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Jno Cook

January 13 - February 11, 1989

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

In allowing these cameras to he exhibited 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 effects the aesthetics of an image.

Yet most artists will not touch their camera equipment for modification (or even for repair), nor build their own black boxes, because of a fear of the "costly mishap" -- a fear instilled by ads and textbooks, which constantIy suggest that the construction ad operation of a camera is dependent on a highly evolved technology totally beyond tbe comprehension of a layman.

But in actuality cameras and lenses date from the 13th century, and the principles of their operation can he summed up a the back of a envelope. In building a modifying this equipment I have not used any knowledge which could not he found in highschool texts on geometry and physics. I am, perhaps, reasonably handy with a hacksaw -- but so are many others.

* * * * * * * *

This equipment was built over a period of 13 years; most were built to conform to some ideas ahout an image or series of images I wanted to produce. Two pieces were built for commercial research applications, and a few were constructed in attempts to recapture or test some aesthetic of the 19th century.

Jno Cook, 1989




body: film can, modified; tripod socket, accessory shoe, Kaligar viewfinder, brass pinhole.



Homer's Illiad (ca. 800 B.C.), Book 19, lines 12 - 16, tells of the delivery of Achilleus' new armour.

The war had gone very badly for the Greeks since Achilleus had refused to participate. An offensive by the Trojans had breached the camp's stockade and fighting had reached the ships.

Patroklos, wearing Achilleus' armour, had joined the battle but has been slain. His body has been returned, but the armour was stipped by the Trojans. Achilleus, now resolved to again join the fight with his troops, cannot do so for his armour is lost.

Thetis has new armour fashioned by Hephaistos, smith to the Gods. She delivers it as Achilleus and his troops are mourning Patroklos.

The following records the first instance of high-tech equipment delivered for War use. The reaction of the Myrmidons -- to armour made in heaven -- is archetypal for what will continue to be the reception to high-tech equipment for the next 3000 years: they are afraid.

The goddess spoke so,
and set down the armour
on the ground before Achilleus
and all its elaborations clashed loudly.

Trembling took hold of the Myrmidons.
None had the courage to look straight at it.
They were afraid of it.
Only Achilleus looked

It is the same reaction invoked with the warning imprinted on the backs of the plastic cases to radios and other equipment, and implied in textbooks and magazine descriptions of cameras and lenses:


Risk of shock hazard.
Do not remove case.
No user serviceable parts inside.
Refer servicing to qualified personnel only.

However, a look at book 18 of the Illiad reveals what the armour is made of: it is gold, and silver nails, and bronze, and tin rivets - nothing beyond the normal capabilities of late bronze age technology.



body: Graflex RB type B camera 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 modified to take 4x5 film, flash sync. Heiland two post flash mount, reflex housing, hood. Polaroid pack-film camera (back), modified, black slide. lens: No. 32 Kodak anastigmat f4.5, 6 3/8" FL, sn 327645. flash: Speeddlight Center Model 1, modified, 365 v feed, 750 mfd capacitor; modified DX type strobe.


ALHAZEN, d. 1038 Cairo

Abu Ali Al-hasen Ibn Alhasen, mathematician, born in Basra, claimed he could control the inundations of the Nile, for which caliph Hakim ordered him to Cairo in 1015 or 1017. Realizing his abilities as civil engineer were less than his skill as a mathematician, he feigned insanity to save his head.

Until Hakim died in 1021, Alhazen spent his time at the library of Alexandria, writing on geometry, optics, perspective and the camera obscura. Translated into Latin in 1270 and printed as Opticae Thesaurus Alhazani in 1572. MSS at Paris, Oxford, Leyden.

An additional MS at the Vatican Library is annotated by Lorenzo Ghiberti of the Florence Baptistry doors (1378 - 1455). Earlier MSS may have existed, for Roger Bacon writes a optics and the camera obscura before 1266.

