Dodge & Burn: The Retro Camera T-Shirt Story

Dodge & Burn: The Retro Camera T-Shirt Story

I love being a photographer. I also love showing the world my love of photography by wearing clothing that boldly states my profession. I've seen several t-shirt designs that have interested me, but none that catered to the old film cameras that I was brought up with. I was introduced to a new t-shirt brand a few weeks ago and my search was abruptly ended. Dodge & Burn, which hails out of New York City, develops designs based on historic cameras of yesteryear. I caught up with company founder, Ted Rybakowski, for a quick chat. 

Ted Rybakowski; Dodge &Burn Founder

FS: When was the company founded?

Ted Rybakowski: We launched Dodge & Burn at the end of April 2012, which means we’ve been around for seven months. However, it took almost a year of work to get us to the point where we were ready to go public.

FS: Why did you choose the term 'Dodge and Burn' as the name of your company?

Ted Rybakowski: As we were forming the company we spent days turning names over. We scoured dictionaries of photography terms, played word association games and even built a random name generator in excel. Nothing felt or sounded right until Dodge & Burn came to mind. It’s an old darkroom technique that most photographers and designers are familiar with. Although, today’s photographers dodge and burn in the digital darkroom, the technique has its origin in the earlier film era that is the inspiration for our designs and brand.

FS: Why did you choose to use designs of classic analog cameras for your t-shirts instead of the newer DSLR models?

Ted Rybakowski: The idea for Dodge & Burn came from my personal love of old cameras, which I’ve been collecting and using for a long time. I wanted to start a business based on this. Putting really nice illustrations of classic cameras (some from my own collection) onto t-shirts was a great way to put my foot into the market.

With Dodge & Burn, we’re trying to connect photographers with the history of their craft. Clearly photography today is digital and becoming increasingly computerized. However, photography has a history going back close to 200 years. Mechanical film cameras made from metal and leather dominated this stretch of time. Our shirts remind photographers of this lineage and also give them a chance to enjoy their favorite cameras from the past.

Finally, the great film cameras – the Voigtlanders, Leicas, Rolleis, Canons, Nikons and others – have a level of craftsmanship and beauty that I believe simply isn’t present in today’s cameras. Take a look at a Leica IIIc (our Rangefinder Classic shirt, pictured below). This camera is a work of art.

  Photo courtesy of The delRio Agency

FS: Can you explain to us the process of designing one of your t- shirts?

Ted Rybakowski: We just released the “Evolution TLR” shirt (pictured below), which is our most complex design to date, so I’ll describe how it came about. I came up with the idea for this shirt because I love twin lens reflex cameras and wanted to add another TLR shirt to our collection. I started doing research to see which TLR we would feature, and discovered it wouldn’t be an easy choice. There are so many historic, interesting and beautiful TLR cameras that choosing any one felt inadequate. That’s when we decided to try a t-shirt with multiple cameras.

I selected 15 TLR’s and developed an archive of photos as well as a list of details (including any writing on the camera or subtle distinguishing marks) for each camera. I then handed this over to our artist Eli Horn whose first step was to draw dimensional wireframes for all the cameras to get them into the same angle and perspective. Eli continued the detailed artwork for each camera by hand, drawing the knobs, levers, lenses and leather body panels. The completed drawings then went through an iterative process of review and revision until each camera illustration was perfect and we were ready to mock-up a shirt. We quickly discovered that 15 cameras were simply too much for one shirt, so we cut the number of cameras down to 9 and ended up with an awesome shirt. It’s full of beautiful detail and its overall design illustrates an important slice of camera history.

  Photo courtesy of The delRio Agency

FS: Let's talk a little bit about yourself. How long have you shooting, and do you consider yourself a professional photographer or a hobbyist?

Ted Rybakowski: I’ve been shooting since I was a kid. I’m definitely an amateur, but a dedicated one. I regularly take classes at the International Center for Photography here in New York City and I shoot a fair amount, though not as much as I’d like.

FS: What type of photography do you shoot the most (or what is your favorite type to shoot)?

Ted Rybakowski: I’ve lived and worked in some interesting places around the world, so some of my photography has been put to use documenting that. I also love shooting portraits. My most recent project involved setting up my 4x5 camera on the street and asking passerby individuals to pose for a portrait. I met a really interesting, diverse group of people and ended up with a decent series of photos.

FS: What is your favorite camera that you shoot with currently and why do you prefer to shoot with it?

Ted Rybakowski: That’s a really tough question. Over the past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my 4x5 Toyo camera. It’s a large monorail camera that is totally manual and must be used in a very deliberate way. I love the process of setting up shots with this camera, and the results are fantastic.

In the past, my favorite cameras to use have included a Leica M3 and the amazing little Rollei 35s.

More recently though I’ve purchased a Lumix GX1 and use it with a 1950’s Leica Summicron DR lens. I absolutely love this combination. I shoot it in manual mode (and manual focus), so I still get to have fun thinking about all the variables that make the photo. And with the Summicron, this GX1 gives me photos that have that amazing Leica look.

Ted Rybakowski

FS:  What are your plans for the future of Dodge & Burn? Do you plan on expanding and adding different products?

Ted Rybakowski: There are definitely more classic cameras we’d like to feature on our shirts, so we’ll work on bringing those to market early next year. We’ll also be releasing a large hand-printed poster based on the Evolution TLR design. We have some other artworks in the development pipeline as well, all referencing the history and aesthetic of vintage cameras and film photography.

We’re really excited about  the response we’ve received so far and have been happy to learn that there’s lots of folks out there who are as passionate about classic cameras as we are, so we’re rolling with that.

Photo courtesy of The delRio Agency

If you're looking for something special to get the analog camera enthusiast or photography geek in your life this holiday season or just whenever, you won't have very far to look. I happen to love the line of t-shirts and I have to say that they are quite comfy since they're made with American Apparel tees. Can anyone say... Instabuy?

You can find Dodge & Burn on their website and other social media outlets.

Dodge & Burn website:

Dodge & Burn Twitter:

Dodge & Burn Facebook:

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Michael Collins's picture

Wow, I can't believe they were able to license all of those brands for t-shirts!

There is a time span (i think) that allows you to use a brand freely. Look at Madmen (tv series). They didn't have to licence: Lucky Strike, DoD USA, Honda, Jaguar, etc....

I could be wrong also!