The Afghan Box Camera: Not-So-Instant Instant Photography

The Afghan box camera, or kamra-e-faoree as it’s called in Afghanistan, is a humble creation that has served its purpose well for many years. We say humble because the “camera body” consists of a wooden box, the “focusing apparatus” is a metal shaft attached to a piece of wood, and the “shutter” is controlled by removing and reinserting the “lens cap” manually.

Taking a picture involves a series of complicated steps: from focusing, to acting as a human shutter, to developing and fixing the photo all inside that small wooden box — and that only gets you a negative. To finish the process the photographer has to go through the entire process again, photographing the negative to get a positive. And this is referred to as “Instant” photography… makes you yearn for the simplicity of Polaroid doesn’t it?

Here’s a video of the process from start to finish:

Sadly, the art of the Afghan box camera is nearing extinction; and before that happens Lukas Birk and Sean Foley, creators of the above video, are trying to document this art form as comprehensively as possible. They are currently about to embark on a second journey to Afghanistan during which they hope to collect even more information for their Afghan Box Camera Project.They’ve provided a wealth of information and, if you’ve got some spare time, you can even build you own camera using the instruction manual they’ve provided.

It might take some time, but think about it, you’d be one of the few people in the world who has one.

Afghan Box Camera Project (via ISO1200 and Make)

  • Damian

    Has no one ever read on the history of photography?
    This is very common in the earliest stages of photography.

  • Cristina Ortiz

    About Afghan box camera, I saw the same kind in Portugal last summer. There were two photographers taking photos with them in Viana do Castelo outside Santuary. It was the same. 30€/photo.

  • Lourens Smak

    I was in Viana do Castelo too (over 10 years ago!) and I also remember this camera! I took some pics of the photographer at work.

  • Jen B

    A photographer on Phototuts+ built a big version of one. The full video requires a “Premium” membership, but it’s cool if you have one.

  • Alan Dove

     Yes, this was a common setup for “quick” portraiture in the early decades of the 20th century, even in what we now call developed countries. Afghanistan is just one of the last places where this technique persisted.


    The client clearly didn’t give Nabi enough money. I guess some things are cross-cultural.

  • Damian M

     Its actually pretty interesting. We left the older processes behind all because we were looking to make things faster and “improve” on the techniques. I believe this caused from seeing the true potential of earlier processes and its starting to catch up. With the blandness of the digital era some people are starting to learn these processes and learning taking them further.

  • Mike O’Regan

    This procedure was common in GIBRALTAR for many years. I had ID photos done with this in the early 1950s (for visas to visit Spain). The photos were adequate for the job, but faded away in a few days.

  • Cristina Ortiz

    Lourens, I went there last summer… so.. it pervived and will pervive for ever..

  • Cristina Ortiz

    In Portugal, where I saw this camera last summer, took photographs in b/w with acceptable quality…

  • Namdac

    I guess a cheap client, is better than no client at all…