My old pal, Bay Area shutterbug Billy Baque, has a passion for the handmade, low-tech, all-in-one cameras-plus-darkrooms used by street photographers around the world.  The so-called Cuban Polaroid is a typical example—a wooden box with a light-tight sleeve for the photographer’s arm at one end and a lens on the other. Billy describes the typical use:

Using photographic printing paper the photographer would expose a sheet of paper for the negative, develop, stop, and fix it inside the camera, then put a copy stand on the camera and photograph the negative (to obtain a positive), develop, stop, and fix, then wash the final print in a coffee can of water attached to his homemade tripod.

Billy just hipped me to Lukas Birk’s Afghan Box Camera Project, an ethnographic study documenting the rapidly-vanishing traditions, technologies, and skills of street photographers in  Kabul.  The Afghan version of the Cuban Polaroid is known as the kamra-e-faoree, and Mr. Birk has gone to considerable lengths to document its traditional construction and use, preparing a detailed build guide and an on-site video minutely recording lifelong Kabuli street photographer Qalam Nabi, in action, with his. [Thanks, Billy!]

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • R D Fair Photography

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • http://www.teamdroid.com John K

    Amazing, I’m building one of these now.

  • http://gravatar.com/stuckintampa stuckintampaTony Wilhoit

    The title says “How-To: Build and Use an Afghan Box Camera” but I don’t see the instructions. Am I missing something? Is there a link somewhere I’m suppose to know about to open something to show the details? I’m new on MAKE and need all the help I can get. ☼ Thank you! ♫

    • Sean Ragan

      Hello! Sorry for the confusion. The How-To content in this case is not hosted on our site, but on Mr. Birk’s. Here’s a link you can follow to see it:

      http://www.afghanboxcamera.com/abcp_camera_howtobuild.htm

      This link is included in the above text, from the words “a detailed manual.” We are contemplating a change in our link styling to make it clearer where to find resources in this case. Thanks for reading.