I had my portrait taken…by a 111 year old box camera!



On the last Sunday before our group left Havana, I met Pepe on the steps of Capitolio, the state building in Central Havana. I was intrigued by the contraption of a camera he was fiddling with, basically, a large box, covered by pieces of paper torn from magazines, on a wooden tripod. A quick smile and a “Ola, and we chatted in English. I discovered he was operating his grandfather’s 111 year old camera obscura, or box camera, ..and…he can take a photo with it, and produce a pretty instant print for me in less than 5 minutes..slightly wet print, mind you, but a REAL silver gelatin print and not a Polaroid! He went on to show me how he can process the paper inside the box after he had exposed the paper by opening the ‘shutter’, a plastic bottle cap for 1 second from the cheap scratched lens at the front. You see, there are two small shallow trays inside the box, which processes and washes the print, then he slides open the tray from the back of the camera, and continues to fix it in another tray! Finally he dunks the print (still a negative image) into a bucket of water to rinse it.

Watch the birdie!

That’s not all! Because the first image is a negative print, he then proceeds to re-photograph this print by placing it onto a bracket in front of the lens. Suddenly, his portrait lens converts into a macro-focusing one. Pepe then adds some ‘old trickery’ to the print by sticking a fake Capitolio dome above the portrait, sticks some reversed “Cuba” and “Havana” letters and voila! (He calls this Photoshop) A perfect portrait of me sitting in front of the Capitolio is completed.

Another few minutes pass by, and he is busy processing the final ‘positive’ print inside the camera and hands it to me still wet. All the show for 2 CUCs!

Simply amazing stuff. I got Pepe to do our group photo after that.


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