Heartbeat by Kwanghun Hyun

Articles | Featured | 05.20.2013

Sometimes, something so cool comes to our attention that even though it’s not a watch, we have to show it to you. Well, this is one of those situations, kind of. You see, what we are about to discuss isn’t a watch, but its most fundamental function is powered by one. Introducing the Heartbeat cameras by Kwanghun Hyun, a series of beautiful handmade cameras that utilize watch movements for their timing mechanisms.

Kwanghun Hyun is a Korean photographer, designer, tinkerer, craftsman and engineer rolled into one. Educated in metal craft at Hongik University, Seoul, his work is less focused on the end product and rather on the tools used to create it. From lighting devices to tools to lenses to the occasional watch (more on that later) he creates industrial objects from scratch. The objects that he is most focused on, however, are pinhole cameras. 

For those unfamiliar, a pinhole camera is essentially the simplest and oldest form of camera, being a direct descendant of the camera obscura. Basically, when reflected light passes through a small hole the image is preserved and projected, up-side down. The smaller the hole the sharper, but dimmer, the image will be. A camera obscura uses this principle to project an image live, say onto a canvas. A pinhole camera uses the same exact principle in a light sealed box to expose film. Pinhole cameras can be as simple as shoebox with a hole in it, or as complicated as Mr. Hyun’s creations.

A critical aspect of the pinhole camera is long exposure time. The tiny aperture lets in a very limited amount of light, so exposures have to compensate by being several seconds to many minutes long. As such, a timing device is needed. Kwanghun Hyun’s Heartbeat cameras utilize watch movements to control the duration the shutter is open, the name referring to the pulsing of the balance.

Heartbeat 1 is a beautiful box of brass with plates, knobs and rings all machined by the artist himself. Of course, the most striking element is the modified Unitas 6497 mounted to the front of the camera. As you can see the crown, complete with crown guards, protrudes from the side of the unit, as the movement must be wound to function. The Heartbeat then would work like most cameras. Set the shutter speed, press the shutter release and the film is exposed.

Heartbeat 2 is essentially the same thing, except the movement has been rebuilt. Mr. Hyun made his own movement plate and bridges, took apart an existing movement and reassembled it. The end result is a more streamlined camera shape, with the watch contained within a sealed compartment on the top of the camera. While the camera is fascinating unto itself, that fact that he essentially redesigned a watch movement to have a new architecture, but the same components is really remarkable.

The photos taken with the two cameras are soft and dreamlike. The colors are faded, almost bleached in nature, and there is a general lack of definition. There is also heavy vignetting around the edge of the photos. Unlike the stark metal exteriors, the photos are surprisingly ethereal and moody.

There is so much to admire and enjoy about these mechanical works of art. Raw and industrial, they are living mechanisms with no aesthetic skin. The incorporation of watch movements into these machines breathes life, almost literally, into the otherwise stark components. Mechanical watches and clocks are rare objects in that they have a sort of simulated life. They have a heartbeat or breath that requires energy. They need you to input that energy and as such are objects that are dependent on people. Cameras typically do not have this anthropomorphic quality, though clear references to vision and perception can be made. Mr. Hyun’s creations, however, now are alive whether in your hand or on a shelf.

Kwanghun Hyun’s interest in watch movements hasn’t stopped with the Heartbeat cameras. He currently has made one dial test and one complete watch, in which he has repurposed an old movement. With an aesthetic that speaks to the method of production, there is a clear relationship between the watches and the Heartbeat cameras.  Given his ability to redesign movements with existing parts, we are eager to see what his next creation will be.

Mr. Hyun kindly provided us with many process photos from the making of the Heartbeat cameras. They give you an insight into the amount of craft and skill taken to design, manufacture and assemble these two cameras. From CNC milling to hand polishing, Mr. Hyun was part of the process every step of the way. Be sure to view the gallery below.

Images and information courtesy of Kwanghun Hyun

Special Thanks to Jay Lee for bringing this to our attention and translating (check out his awesome photos here: jaeyulee.com)

by Zach Weiss

  • http://www.stockwatches.com.au david

    I want that heartbeat 1!

  • http://URL Seb C

    seriously as a photographer and a watch enthusiast (as well as a profound attraction to object that were designed to perform well and not sell a lot like today) i can only approve of this andtry to get my hands on one

  • http://URL jaylee

    I know this guy and always make me feel amazing to see his hand skill. Great Article!

  • http://URL Henry J. Miller

    An old school craftsman and artisan.

  • http://www.horologium.com.au horologium

    Wow, just an amazing labour of love.

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  • http://URL Stefan

    His site is unreachable. Does he sale these? And for how much?

  • http://www.kwanghun.com Kwanghun Hyun

    My website are “www.studio3hands.com” and “www.kwanghun.com”.

    • http://URL Stefan

      Sir, I can’t access any of your sites. Google has a cached copy of http://www.kwanghun.com, but it’s only the frontpage, and it is badly displayed, being just a cached copy. Please make an alternative on some popular blog site, like Blogger, or WordPress. Your work is amazing, it so happens that I was imagining a mix between a mechanical watch and a film camera for some time, so seeing someone doing such things feels amazing, especially since you are kind enough to show the process of making such wonders.

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