus the camera -- it is a box camera. The whole point of the construction was to build a portable, lightweight, 8x10 viewcamera. The camera was actually built around the lens, which is a 6 inch Metrogon (from an aerial camera), a wide angle lens covering almost 90 degrees. The lens was first developed in WW II, by a German optical firm. The B&L Company in the US bought the design from them -- during the war. Both sides used the same lens for aerial reconnaissance.

"8x10 Metrogon Camera" 1981, WHD: 12x12x7" Reclaimed Materials: Wine box; Betax shutter; fixed focus 6" Metrogon lens; 8x10" groundglass film back, suitcase handle.

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Wheel Camera


Built for an FRA project. The prime contractor wanted to photograph the inside of railroad freight car wheels as they passed over the camera, to test the notion that the wheels turn orange before they crack. A freight train may have 400 or 500 wheels on a side. The camera takes 3200 pictures, to be used at night with flash -- so there is no shutter. Also built a repeating flash, put together from an audio power supply and standard flash circuitry. There was no flash unit available at the time which could repeat 400 times at 1/4 second intervals; it was developed a few months after I completed this project -- for conveyor belt assembly inspections. Because the project didn't get funded, I never used this camera. But if I ever wanted to photograph the next 3200 people who showed up at my front door, I would have the equipment to do so.

"35mm 3200 Frame Remote Camera" 1984, HWD: 8½x18x11" Reclaimed Materials: A-6A aircraft camera magazine (220 feet, 35mm), AC gearmotor, control circuitry, DX flash tubes, cooling fans, lens housing, 47mm Taylor-Hobson Cooke lens.

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Camera-box Camera


I received an old Kodak 35mm camera, complete with the original box, from my mother-in-law. The camera had been used by her husband thirty years earlier. The camera was all gummed up from age, and I couldn't get it to work. But the box was usable. Like most Kodak packaging materials, it was covered in black paper on the inside -- perfect for a pinhole camera, and about the right size for respectable resolution.

"Camera-box Pinhole Camera" 1987 HWD: 4½ x 6 x 3 3/4" Reclaimed Materials: camera box, tin-foil pinhole, 2¼ black-slide.

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Fishing Reel

I have this image of my father sitting in a lawnchair, studying a fishing reel, turning it over and over, clicking the little sliding knobs, tightening adjustable knurled wheels. It may be a photograph rather than a mental image; perhaps we were camping, perhaps there was a lake near by. He always wanted to fish, thought it an admirable activity: relaxed, pensive, studied behavior. Some of his friends fished.

He never did figure out how a fishing reel worked, or what to do with a lure, and neither have I. The mechanics of some advanced technologies will forever elude us. I can't program a VCR either.

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Cookie Camera

[] []

A student asked me about the design of a panoramic camera. I suggested a rotating cookie tin with a stationary coffee can inside as the film plane. A roll of 120 film would unwind onto the coffee can as the outer can rotated. At the end of the roll the camera would jam, and picture taking would be done. By that time it would have done three circuits. I thought it was such a good idea that I built one. It took two years, and a mirror, to make it work right.

"120 Panoramic Camera" 1988 HWD:7x11½x9½" Reclaimed Materials: cookie tin, coffee can, lazy susan, DC gearmotor, lens, mirror.

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Technicolor Camera


This represents an interest in color separation (which I teach once in a while). The shutter is just three lens caps, since the shutter speeds would be quite long: the negative densities have to fall on the linear portion of the film curve, so the film is overexposed by 100 percent, and the filter factors are about 6x.

"3-color Separation Camera" 1989 HWD: 4½x8x3" Reclaimed Materials: pen box, 3 lenses, RGB filters, handle, various metal parts, knobs.

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Stereo Camera


I started out taking stereo photographs by moving a 2¼ camera sideways on a tripod. This often resulted in images which would not converge. When I built a stereo camera the way they are supposed to be built, I realized that there might be something to leaving out the plenum between the two lenses, so that the two images would overlap on the film. To do this I needed a larger film than 2¼, so the camera was built around a 5x7 film back.

"5x7 Stereo Camera" 1984 HWD: 6½x8½x6" Reclaimed Materials: wood file card case, photo copy lenses, 5x7 groundglass film back, Packard type shutters, fixed f-stops.

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Fish-eye Camera


Bought the camera body for $2.50, for it had been stepped on, and the plastic was cracked. Went to price a used lens, to find they wanted $50 for one. Thus I mounted a door peephole (in a rubber stopper) with a small positive lens added to the rear. Very high fog level, but you can almost see around the back -- it covers nearly 180 degrees.

"110 Fish-eye Camera" 1985, HWD: 2¼x4x2½" Reclaimed Materials: 110 SLR camera, door peephole, rubber stopper.

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Backyard Camera


Follows an 8x10 and 11x14 camera. The body is a process camera found in a dumpster. The lens is the front half of a 30" aerial telephoto lens -- about 24" focal length without the rear element. There is no film or filmholders made for 16x20. I would use 16x20 graphic arts film, and have started to build a filmholder. The camera is very heavy, thus mounted on a little red wagon. In order to angle up, an automobile jack will be mounted under the front end.

"16x20 Backyard Camera" 1990, HWD: 39½x21½x24" Reclaimed Materials: process camera, aerial lens, packard shutter, toilet flush handle, red wagon, small boy.

