Interview With Kiel Johnson, Creator of Cardboard Cameras

SLR by Kiel Johnson

SLR by Kiel Johnson

I was going to title this post: “Retro DSLR Displayed at Photokina” but was afraid you guys were simply going to stop believing me after that.

Remember the Kiel Johnson’s Cardboard Cameras we showed you about 2 weeks ago? Well, Kiel Johnson was kind enough to grant us an e-terview (email interview) and take the time to answer some of our questions. The flurry of new cameras pre- and during Photokina kind of sidetracked us from posting the interview but we’re now back on track.

P. How did you come up with the idea of sculpting cameras out of cardboard?

KJ. I had just finished the Twin Lens Reflex video with Theo Jemison and we used his massive arsenal of real SLRs [Single Lens Reflexs] to shoot it. The more actual cameras that showed up in the studio and started staring at me all day, the more I wanted to sculpt their portraits or just pay homage to their amazing variety of shapes and forms. Each camera has an individual personality and I wanted to showcase it. The TLR [Twin Lens Reflex] was way over sized so I just thought it would be nice to change it up and make these cameras the size they really are. Maybe a bit larger or exaggerated in places but for the most part true to life. That way the viewer can interact with them the same way they do a real one… it is just a fun thing to hold. Much like a gun or Tennis racket, simply fun to hold even if you dont use it.

It also seemed more challenging to build them true to life-sized: smaller parts = more patience.

TLR by Kiel Johnson

TLR by Kiel Johnson

P. Did you base them on any existing models? I believe I saw a Polaroid SX70 and perhaps a Zenit?

KJ. I asked a few friends who have good collections to take photos of their equipment and send it over. Once again my buddy Theo Jemison came through big by shooting all of his cameras for me in a very detailed way. Front , back, top, bottom, profile and 3/4 views for each camera… it was a fantastic resource to work from. I collaborate with Theo often and used his equipment so it seemed natural to base this series on his equipment. I know all these cameras and have operated or hung out with them at one time or another.

I also own a few cameras that I looked to for inspiration. There are still many more I would like to do. An old Panavision reel to reel movie camera on a dolly rig Cicill B DeMille style would be a fun project I think.

Panavision by Kiel Johnson

Panavision by Kiel Johnson

P. How long on the average does it take you to make a cardboard camera?

KJ. Probably about a week on each camera depending on the level of detail.

P. Have there been any buyers yet? Can interested buyers place an order?

KJ. I have sold many of them. The remaining cameras can be found at the Mark Moore Gallery in LA and Davidson Contemporary in NY. I have a few of the best ones here at the studio for my own collection. I would absolutely be interested in custom build for anyone interested in immortalizing their favorite light capturing device in paper. Please contact one of the above mentioned galleries to work out the details.

P. What kind of photography do you do mostly?

KJ. I am completely intrigued and blown away by the magic of photography.

P. What inspires you?

KJ. People who spend everyday doing what they love.

P. What project(s) are you on currently?

KJ. I try to have a few different projects going on at once in here. So who knows exactly what will happen this year but I am really looking forward to the show.

There are a few places I want to take this next round of work. Lately I have found myself building musical instruments. An instrument is comprised of so many interesting little parts and pieces. I just finished a beautiful little piccolo and have been working for the last few days on a set of bagpipes. A bugle is next. After building the Web Press it feels relaxing to just sit around a table and work on a smaller more hand held scale. I might conduct the first all paper symphony or perhaps pile them up and make drawings. It like the idea of creating your own still life objects. The drawings would come second. Sketching it out in 3-d so you can better draw it in 2-d.

I would love to work on a massive video project this year as well. Something that really has dimension to it. I have some ideas floating around out there but nothing solid. Many times you just have to get to work and the story unfolds.

P. Thank you, Kiel for sharing your work and thoughts with our readers!

You can see view the cardboard cameras pictured here and more at: hyperbolestudios

All pictures are copyright Kiel Johnson and reproduced with permission from Kiel Johnson.