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Photographic Lenses

The Department of Ceramics and Glass Design, Supervised by Dafna Kaffeman and Dr. Tal Frenkel Alroy 2019


The subject I chose for this study is photo lenses. My starting point was photography as a hobby, something that is of direct interest to me. Photography is an occupation that accompanies me from a very young age. I started studying photography and cinema already in elementary school and continued to study film in high school. In my military service, I was a photographer and video producer in the Air Force.11 The Air Force, IDF ... Thus, cinema and photography have been a major part of my engagements, and the world of photography and especially the use of an analog camera has become my hobby over the years.

Therefore, I decided that my glass research would touch the field of photography. The camera and its mechanisms are a whole world made up of many components and systems, and in my research, I chose to focus on the lens – an optical component made of glass whose function is to transmit light. I began to delve into the lens – what is it made of, how is it built, what is its role within the camera apparatus in a more physical aspect? While reading in depth about the physics of the lens I realized that I was also interested in reading philosophical writings on photography to expand my knowledge of it and read about perspective as a (literal) point of view, about objectivity and subjectivity and the tension between them.

In my work and lens making, I decided that I wanted to challenge this tension – the tension between physics – matter, and philosophy – essence. The questions that first came to me are what the photographic lens is, what its function is and what it is made of.

The Lens – Optics


I began to read about optics (geometrical optics), which is a science that deals with light.22 Sidney, F, R. ... Light waves are electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum, which means it is visible to the human eye. The light waves produce the colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. There are also intermediate colors. Infrared rays are below the frequency range of the red color, and ultraviolet rays are above the range of the purple color. In both cases, it is a frequency range that the human eye cannot see (the infrared waves are too long, and the ultraviolet waves are too short to affect the human eye).

Light has some key features: it can be refracted, reflected, transmitted or absorbed. As the rays of light move from one medium to another (with different densities), the direction of the rays will change.

Converging lens

As white light passes through a prism, the various waves of light are refracted to varying degrees depending on the wavelength. Red light refracts to a lesser extent and purple refracts more – this is a phenomenon known as “scattering”. Therefore, when one builds photo lenses, different lenses will usually be used to compensate for this effect.

The lens is a transparent material that is usually made of glass and has two opposing surfaces. The lens creates the subject image by changing the direction of light (light refraction). Each point on the object sends light rays in all directions. The role of the lens is to transfer all those rays to a common plane and create the object’s image. The point at which the rays converge from the object converge is called the focal point. The focal length of the lens is measured by the distance from the focal point to the optical center of the lens.

Diverging Lens

The rays of light moving parallel to the optical axis of the lens fall on a (positive) converging lens, refract and cross one another at a point on the other side – the focal point.

In contrast, a (negative) diverging lens scatters the light rays that hit it. In a diverging lens the focal point is located on the opposite side of the focal point of a convergent lens and therefore the focal distance from the center of the lens is negative.

There are three factors that determine the focal length of the lens: the lens surface curve, the type of glass, and the distance between the lens elements. When the lens glass is manufactured well and skillfully, it reduces problems related to light control. The raw material with which lens designers work is optical glass. This glass is created in a liquid chemical mixture containing barium and tantalum oxide.

The Philosophy of Photography

The second part of my research, following the physical investigation, focused on philosophical writings on the world of photography. I shall specify the writings that I have read and note the relevant points to my research and to a way of perceiving reality through photography and photographic art. I chose to elaborate on what made me identify and was relevant to my modus operandi. These texts provided inspiration to create the lenses that I planned.

Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”33 Barthes, R. (2006). ...

Roland Barthes, according to my understanding, deals with the randomness of photography. A photo reproduces an irreplaceable and unchangeable event – entirely permeated with randomness to the extent that it is a transparent and weightless shell. In other words, the photograph is never distinguished from what is photographed. The photograph, no matter its subject or its forms, will always be invisible – we do not see it but rather the thing photographed.

From a technical point of view, the art of photography is at the intersection of two distinct modes of action – one chemical, that is, the action of light on certain materials, and the other physical, that is, a shape designed by using an optical device.

Barthes argues that when we stand in front of the lens, we experience the anxiety of someone who is uncertain about their origins – that through photography we experience the evocation or creation of our image, that our wish is that the image in the photograph will always overlap our deep self. But the self in the photograph will never overlap with that deep self, mainly because the image in the photograph will always be frozen, heavy, obstinate, while the “I” is light, split and scattered. The photograph is my appearance as someone else: the clever disconnection of consciousness from identity.

Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) wrote the Kino Eye Menifesto manifesto,44 Vertov, D. (1984). ... creating the famous movie “Man with a Movie Camera” in 1929.55 Man with a Movie ... Vertov wrote in his manifesto, “We cannot improve the way our eyes are built, but we can infinitely perfect the camera”. He wrote at length on the camera as a separate entity, as an eye free of human limitations, an eye that can be anywhere, document anything – even places the human eye cannot reach – an eye free of the constraints of time and space and that allows us to discover a world we did not know existed.66 For segments of ...

