Jo Babcock as an Inventor Photographer

“You’ve made a mistake. I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be a photographer!”          Jo Babcock

Jo Babcock - Headshot  I recently read a fascinating photography book by Jo Babcock called, “The Invented Camera, Low Tech Photography & Sculpture.” It doubles as photography and sculpture since this inventor made his own pinhole cameras out of found objects. Then he took photos that matched the theme of the camera. It is quite an innovative double photographic subject. He even turned a van into a large format camera. There is a video of this van in action from November 2008. Just click the link below.

VW Van Camera by Jo Babcock

Jo and his friend converted an old Volkswagen Beetle van into a portable large format camera. “We blocked out the windows, side doors area to hold the pinhole aperture and built a double, light baffle into the back hatch so we could set the camera up, pin the light sensitive paper to the far wall, Our aperture was too small and the exposures usually took four hours but we did get a couple of color, negative prints to work.” (Malone). During the 1980s, Babcock got deeply involved in large scale photographic projects.

San Francisco in the early ‘80s was roaring with performance, installation and conceptual art. (Malone). “In 1986, I got a bright idea and with a buddy, I organized and produced a huge, multi-site show called, The HOTEL PROJECT. About sixty artists participated at an old hotel in West Oakland.” (Malone). Each had their own room to produce whatever art they wanted. This is also when he started using suitcases converted to pinhole cameras and photographing motels. He continued this trend by converting old objects into pinhole cameras. For instance, he converted an old log cabin syrup tin into a camera and took a picture of a log cabin. This accumulated into a body of work that eventually led to his book The Invented Camera (2005).

The Invented Camera - Low Tech Photography and Sculoture - Jo Babcock - 2005

Log Cabin - Jo Babcock

Catching Light :: Making Cameras with Artist Jo Babcock

Jo Babcock Photography


43 Hawthorne Place

I acquired a collection of seven images of the same house taken at different times of the year and at different years. There are no dates on the images yet the second postcard has something written on the back. I highlighted the script two different ways to make it more legible. I believe it says Santa Claus. This real photo postcard does depict a snowy wintry scene. The five photos and two real photo postcards were taken in Summit, New Jersey. One photograph had the street address written on the front yet no town or state. I searched using the street address and found a recent color photo of the house. It was from a real estate listing from 2017. The color photo was an exact match of the black & white images. The original listing did have gorgeous interior views of this well preserved house. The Facts and Features are from the original real estate listing courtesy of Keller Williams Realty.

Facts and Features

5 beds4 baths3,532 sqft

Type: Single Family

Year Built: 1923

Lot: 0.33 acres

Last listing: 6/15/2017

Keller Williams Realty

Kodak & APS

APS logo

In February 1996, the Advanced Photo System (APS) was introduced as a joint project with Kodak, Fuji, Canon, Nikon, and Minolta. The IX240 film cartridges are optimized for fully automatic film loading, enclosing the 24mm wide film completely when not in use. (Camerapedia).

Some of the features provided by the Advanced Photo System include:

  • Magnetic information exchange (IX): A virtually transparent magnetic layer coated across the filmstrip that can be used by cameras and other writing devices to record scene related information that, in turn, can be retrieved by photofinishing and post-processing equipment to provide higher quality pictures and other features.
  • Drop-in film cartridge loading.
  • Three different picture formats (Classic, HDTV, and Panoramic aspect ratios). (Wayback Machine).

Most APS format cameras support 3 exposure formats:

  • C for “classic” (25.1 x 16.7 mm; aspect ratio 3:2; 4×6″ print or 10×15 cm print)
  • H for “HDTV” (30.2 x 16.7 mm; aspect ratio 16:9; 4×7″ print or 10×18 cm print)
  • P for “panoramic” (30.2 x 9.5 mm; aspect ratio 3:1; 4×12″ print or 10×24 cm print)

The exposure data is used for corrections of underexposure or overexposure by the photo lab.  It’s also used for removing a film from a camera for putting it back into it later. Thus a photographer can switch between color film and black and white film until both films are full. The additional mechanical marker in the film cartridge shows when a film is full. This marker shows whether the film is empty, in use, full, or developed. (Camerapedia).

APS IX240 cartridge diagram

The Visual Exposure Indicator is a series of four icons located on one end of the film cartridge which provide the following information regarding the exposure status of the filmstrip:

Visual Exposure Indicator

The “partially exposed” indicator is designed for photographers who have cameras designed for mid-roll film changing. Cameras with this feature provide the flexibility to change film types and speeds, at any time, at the user’s discretion. (Wayback Machine).

APS IX240 cartridge

“Despite the new film’s features, its size hindered its adoption by professional photographers, having only 80% of the frame size (diagonal) of 35mm film and 56% of the area (at best, with HDTV format; panorama format has only 30% area). It was planned to give this sort of film a higher resolution to give APS users a clear advantage. But soon, 35mm films were sold with the same resolution.” (Camerapedia). The APS film advantages were overshadow within five years by higher resolution 35mm films and by cheaper digital cameras. To compound the problem fresh APS film was last manufactured in 2011 with Kodak being the only company to issue black & white film.

APS cameras and film group photo

Outdated film that was not stored properly does not develop well. Despite that you get film with weird characteristics that can be exploited by digital editing. Posted here are two APS film images I took with one being color and the other black & white. You see the before and after photos can be quite dramatic. The color film was reasonably fresh thus it developed quite well. By contrast the black & white film was not fresh and you see how it came out. This image was edited to bring out the highlights of the scene and it came out in a way you could not Photoshop it. Photoshop does not have a feature where you can turn an original image into an outdated ‘stale’ image than reedit it to look funky.

APS film test BW 15APS film test BW 20APS film test color 25APS film test color 30

Advantix is Kodak’s brand name used for its APS cameras and film, including some disposable cameras. For the above photos I used the Olympus Centurion. “The Centurion was Olympus’s SLR for the Advanced Photo System (APS). It was called a “bridge camera” or a “ZLR” (Zoom Lens Reflex) since it was a real single lens reflex camera, but with built-in lens. It was more compact than other SLRs for the APS film system.” (Camerapedia). When you buy outdated film there is no way to tell if it has been stored properly until you have it developed. You can take a chance and just digitally edit it for maximum effect.

Olympus Centurion frontOlympus Centurion back


About the Advanced Photo System