A new generation of photographers il pUlhing the ardstic: possibilities: of the simple, old-fashioned technique of taking picture.

thTougb a tiny hole in a box

PH TOCRAPHER DA IEL KAZIMIERSKI US 0 TO TEACH AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, A 0 HE remem ers with irritati n how fixated his students were on fancy camera equipment. "There was lots of talk about lens res lution and other annoying stuff that had n thing to do with making picture ," he ay. Motivated in equal parts by di gu t and curiosity, the Polish-born photographer began using in his own work a heap amateur camera from China. The device had a simple

glass lens and a small bellows for focusing. "Then I moved to an even Simpler piece of equipment, whi h was a little box with a pinhole in it."

Pinhole cameras are aim t mically primitive. Typically h memade, they lack lenses, traditional shutter, light meters and focusing controls. Expo ing a sheet of film placed inside may require 30 seconds, a couple of minutes, or all day. If you want a telephoto hot, you build a longer box. "Because there is no viewfinder, it allows you to relinquish your soul to the camera," Kazimierski say with the mystical tone common to pinhole devotees. Placing his lensless aperture an inch or two from a saltshaker r a teapot, he transforms these everyday object into mysterious monuments. "When r develop my pi tures, it's always a wonderful discovery to see what the camera saw."

Kazimierski is one ~r a growing number of serious art ph tographers who now use pinhole cameras, often swearing off len cameras altogerher. Where perhaps a half-dozen used the technique 30 year ago, today hundreds do. This low-tech groundswell has been accompanied by a flurry of exhibitions, books, courses, how-to articles, cameras to buy or build, and, of cour e, Websires.

"The popularity of pinhole ph rography among art photographer is in part a reaction against the idea that a serious photographer is someone with six cameras slung over his neck wh ' con tartly swapping lenses," says Teren e Pins, director of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. "There' a trong determination to prove that it's ~he artist, not the equipment, that make the image .. ' Besides being primitive, a pinhole camera is cheap (an imp rtant issue for many artists), and it almost guaranrc e an unu ual result.

It's new to most people that cameras don't need lenses, but the basic principle of lensles image-making ha been known for centuries. Renaissance painters sat in darkened enclosures to trace the faint, upside-down outline of landscapes and figures as ca t through a small hole. (Pinholes, like I nses, invert the images they make.) In the l620 , astronomer Johannes Kepler built a portable version of this device fI r viewing the sun without staring at it directly. He called it a "camera b cura," or dark chamber.

"Any room with a window open is a camel-a obscura," says ron-area photographer Abelardo M rell, .. ut the light orning in i tOO unfocused to make an image. There's


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too much confusion." Consider this: the daylight illuminating the wall of a room actually Iorms a jumble of overlapping images as light bounces off objects outside the window. The light on the wall is, in fact, an upside-down projection of the scene outside your window, JUSt a very, very fuzzy one. hrink the window, and you make thi image sharper, but dimmer.

In addition to more conventional lens photography, Morell create bizarre room portraits by covering all ihc windows in a room save for a single hole the size of an aspirin. The opening admits only a single faint cone of daylight int the darkened room. The confusion of overlapping lighr rays is g ne. Inside this camera obscura, Morell leaves a len camera on a tripod ointing at the far wall for eight hours with the shutter open. Of the sunlight scattered in all directi ns by the rip of a distant steeple, say, only those light ray. that happen to head straight toward the pill-size hole gain entry t M rell' dark chamber. Inside, the pencil of light conunue on and strike a single p t on the far wall, forming the tip of a dim, inverted steeple.

In Morell's photographs, a hotel room wall in Wyoming reveals an upside-d wn portrait of the Grand Tetons: the distant horizon becomes trompe I' eil wains ring. In a Manhattan hotel room, the Empire State Building prawls, spent, aero s an unmade bed. "I love the idea that images are entering your space without your intending it," Morell says. in explaining his obsession.