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”77 Benjamin, W. ...

Walter Benjamin, as I see it, talks about the fact that photography first freed the human hand from the main artistic chores that were now the sole function of the eye looking through the lens. “As the eye perceives faster than the painter’s hand, the reproduction process accelerated to such an extent that it surpassed the pace of speech”. He, too, like Vertov, talks about the fact that the lens allows to highlight aspects and views of the source that are related to authenticity, that it is not limited in choosing its viewing point and can obtain them, unlike the human eye. It also makes it possible to uphold, through processes such as enlarging or slowing down, images of what is completely beyond the capacity of the natural sight mechanism.

Benjamin also writes that reproduction allows the photographed object to be found elsewhere from the source and give as an example of photograph of a cathedral found in an art collector’s lounge.

In another essay by Walter Benjamin – “A Short History of Photography”88 Benjamin, W. ... – he writes that in the sphere of photography, unlike the sphere of vision permeated by human conscious influence, there appears a space permeated by human unconscious influence.

The Practical Study

Photography is meant to produce an accurate image of a particular object or figure, so most cameras have several lenses (for example, a converging lens and a diverging lens) to create an image that is as close to reality as we experience through our vision apparatus. But what is our reality? Our reality is subjective, our truth is not one truth and so are our ways of seeing reality. Therefore, to me, the art of photography can express not only what the artist chooses to photograph, but also the way they photograph, or the lens they use to show their world and point of view. The camera and photography have the power to go beyond the natural sight apparatus, so there is a need to use the lens as a means to express the personal world view.

In the material research, I created several glass lenses that were divided into two categories: glass lenses from the furnace (spectrum glass) and optical glass lenses. A detailed explanation of each lens preparation is given in the Appendix. I made the lenses in the hot workshop and I designed each of them differently. In some I changed the thickness of the lens, in others I distorted the shape of the lens, and still other I cracked.

Then I shot with three different cameras: the first is my film camera, Nikon EF, the second is a semi-automatic film camera, the Olympus iS 100, and the third, with a little more up-to-date technology, my iPhone 6 camera.

Below are some of the photographs:

Image 1: Lenses From Spectrum Glass






Image 2: Photos Shot With the Nikon EF






Image 3: Photos Shot With the Olympus iS 100




Image 4: Photos Shot With the iPhone 6









Image 5: Lenses from Optical Glass






Image 6: Photos Shot With the iPhone 5


There were differences in working with both cameras: Using the film camera made it harder to work simultaneously with the camera and the lenses, but the results are intriguing and attractive to me. There is something about working with a mechanical and non-digital apparatus that is more conceptually correct – I have more control over the functions of the camera, such as the aperture or shutter, and the possibility of further exploring the mechanism in more depth.

The second camera, however, the iPhone camera, was much easier to operate with the lenses and produced interesting results, and it is also much faster to operate. The digital camera of the iPhone has a different image quality and a different immediacy from those of the film camera.

From this examination of the two worlds, the digital and the mechanical, manifested in the cameras and their operation, I find myself asking more questions about the conceptual meaning of photography in the operational context.

In my study, I chose to take pictures of my everyday environment, the studio I work in, the people around me, the window in front of me, the fluorescent lights above me… The images that appear in some of the photos are of varying clarity, for example the window that appears in some of the photos – sometimes it is very clear and at other times it is less clear or, even if clear, it is distorted, and there are even moments when we do not see the window at all but we “get lost” among spots and strokes of color to the extent that the image completely disappears.

There are many photos I take of myself, and this made me reflect that at this age, a lot of people are using contemporary technology – iPhone cameras as a kind of mirror, “selfie” photos, self-examination, what photography once could not achieve. The camera has never enabled this function in such immediacy. Thus, in the “selfie” photos with each of the lenses I’ve made, my face was distorted in different ways, from a small distortion to one that makes me completely unidentifiable.

The camera and the lens no longer function as our natural vision mechanism, and certainly not as a mirror that objectively reflects who we are and what we are, but a lens that distorts our appearance, which reaches the subconscious space, which expresses the subjectivity of photography. The results “do not satisfy the desire to see”. My self, which is scattered and dynamic, which freezes in the “normal” picture – suddenly changes in the pictures I took of myself, and its dispersed and dynamic character become present in the picture. The “I” comes out, in different forms of expression, in different parts, and raises questions of who I am, what I am, what is distorted and what is not, what is true and what is not real.

In this research I have been able to implement in lenses what I have learned, both in the physical and the philosophical aspects, and to transform my knowledge into lenses that are my own, which are part of my art and part of what I am, both as objects and as light transmitters. Through them I took pictures that are part of my perception of reality and succeeded in making the philosophical and theoretical into practical work.

In my research, so I believe, I have shown that photography can express different ways of thinking and seeing by redesigning the lens. By doing so, photography and lens become an object. The photo, when its subject is unclear, makes us aware that we are looking at a picture. The fact that we have no grip on the image directs our gaze back to the object. We return to a preliminary stage of constructing an image, and in fact these images break down reality and make the photo’s subject unclear, in which the viewer can attempt to decipher what they see, but the viewer becomes more active as a viewer of the photograph. The photograph promotes the deconstruction of denotation, connotation and iconography and brings us back to the initial stage of identifying a blotch, a line and a shape – a perception of pure form.99 Panofsky, E. ...

