Heartbeat by Kwanghun Hyun

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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.

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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)

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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