A projector made from a shoebox

by Leonie Düngefeld

Make it yourself (Issue IV/2021)


In the darkened office of the Cultural Exchange editorial office, finally a picture on the wall appeared. Photo: Daniel Seiffert

It’ll be a fun project, someone mooted in the editorial conference: we journalists should make something! We’ll make a film projector out of a shoebox. A beamer that projects smartphone videos through a magnifying lens and onto a wall. A simple and practical do-it-yourself project, in other words. The task, of course, finally is passed to me, the trainee. “But the contraption won’t work like one you buy in the electronics store,” I think. I remember the result of my last attempt to produce something myself: a candle that didn’t burn. But I’m an optimist. Handicraft, filming, watching - it can’t be that difficult. First step: getting the materials together. Shoeboxes I find in my spare room, Jess Smee (our English-language editor) rustles up a couple of magnifying glasses. “Easy,” I say and bring three showboxes to the editorial office, just incase.

“We can forget that,” sniffs picture editor Daniel Seiffert, who is supposed to be photographing the project, as he sees the cartons and magnifying glasses. “That’s not gonna work.” Timo Berger, from the neighbouring office, cackles helpfully. So I can’t count on my colleagues here. Ambition takes over. I re-read various instruction guides on the internet. “Transform your room into an actual cinema – simple!” goes a guide for children. Okay then, child’s play.

Next stop: tinkering. A hole in the side of the carton, for the magnifier. The smartphone then has to be attached within the box. But how to cut a circle out without leaving bits of frayed cardboard round the edges? The editorial office scissors are mainly good for slitting envelopes open, and the paper slicer almost takes off my index finger. Nail scissors would’ve been useful, but of course no-one has any. I eventually manage a not particularly attractive circle with the paper slicer. But in the end the lens is in place and my phone’s been stuck upside-down to an inner side of the carton. With victory in sight, I make my way with the miracle projector to quite possibly the office’s darkest realm: the bathroom. I look for a suitable photo on my phone and lock the settings. A gap above the door is still letting in light, but this is fine for a test-run. I point the magnifying box at the white-tiled wall and search for the image – but nothing shows up. 

“Daniel is balancing on a stool, trying to pull the blinds down without knocking the flowerpots off the windowsill. I get the feeling he’s slightly hoping this won’t be the most catastrophic project of his entire career as a photographer”

What a ridiculous idea – who’d construct a projector themselves? “Maybe the how-to guide was an April Fool?” says my co-worker Berger. I check once more through all the craft-projectorists I can find on the internet – you too can make a perfect picture on your wall!

Daniel and I now try a camera lens we find in the cupboard. You should be able to put it through the hole in the carton with the lens pointing inward. Lo and behold, you can make out on the wall the randomly chosen photo of the front of a house. At least, if that damn chink above the door wasn’t there – it’s still too light. “We can get it completely dark in here!” Daniel calls out from the chief editor’s office. He’s balancing on a stool, trying to pull the blinds down without knocking the flowerpots off the windowsill. I get the feeling he’s slightly hoping this won’t be the most catastrophic project of his entire career as a photographer.

In the dimmest corner of the room we finally manage to get a reasonably in-focus picture. We try it with a video of some fluffy clouds, but a bit more colour would’ve been nice. I summon up a picture of some colourful doughnuts on my phone. Their outlines pop up on the wall. Even my formerly derisive colleague is now an honorary member of the newly premiered editorial office movie palace. Behind his glasses his eyes light up as he finally discerns the flickering glint of the doughnut. “Leonie,” he grins, “that’s great cinema!” 

Translated by Scott Martingell

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