Alhazen is the first to show how an image is forned on the eye, using the camera obscura as an analog. Alhazen states (in the Latin translation), and with respect to the camera obscura, " Et nos non inventimus ita," we did not invent this.


Built in the 9th century as the port of Bagdad, located about 70 miles south of the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, and 70 miles from the Persian gulf, to which it is connected with a series of canals and locks. Hometown of Abu Ali Al-hasen Ibn Alhasen.


Porta's Natural Magic was published in English in 1658. In the same year Kepler's design for a camara obscura drawing tent was available in English.

The reflex box camera (using a mirror to invert the image) is described in Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus, 1658 by Johann Zann, as well as the use of a telephoto lens (Galilean). This was used also by Kepler in 1600 - 1610 ( Dioptrice, 1611). The telephoto lens design has not changed to today. []

A Camera Obscura designed for viewing (and drawing) is described by Robert Boyle in On the Systematic or Cosmical Qualities of Things (1670), which includes a focussing front, a lens, and viewing back. Robert Hooke describes the opaque projector in Pilosophical Transactions 1668.

By the beginning of the 18th century the viewing camera obscura was commercially for sale in London (see John Harris, Lexicon Technicum, 1704), known at the time as "Scioptricks," after the lens which was known as a "scioptric ball."



body: Olympus half-frame camera, modified; clock motor, gears, indent and MS, 20 minute timer; Rollei flash unit, modified, three trickle chargers, mounting plate, wiring. lens: (original) Olympus D. Zaiko f:3.5 28 mm, no sn. Operates at rate of one frame every hour.



body/stand: Exa camera modified, reflex finder, solenoid operated shutter; DX type (modified) strobe tube, 340 v charger, 500 mfd flash circuit, sync circuit; tinfoil tripping circuit, relay, out-timer. lens: 8mm projection lens, modified, FL and aperture unknown, in boyonet extension ring set


The first casual reference is by Aristotle ( Problems, ca 330 BC), who questions how the sun can make a circular image when it shines through a square hole.

Euclid's Optics (ca 300 BC), presupposes the camera obscura as a demonstration that light travels in straight lines. Egnacio Danti in commentary on his translation of Euclid's Optica (1573), adds a description of the camera obscura. []

By this time knowledge of the camera obscura is already firmly established in Italy, with the availability of Giovanni Battista della Porta's Magica Naturalis (1558), based on earlier books (Cesare Caesariano's translation and commentary to Vitruvius's Architecture (1521), Francesco Maurolico's Theorameta de Lumine et Umbra (1521), Erasamus Reinholt in commentary in translation of Plubach's Theoricae Novae Planatarum 1542, and others).

Porta's second edition of Magia Naturalis (1591) includes a lens for the camera. This had been suggested earlier by Bacon, and was in use by others in the 16th century.

Porta popularized the camera obscura, which was instantly in use with astronomers: Kepler, solar observations, 1600, including the transit of Mercury in 1606; Fabricius, sunspots, 1611. Kepler coined the term "camera obscura."

CHEVALIER, C., Paris, ca. 1839


A paris optician who provides Louis Daguerre with a stopped achromatic lens about 1839 or earlier as a step up in quality from the stopped Wollaston. Chevalier also made lenses for Joseph Nicéphore Niépse since about 1826. Photography was announced by Daguerre and Niépse (fils) in l839, the Daguerreotype.

In 1829 correspondence between the partners, Daguerre writes, "there should be found some way of getting a large profit out of the invention before publication..."



body: 35mm surveilance camera, 25' capacity, modified; timing motor. 3 v transformer, diode, wiring. Sunpack 120 flash unit, modified. lens: Ansco Anastigmat 90mm f:6.3, ns, in in Standard Speedex shutter. One frame every 60 seconds.



Images are mapped on the cortex, not at the focal plane of the eye's lens.

By this means we represent the world as rectilinear, planks maintain the same spacing with distance, walls meet at right angles, and verticals do not converge.

