During a business trip in Dallas, Austin photographer Ian Kasnoff found himself scribbling away on a Belmont Hotel cocktail napkin after a few drinks. He was sketching out plans for an old box trailer he owned. What he drew up on that napkin would send him down a rabbit hole of large format photography and giant makeshift cameras.
What Kasnoff has dubbed the TrailerCamera, the simplest possible trademark name he could think of, is the third iteration of his cocktail-napkin scribble, concocted nearly four years ago. It is a 16-foot-long enclosed trailer he converted into a camera, complete with its own darkroom. It was not always so big and sophisticated, however.
Back in 2014, Kasnoff had just moved into a new home and was looking to sell his old five-foot-long storage trailer. Once he checked the going prices for trailers like his on Craigslist, he was confident he would not get the money he wanted out of it. He decided to go a different route.
He had always been a fan of photographers Dennis Manarchy and Abelardo Morell, who created their own giant cameras out of a trailer bed and an ice fishing tent. This ultimately inspired Kasnoff to create a camera obscura, a darkened box with a lens, out of his trailer.
For his first attempt at his camera on wheels, Kasnoff used an old enlarging lens to shoot the outside world into his trailer. The lens worked. His new camera was up and running, but he wanted a project to pursue with it.
“I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to take a super homemade weird little contraption that requires no real electricity or anything and go shoot people who’ve created off-the-grid lifestyles.’ It was a little bit of a stretch,” he says.
Kasnoff landed his first official subject for his new gadget. He went out to a homestead in West Texas called Field Lab, owned by John Wells. The shoot went well, but it was clear the camera needed to be even bigger.
Luckily, Kasnoff was able to sell the trailer and buy a new hand-me-down from a friend of his brother-in-law. He finally had a camera he could stand up in, one that was twice as long and a couple feet wider. Things were looking up.
The American Institute of Graphic Arts then invited Kasnoff to the Design Ranch, a three-day workshop retreat in Hunt, Texas. They wanted him to talk to attendees about his giant camera. Unfortunately for him, it rained a lot that year.
“This trailer was such a hunk of crap. It was just leaking everywhere,” he says. “It was kind of a nightmare.”
At this point, he realized it was time to get serious. He could not keep working with the piece-of-junk trailers he had before. So, he bought an even better one. Like before, it was a little bigger and better than the last.
Around this time, he started experimenting with different lenses. His latest machine is complete with two lenses: a wide angle and a telephoto. The camera can take images and print them in six to seven minutes.
To him, this is a never-ending project.
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“As far as it being the final thing, it’s kind of fluid as I get other ideas,” Kasnoff says. “It’s essentially an idea on wheels that I can kind of work with and play around with.”
A lot of money has been spent on this four-year venture, Kasnoff says. It has all been worth it. The trials and errors he subjected himself to have led him to a better understanding of his photography and creative process.
The TrailerCamera has always been a personal project. He has never done it for anyone else. Next, he says, he wants to experiment with shipping containers.
Kasnoff will roll into DFW for a workshop on his TrailerCamera at 2 p.m. Sept. 30 during the third annual PolaCon, the world’s first three-day instant film convention (Sept. 28-30 in Dallas and Denton).