I suggest the lenses I created emphasize the tension between the different perspectives, undermine a single conception of reality, a single truth, and they point at the tension between the subjective and the objective.

Each lens takes centerstage to express something unique, and to manipulate reality and evoke the space of the subconscious out of photography clearly and deliberately – all of which creates vagueness and uncertainty.

From this examination of the two worlds, the digital and the mechanical, expressed in the chosen cameras and their operation, I find myself asking more questions about the conceptual meaning of photography in the operational context. That is, beyond the research in which I have so far dealt with the lens-camera relationship, I would like to explore the relationship between mechanical photography and digital photography and their mutual influences.

I would like to continue with the research into different spheres, to continue to read about this interesting topic on which there is endless literature and engage with it from a more personal perspective – to try building a camera with my own lenses, and to try making more lenses in different ways.

This study accompanies me and will do so for a long time. The world of photography has been present in my life for many years, and this study has laid a path for me to a deeper and broader understanding of what truly interests me in the art of photography.


My Lens-making process

The process of making lenses from spectrum glass

attache 1

1. Using a pipe, initial material is scooped from the kiln
2. A bubble is blown
3. More material is collected, and the glass is shaped with a newspaper
4. The glass is blown into a uniform bubble
5. A jack line is made
6. The bubble is formed, and a warp is created for the lens, for example by placing it in water, or laying it on the marver, or pushing it inside – whatever you want or feel like doing.
7. The glass is taken down to the annealer for annealing process
8. The formed bubble is taken to be sawed off
9. We have a lens

The process of making lenses from optical glass

attache 2

1. The optical glass is placed in a pick up and heated to 600 0C
2. A pipe is taken and a collar is formed on it (from glass from the kiln)
3. With the collar, the pieces of optical glass are collected from the pick up
4. The optical glass is heated (it takes forever to heat the optical glass – it heats up much slower than spectrum glass)
5. The glass is laid on the marver until a uniform shape is achieved
6. The glass is re-heated and a bubble is attempted, but that’s what comes out (as shown in the drawing : ) optical glass/spectrum glass

Conclusion: spectrum glass heats up much faster than optical glass, which results in uneven blowing and a bubble that through the spectrum glass.

Second attempt at lens-blowing from optical glass

attache 3

1. A pipe is taken and heated to a very high temperature
2. Optical glass is collected with the hot pipe from the pick up
3. Heat is applied (takes ages)
4. The glass is placed on the marver for uniform shape
5. A bubble is attempted – but only a small and uncentered bubble comes out
6. Heat is applied again for a long time and the the pipe is blown into (possible uniformly)
7. The bubble is shaped
8. The glass is taken down to the annealer
9. The bubble is sawn into halves
10. We have optical lenses in a variety of shapes

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1. The Air Force, IDF (1969). Elements of Photography. Tel Aviv: Air Force – Instruction Publications.
2. Sidney, F, R. (2002). Applied Photographic Optics: Lenses and Optical Systems for Photography, Film, Video, Electronic and Digital Imaging. Oxford: Focal Press.
3. Barthes, R. (2006). Camera Lucida. London: Vintage Publishing.
4. Vertov, D. (1984). Kino-eye: The Writing of Dziga Vertov. London, England: University of California Press.
5. Man with a Movie Camera, Dir. Dziga Vertov, 1929.
6. For segments of Vertov’s movie Man with a Movie Camera, and a link to a short text from Kino Eye Manifesto, see: https://youtu.be/XoMT194SUvE.
7. Benjamin, W. (2008). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin Books.
8. Benjamin, W. (2015). “A Short History of Photography”. In On Photography. London: Reaktion Books.
9. Panofsky, E. (1955). “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art”. In Panofsky, E., Meaning in the Visual Arts: Papers in and on Art History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, pp. 26–54.


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  3. Barthes, R. (2006). Camera Lucida. London: Vintage Publishing.
  4. Benjamin, W. (2008). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin Books.
  5. Benjamin, W. (2015). “A Short History of Photography”. In On Photography. London: Reaktion Books.
  6. Deuelle Luski, A. (2012). Reality Trauma and the Internal Logic of Photography. Tel Aviv: Shpilman Institute for Photograpy.
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  9. Sidney F, R. (2002). Applied Photographic Optics: Lenses and Optical Systems for Photography, Film, Video, Electronic and Digital Imaging. Oxford: Focal Press.
    The Air Force, IDF (1969). Elements of Photography. Tel Aviv: Air Force – Instruction Publications.
  10. Vertov, D. (1984). Kino-eye: The Writing of Dziga Vertov. London, England: University of California Press.
  11. Young, H. D., Freedman, R. A., Ford, A. L., & Sears, F. W. (2004). Sears and Zemansky’s
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