This is the method of representing what is thought to be seen (rather than experienced) initiated with Renaissance painters.



body/lens: Polaroid One Step camera, modified; electrical contacts for shutter brought out, lipremoved; Sears flash unit, modified; cable, 6ix minute interval timer, DC power supply. Uses one Pack of film in one hour, made for ceiling mounting.

DIORAMA, 1822 - 1839, Paris; l839, London

A large exhibition of scenes. front and back lighted to change or dissolve the image, designed and operated by Louis Daguerre. This was a large (40 x 72 feet) version of Leone Battista Alberti's 1451 "enlarging and reducing machine," as described in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores (Muratori, 1738), and in Porta's Magica Naturalis (1558). Daguerre made extensive use of the camera obscura in design of the scenery for the Dioramas.



body: wood 12 x 12 x 4 1/2 inch, 8 x 10 ground glass screen and film back, handle, tripod socket. lens: B&L Metrogon 135 mm, no sn, in Betax shutter/diaphram f:6.3 -45, flash sync.


Invented by Leone Battista Alberti (1404 - 1472), architect and author of the much-read book on architecture De Re Aedificatoria (ca. 1465).

Writes Vasari, "in 1451 when the very useful method of printing books was invented by Giovanni Gutenberg, Battista devised something similar, namely, an enlarging and diminishing machine."

Vasari quotes from other written sources, however, and omits what the machinery does. In Rerun Italicarum Scriptores (Muratori, 1738), book 25, the description is of a camera obscura or diorama.

Alternately, it might be the screened device illustrated by Albert Dürer, used for drawing (after 1505). This was after Dürer's visits to Italy "to learn the secret art of perspective." It is the camera obscura in obverse or turned inside-out.


12 x 12 inch HALATION CAMERA, 1981

body: wood 14x14x5inches, hinged, handle, latch, tripod socket, 12x12 FS mirror; lens: brass, unknown origin and aperture; approx. 4 inch FL, diaphram marked US 2 -128, lens cap.


EUCLID ca 300 BC, Alexandria

Author of Elements a book on geometry, which remained, unchanged, the standard text on geometry into the 19th century. Still used as a school text in U.K. at the beginning of 20th century.

Available in Greek to the ancient world; translated to Latin in 500 (Bothëus, and with new translations from Arabic in 1120 and 1180. Printed texts available in Renaissance Italy in 1482, 1486, 1491, 1494, and 1505.

The 14th EB notes, "Euclid eschewed all practical applications of geometry."



"Nearly all the technical processes of any real importance in the manufacture of glass were already mastered in antiquity" (14th EB).

Glass occurs in Egypt and Babylonia in 2600 BC, bottles were made 14th - 15th century BC, and large scale production in Egypt dates from the 6th century BC.

Glass blowing is discovered at Sidon in the first century and clear glass is made at Alexandria at about the same time. In Roman times glassworks are established in Italy, Spain, and the Rineland.

In the 13th century Venice again discovers how to make clear glass and established a virtual monopoly. Workmen in the glassworks were prohibited from leaving Venice under pain of death. They did anyway.



body: Polaroid Portrait Land Camera, modified, tripod socket. lens: unknown origin, approx. 1 1/2 inch FL, aperture unknown, in Kodex #1 shutter/iris. Uses "B" with smallest f-stop and open flash.



body: 35mm camera unknown brand, modified, 3 frame film aperture. lens: brass pinhole in Agafa leaf shutter.



The first wide-angle lens, and without distortion, if used at f:35. Designed and sold by C. Harrison and J. Schnitzer of New York, 1857.

This lens becomes the standard for stereo photography. where absolute versimilitude is the requisite (great depth of field, distortionless, wide angle). Of every stereo card I have ever seen (and millions were made between 1865 and 1910) not has allowed the verticals to converge even though this would be relatively easy with this lens -- it has a coverage of 72 degrees, equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camara.



body: wood 1O x 5 x 3 1/2 inches, hinged, latch, tripod socket. lens: B&L Metrogon, modified, approx. 3 1/2 inch FL, aperture unknown, in astro camera mount, replaceable stop, sliding shutter.



