One day, while having some beers and watching the movie Short Circuit, which follows a goofy military robot named Johnny 5 gone AWOL, writer and artist James Rauff and his friend decided to take apart an old Canon Powershot S410 camera. By the end of the movie, the two had fashioned its innards and exterior parts into their own miniature Johnny 5, which they named J6, reminiscent of artist Géza Szöllősi turning dissected insects into DIY robots. Since then, Rauff has made other recycled robot artworks from junked digital cameras, turning them into art figurines that he showcases on his website, Recirculation Art.
From Rauff’s perspective, he is giving old cameras a second life, though of course not as functioning robots, nor as working cameras. Rauff’s work is a commentary on how fast technology moves, but also how attached people are to images.
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“Pictures really remind us of a time and feeling, kind of like songs do,” says Rauff. “l wanted to bridge that attachment of imagery to the device that once took those images. I remember my first digital camera and all the trips and memories I had with it. Of course I turned him into a robot—his name is Little Bonanza, and I think he remembers all those trips and memories, too.”
Rauff makes each robot with its own internal parts that have rendered the camera non-functional. To make his robots, Rauff first opens them up with little screwdrivers, then removes all of the parts. Using a few tools like tin snips and a Dremel rotary tool, Rauff cuts and shapes the old camera’s microchips and plastics, which he then fits together with glue and epoxy.
“I try to start each robot without an idea of how it will look and just kind of let it develop,” Rauff says. “Hands-down, the hardest part is trying to make them stand. Figuring out their legs can be tricky, and if some cameras don’t have the proper parts for sturdy legs well then that robot will be a sitter.”
But the artistic process doesn’t end there: Rauff seeks out abandoned places in which to photograph his robots. A community of urban explorers has led Rauff and his robots to some interesting places, like deserted schools, power plants, breweries, and factories.
“One of the more interesting ones was a haunted old mental institution out of LA,” recalls Rauff. “I didn’t want to go to that one solo, so I met some random kid from the internet there. It worked out fine, though I told my girlfriend, ‘Going to Haunted Insane Asylum with robots and some kid from the internet, if not back avenge death.'”
Rauff hopes to keep exhibiting his collection of camera robots, and has written multiple books on the work, including a short poetry book titled Batteries Not Included, after the 80s film of the same name.
The artist says he will continue making his robot art until either he publishes more books or family and friends stage an intervention. There was a time when he was living alone and had about 50 camera robots in his house, and they had become became Rauff’s everyday company.
“My roommate just had moved out so I was not used to being by myself that much and would often have full conversations with my robot friends,” says Rauff. “My friends starting getting a bit concerned but we made it through that time and there’s nothing but blue skies ahead!”
Click here to see more of Rauff’s camera robots.