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Video Dog


This is a Fisher-Price camcorder altered to be carried by a large dog. The video lens of the camcorder was removed and relocated to the side of the recorder, and the viewfinder and battery compartment were hacksawed off. Straps were added so the camera could be carried around the neck of a Rottweiler. A battery-pack was built to be carried on the dog's back. One videotape was made of a dog-walk; additional work awaits a solution to the jarring swagger of dog gait which blurs the video image. Generally what was recorded are swings between hubcaps and fences - - the one lining streets, the other the house side of sidewalks. There are many instances of a semicircle of darkness moving in from the top of the screen to occlude the image (as sniffing is being performed), and an occasional long still image of tree branches.

"Rottweiler Camcorder" 1990, HWD: 25½x21½x24" Reclaimed Materials

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Slit-shutter Camera


Originally built to record the left and right edges of a locomotive simulator film, and intended for projection at the left and right edges of the same film to simulate peripheral vision. Later placed it on a revolving stand, and started making "films" with it. This is a slit-shutter camera, holds 100 feet of film, operates for about 20 minutes, and makes a negative 1 inch high and 100 feet long. The only requirement for a sensible image is that either the camera or the subject is moving. For correct perspective, there is also a relationship between speed and focal length which has to be met. Have made "films" by rotation, and in rotation during a dolly shot, including a window van. A dual film made with G bor Cs sz ri, an Hungarian filmmaker, during which we recorded simultaneously in rotation and translation, has been shown in Germany as part of the European Media Arts Festival, and will be shown at an International Festival in Glasgow, and at the Jue de Paume, Paris, later this year. Four additional slit-shutter cameras have been built, which I have given away to students and colleagues.

"35mm Rotating Slit-shutter Camera" 1985, HWD: 15x24x11" Reclaimed Materials: Graflex ID camera body, AC drive motor, duplex outlet, lamp sockets, 9" reflectors, commutating circuit board, lazy susan, rotating base, lens housing, Exacta lens mount.

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The 1894 Muybridge Zoetrope has been altered to fit a turntable. Sound is provided by the tonearm bouncing on pieces of tape fastened at the edge of the turntable.

I reversed all the horses, that is, change their order, for the Zoetrope is meant to run in the opposite direction. I also removed the jockey, bobbed the tails, and expanded the chest to make the quarter horse into a draft horse. The turntable was found in an alley; the needle of the tone arm is gone, but the cartridge reacts to the bouncing of the arm to make sound.

"Still Running" with sound, 1990; WHD: 25 x 24 x 14" Reclaimed Materials: turntable, lamp, zoetrope.

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Whiskey and Sewing Machines

My grandfather, although trained as a tailor, spent his life in other pursuits. He bought land to cut down trees to sell as firewood, then grazed horses on the land, which he also sold. He sold whiskey to farmers, and sewing machines to their wives. After my grandmother died, who had assumed the position of postmistress at age 16, he ran the postoffice for a town of 500. That took about an hour per day. I don't know what he did the rest of the time. I know he also trained gun-shy police dogs.

My father, although originally trained as a salesman and manager, spent the last decades as a church janitor. He swept classrooms, and shoveled snow, and landscaped the grounds. We had, at various times, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and an aviary stocked with canaries. He grew vines and roses and planted bushes. The yard next to the rectory had a pond stocked with goldfish, an island with turtles, and was equipped with a fountain, a bridge, and a small waterfall. In winter the goldfish stayed in our basement, occupying two old bathtubs connected together at the overflows. To change the water he would chase all the goldfish into one of the tubs via the overflow connection.

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Jno Cook

Jno Cook is a sculptor and photographer living in Chicago. Originally trained in engineering, in 1980 he returned to school for an MFA. Today, with his wife, he supports his family by teaching part-time, with industrial cinematography, and with other odd jobs. His backyard is equipped with a three-story bat tower, a greenhouse for a sequoia tree, bowling balls for the dog to play with, and a variety of volunteer plantings. At various times the yard has had small lakes, waterfalls, and wading pools. He also does most of the cooking, and all the dishes and the laundry.

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DiverseWorks is funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the City of Houston through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, the Brown Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, the Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts, corporations, foundations, and individuals. Additional support has been provided by Continental Airlines.

Additional program support for 1991-92 is provided by the following generous friends of DiverseWorks: Underwriters: The Brown Foundation, Louisa Stude Sarofim; Major Donors: Toni and Jeffery Beauchamp, William Hill Land & Cattle Company, Dr. Eric H. Scheffey, Liz and Marvin Seline, Isabel and Wallace Wilson, and Wilson Industries. Diverse Donors: Jerry Baiamonte, Viveka and James P. Barnett, Jr., Ken and Tamra Bentsen, Kathleen A. Boyd, Cindy Bishop and David Donnelly, Brenda and John Duncan, Mary and George Hawkins, Sheila and Isaac Heimbinder, John Hilliard, Lee M. Huber, Sandra Jensen, Nena and David Marsh, David Morris, Laura Morris, Richard Newlin, Holly Nielsen, Teresa Rodriguez-Brown, Sara and Jim Steel, Carol Straus, Dan Tidwell and Jamie Mize, Mimi and Bill Walker, Elena Cusi Wortham, and Nina and Michael Zilkha.

DiverseWorks is a non-profit contemporary art center where programming encompasses all artistic disciplines: visual art, music, dance, performance art, video and literary arts. The foundation of DiverseWorks' programs is to support artists and to encourage investigation of cultural and social issues. DiverseWorks functions much like a laboratory in which artists can explore new ideas, unique collaborations, experimental forms of expression, and dialogues that cross artistic and professional disciplines. DiverseWorks provides support for artists through programming opportunities, payment of equitable artist fees, commissioning of new work, a grant program, and advocacy efforts.

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