Dutch mathematician and physicist, developed the wave theory of light, built telescopes of 100 and 200 foot dimensions, designed the first achromatic (color corrected) lens in 1677.



body: Bell and Howel Co. 2oo foot 35mm magazine for A-6A camera (USAF), sn AFS54 200 486, modified; AC gearmotor, indent, MS, relay for single frame operation, sync contacts, lens housing, no shutter, mount for two DX strobe tubes, cooling fans, front feet, mounting board. lens: Taylor Cooke Cinema Lens 47mm f:2.5, sn 135528



Lenses for eyeglasses (spectacle lenses) are first mass-produced in Venice in about l275. Porta gives the first description of the process in Magia Naturalis (1591 ed, Frankfurt), which "demonstrated that the methods of making lenses differ little in principal from that generally used up to l915, and still in use in many smaller workshops in 1947" (l5th EB).

Porta uses the term pilae vitreae to designate the cylinders of glass from which sections are sliced with a diamond cutter. and are sent from Germany to Venice for polishing. This is the term (hollow balls, filled with water) used by Pliny to describe magnifiers in antiquity.



body: wood 8 l/2 x 6 x 4 inches, 5x7 groundglass back. lenses: 4 1/2 inch copy machine lenses, make unknown, aperture unknown, rear mounted leaf shutter ("T"), iris diaphram. No plenum.



Second largest river in the world, the mainstay of agricultural Egypt, which it has flooded about August each year since earliest antiquity. The Nile is 4000 miles long, at inundation it moves 400,000 gallons of water per second, at about Aswan it is 1600 feet wide.

The Aswan Dam was completed in 1902, 900 years after Alhazen's proposal to tame the river.



body: 100 foot 35mm capacity Graflex ID camera, modified; chain drive motor, duplex outlet, lamp sockets, 9" reflectors, FCT lamps, commutating circuit board; 3 rpm rotating base, wiring, slit shutter, lens board, dark slide. lens: Perfex anastigmat f:3.5 50mm, sn 51381, lens shade, 85 filter.


Books on OPTICS, in antiquity

Books on optics in antiquity deal with the optics of mirrors, including both flat and spherical mirrors. Euclid, Optics, ca. 300 BC; Ptolemy, Optics ca. 150 AD, both of Alexandria.

Ptolemy develops the theory of (atmospheric) refraction; the book is translated to Latin by ceratin Admiral Eugenius Siculus in the 12th century.

Ptolemy's other work includes a star map of 1018 stars, works on astronomy, geography, spherical geometry, and the first tables of sines. His works were in great demand in Europe for navigational purposes.



body: Pentax Auto 110 SLR, modified. lens: door peephole, added rear lens, mount.


Designed by Josef Max Petzval of Vienna, it had an aperture of f:3.5 and a field of 20 to 24 degrees, consisting of two telescope objectives, spaced, with a center stop. []

The lens lacked definition at the edges, which was no hindrance for portait use, which use, at any rate, remained the primary task of photography for all of the 19th century. The design was bought by Voightlander and Son, who made millions of these lenses during the next 60 years, at first complete with a camera which looked like a cannon.

Petzval made nothing from his venture, died poor, and with the complaint that it took him a year of calculations to come up with the design. He contributed to optical theory the principal that the sum of the reciprocals of the product of the refractive index and focal length of individual elements should be zero.



By the time photography is invented, 1839, the camera had heen available as a hardware store gadget for 140 years, its design dating back 400 years. Lenses had heen manufactured -- that is, mass produced -- for 560 years, and although fully color-corrected lenses had been around for 170 years, the first camera are equipped with the cheapest and simplest lenses: spectacles, sold as "landscape" lenses.



body: 120 film camera, make unknown, modified. lenses: Ansco Flash Clipper, separate shutters, flash sync; mounting hardware, plenum, tripod socket.