After taking in an exhibition of Morell's photographs at Boston' . Museum of Fine Arts (his oneman show comes to the Zoellner Main Gallery at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, June 21), I immediately convened my attic to a camera obscura by covering the window with a punctured sheet of cardboard and hanging bedsheets from [he rafters as a . Sanderson's seed-stage leeks (above).

creen. The neighborhood J. c ids now gather in the attic to watch-in wide-s reen full-rn tion colorl+passing clouds, sunlight glinting IT m ripples n the river in the distance, and 0 casionally peopl walking ar und upside down in our yard. If this is tOO elaborate for you, jam a crewdriver into th side of a carton to make a hole and hold the box against your chest outside with a dark toweldraped over your head. ince you're peeling down into the carton, he image has the advantage of appearing right-side up. Watch out for neighbor .

Pinhole images give a new look to famiLiar subjects:

Thomas Harding's wide-angle view of a 101-yearold schoolhouse in Arkansas (opposite) and Wiley

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A PINHOLE CAMERA GOES A STEP further than a camera obscura. By u ing film, it records the projected image for posterity. Its hief drawback, of course, is [hat it doesn't admit very much light-several th usand times less than a len an inch wide=-s you must wait patiently as enough accumulates on the film to make a picture. On the other hand, the image stays in locu no matter how far you place the film from the aperture (though "focus" is a relative term in pinhole photography; an image projected through even a tiny pinhole is never as sharp as one focused by a de ent len ).

early any light-tight container can be made into a pinhole camera: an oatmeal box, a seashell a suitca e, a h le in the ground. German photographer Thomas Bachler placed £1m in his mouth, then tood in front of a mirror and briefly pursed his lips to make a self-portrait. (It didn't look like mu h, but he deserves an A for eflort.) Pinhole pioneer Eric Renner made a picklejar camera for underwater work He once put a pinhole in a red pepper; the vegetable's translucent flesh acted as a natural safelight.

Renner is one of the pinhole'S most influential advocates. With his wife and fellow pinholer, ancy Dize Spencer, he publishes the thri e-yearly Pinhole Journal

and runs the Pinhole Resource, ann r fil archive in I ew Mexi o. "You reinvent photography every lime you use a pinhole camera." Renner tell me whcn , sit in on a pinhole workshop he

c -iea he at the An Insritut of Chicago. T Renner, an earnest, sofi-s oken man with unruly hair and rumpled clothes, pinh lc is not a point-and- h or affair but an ' ploration. ")['5 a strangc way to take a piclure," he c ncedes.



in making ameras from variou ontainers we've

brought-cigar boxes and cookie tin ,m tly. To make

ur apertures+the pinhol -we gently tincture thin squares [brass shim stock with sewing needles. We then tape the pierced squares ver opcnin we've

ur in our xes. After m king rw I' three

eras apiece, we load them with light- nsilive paper in the darkr rn, cover th pinholes with black tape, and fan out int the nei hboring trcets and alley.

everal f my fellow students pi k their way through a weedy courtyard, placing sus-

iei u -I king parcel hcre and there amid the vegetation. Around the comer, , recognize a classm te itring alone on some reps, reading; r finally py her camera, an eight-foot. eight-aperture cardboard tube re ting in the retch of a nearby tree,

ilently a umulating light. 'hough I'm a barely competent napshoorer myself, my dog-biscuit lin in particular yields ne surpri ing ompo ition alter another. Because r let the

phorographi paper curl ar und inside, [ watch in delight a strangely di t ned wide ngle view f school buses and onstrueti n t emerge from the developing trays. And because the pinholes on my various containers catch everything ncar and far in the same degree of reasonably sharp focu , a coin or a idewalk plaque rwo inches away is as imposing and well-defined as a building behind it.

