The Cube: The Story of a 6 Foot by 6 Foot by 6 Foot Camera

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How many of you have ever built a camera? And if you have, how many of you have built a really big camera? We’re not talking about your typical 8×10 format, we’re going big. One year ago prior to the publishing of this story, I interviewed Andrea Pizzini–one of the creators of the Cube. The Cube isn’t something from the Star Trek universe, but it is still a very big feat of engineering. This Cube is a camera that must be dismantled, reassembled, and that shoots positives of more than 3 feet by 3 feet.

We decided to catch up with Andrea to see how the project has been coming along.


Phoblographer: The idea to build the cube camera came in 2009. It shoots 3 foot by 3 foot positives and required a Nikon industrial enlarger lens to create the images. What’s been happening with the cube since you first started releasing and publishing the first images?

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Andrea: The biggest news was that Ilford decided to stop the production of the Ilochrome (ex-Cibachrome) paper. We had to find the money to order the last stock of CIbachrome. A total of 20 rolls for almost 16.000 Euro. This will allow us to take 280 pictures in the time to come. So we were pretty busy on finding sponsors. We “lost” almost one year searching for this. After we got the rolls we started a project where we photograph people we care about. Friends that have particular stories like Harald who lives a life totally paralyzed. In that picture you see him with his girlfriend.

Phoblographer: You initially wanted to document towns and neighborhoods that were on the brink of death to change. Why did you guys stop?

Andrea: We had to stop almost one year to get the paper. And then because of cost reasons we decided to focus on stories about the people we know. We will photograph the life around us instead of doing costly projects around the world.

Phoblographer: When you built the camera, you went through various different lenses until you came to this one from Nikon. Do you still feel it was a good decision?

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Andrea: Yes. It’s an amazing lens! Very sharp and nice color rendition. But we are looking forward to buying a Roddenstock (the Rodenstock Apo Ronar 16 1800mm Extreme Telelens) that has a much larger image circle because we want a better edge to edge sharpness. The Nikon softens a lot in the corners which is very nice for a certain kind of photography but we would like to have different lens style options 🙂

Phoblographer: That lens had a 2.5 meter imaging circle and you and Christian wanted to build another cube camera later on to take full advantage of the imaging circle. Did that ever happen? If so, tell us about what building that camera was like?

Andrea: We still plan to do this. But as I told you before we had to cover the costs for the paper purchase. Building a new camera will require around 8-10.000 Euro even if we will build it for our own. The material costs are the problem.

Phoblographer: How do you focus and shoot something this big?

Andrea: Inside the cube we have a white plate to see the projected image. We use a lupe to check the focus. It works pretty well. The problem is when you photograph people with 2-4 seconds of exposure. We have to “teach” them how to stay still. They have to breathe out the air a few seconds before we take the photo. But the biggest cause of people not standing still is that they think too much. When they breathe out the air and then have to stand still they start to think things like “damn, now I have a bad face” and they move the eyes or change the expression a little. So we have to train them to be carefree.

Phoblographer: The last time we met, I saw the images and they were stunning. But I agreed with you when you said that the prints are far better than the scans. Do you feel that technology has caught up to being able to replicate the quality of the prints you made back then using the treated Ilfochrome paper that you did?

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Andrea: Of course today’s technology can create superb pictures. But there are many small details that still make a difference. First of all taking a picture on a large “paper” (in digital this would be sensor) gives you a completely different feeling of the space. Then there is the unique color richness of Cibachrome. Digital also has some inherent characteristics that makes you “feel” an image in a different way. For example it has a perfect regular pixel structure while Cibachrome has a more irregular and therefore in my opinion more natural look.

But really, the main difference is that we create a unique positive picture that can’t be reproduced. Every picture we take is unique and will always remain unique. And we spend days to just create that one single photo. It’s exactly the opposite way of doing and thinking photography (compared to the digital culture).

Phoblographer: Where is this project going to go?

Andrea: Right now we keep photographing the story of people that have some particular “marks” in their lives. But we also plan to do some bigger travel. But we are still looking to get the money for it 🙂

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