Invented, says Vasari, by Filippo Brunelleschi (1379 - 1446), who "spent much time studying perspective, the rules of which were imperfectly understood and at last discovered the correct method of making a ground plan and sections by means of intersecting lines."

But Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 - 1455) knew, as shown in his work on the bapistry doors, his annotation of Alhazen's MS on optics, and the last part of his Commentarii (ca. 1450). Also Pierro Della Francesca (1418 - 1492), who painted, studied math, and wrote on geometry and perspective, De Prospectiva Pingendi, ca. 1487, devised says Vasari, "using knowledge of Euclid." []

All the early Renaissance solutions to perspective come from Euclid, once it is understood how an image enters the eye and how in the opposite direction the same set of converging lines determines perspective

Alhazen showed that, not Euclid, even though Euclid's Elements had been the standard text on geometry since 300 BC.



base: porch flooring, tripod sockets, handle, limits; Series 7 G and RO filters in mounts; Kodak Browny Bullet camera.



The design of the Globe lens is taken to its extreme in 1933 by R. Richter of the Carl Zeiss Company -- 89 degrees coverage at f:6.3. This design is bought by be Bausch and Lomb Optical Company at the start or during WWII, renamed "Metrogon," and sold to the USAF for aerial reconnaissance, as the Carl Zeiss Company does with the Luftwaffe.

Technology is neutral, of course, and war industry is only interested in profit. Another story of this event has it that the B&L Company sells the lens design to the Zeiss Company during the war.



The Greeks understood vision in a manner akin to the sense of touch: that one reaches out "felt" the objects which were looked at. Sight was a willful manipulation and a way of exploration and learning.

This understanding has been lost; the camera is a symbol of how vision is understood today: light enters a dark chamber and is trapped.

One story is that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were responsible for this change: : a jealous God reduces man to a receptacle -- even prohibits image making in the Decalogue to avoid temptation.

Another story has it that the Geometry developed by the Academy, and codified by Euclid, explained, eventually, that images look at us, not we at them.

This concept will close be periods of iconoclasm for the East by the 9th century; Gregory has decided for the West in be 6th century, "It is one thing to worship a picture, and another to learn from the language of a picture..." Implementation as a cannonical policy would await the Council of Trent, 1545-63.



body: 6 x 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch packing box for Kodak 35mm RF Camera, modified; tripod socket, dark slide shutter, O.40 mm brass pinhole.


11 X 14 BOX CAMERA, 1987

body: 17 x 17 x 11 inch plywood, hundle, tripod mount, 11 x 14 back, stop holder, stopwatch. cloth holders. lens: Carl Zeiss S-Tessar 300 mm f:5.6, modified, front element focus, slot for Waterhouse stops (f:64 - f:90). shutter: Packard air operated shutter, line, bulb.

WlLLlAM WOLLASTON 1760 - 1828

Devised an improved lens for use with the camera obscura in 1812, known as a "landscape lens," consisting of a miniscus spectacle lens (concave front) with a front stop at f:11 or f:16.

These lenses covered a little over 20 degrees - equivalent to a 100 mm lens on a 35 mm camera - and therefore required a landscape to back away from as a subject, a well as the full sunlight of outdoors. The Wolleston lens is still in use today on almost all box cameras, covereing (today) a field of 40 to 50 degrees.



body: 8 inch diameter cookie tin, modified, 4 inch diameter coffee car film plane. 5 1/2 inch lazy susan, 6 x 6 inch wood base, 6 v battery holder, motor, pulleys, 2 mm slit shutter, holder for roll of 120 film. lens: General Scientific Corp. Kinar 5O mm f:2.3, sn 2016. Rotates at 2 1/2 spr. unwinding a roll of 120 film onto the film plane.

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