After class one day, I chat with Mary Tobin, one of ihe worksh p' old-

er and more erious parti ci pants. T bin has already exhibited her lens-camera work in several

recent shows in the hica area. he just ordered a new

10,0 0 medium-format camera with high-quality Zei len es, she tell me, "It's supposed to be the new wowiezowic camera, but f'1I use it only on e in a while." verall, he prefer the pinhole. "Art should be an inruirivc process. I don't want my irnellc t to take over and ruin thing." A can happen, ~ r instance, when immer ing

ne elf in the details of operating a S10,OOO camera.

ne of the an' m r a ompli hed practitioners.

Arkansas photographer Thomas Harding, fashioned his first pinhole camera in the 1970 with a toilet-paper roll and black tape. A n time portrait photogra her for Bachra h

tudi s in Manhauan, Hardin took up the m re contcmplativc art of "pin graphy," a he calls it, when he retired

to Little Rock. "1 gues I've built r reused more than 15 pinhole mcras by now," ys Harding,

till taking pi rures at I' a , cries of

ph t graph f one-room Ihouse , he

c nsrructed a pinhole camera using tw

pie s of plyw and an air-release shut-

ter, His largc-f rmat bla k-and-white POI'traits lend a stately, otherw rldly grace I the often crumbling and long-forg ttcn rrucrures. '" n read of everything being so hard-ed ed and minutely defined, it gives a s rrn [0 the image, which I think is appealing."

Harding and thcr pinholcr , like Tom Baril, james Romeo and the late Marcia heel', have favored ubjccis that stay put-land-

pes, buildings, till lites+during their ameras' long ex: ure times. me enthusiasts, however, prefer to play with the ironies of a low camera in a fa t w rld. Canadian ph tographer Dianne Bo , whose exposures are often 20 minutes long, gravitates toward much-ph t graphed touri t SPOtS like Mayan pyr mids and oirc Valley chateaus. "A couple of hundred people may have whipped around me snapping dozens of pictures in the time I've taken one," she says. "It's made me slow down and really observe where I am." More vcr, object in motion (like tourists) bounce so little illumination through her camera' tiny opening that they fail t ppear on her fllm at all; in effect, they erase themselves from the pi rurc, "When y u remember visiting the Eiifel T wer or the cine, you tend to block out all the car noises and the swarms of Americans in turquoise jogging suits. You have a oft-focus.

Wiley Sanderson, a pioneer in the r vival of pinhole art, has buill some 50 cameras, including (top to bottom) a cardboard panorama, a 3 1J2-inch rondo for taking round pictures and one for landscapes,


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Abelardo MorelllUms a near-empty room into a camera obscura for his upside-down image of midtown Manhattan.

black-and-white memory of th c place. 0 when people see a pinhole photograph with all that removed. they say. '\Vow, that's how [ remember it!'"

Possibly the olde t pinhole photographs that still exist are pictures f the Egyptian pyramids and thcr aruiquities made in the early 1880 by the English archaeologist Flinders Petrie. Like Dianne Bos, Petrie made good use of the pinhole camera's tendency to eliminate wandering humans. With a camera of his own devising made from a tin box (for reasons unknown, he used a lens in addition to a pinhole). Petrie photographed newly unearthed artifacts in a passageway leading to the camp's me s hall. The half-hour exposure he required let him ignore the parade of hungry Egyptologi ts passing in from of his camera. F r his outdoor shots, the pinhole arnera made perfect

ense: the Egyptian un was bright, and the pyramids weren't going anywhere.

For rno t 19th-century photographers. however. the combination of a tiny aperture and the slow-acting photographic emulsions of the day would have been excruciat-


ingly tedious. nly with the pread of the quicker dryplate photography in the 1880s and 18gos did the pinhole camera enjoy its first vogue. Popular manuals extolled the technique, and thou ands of hobbyists bought commercial models. These included. aptly enough, the world's first disposable camera, which featured a single glass plate and a lin foil pinhole. (Camera ob cura rooms built at scenic overlooks were also a popular Victorian amusement, though many of the e actually u ed lenses.)


DE PITE THE PINHOLE CAMEIV\S REPUTATION AS A OVHTY, leading pictorial photographers around the tum of the cenlUry were intrigued by the way its output mimicked the gently blurred ugures and placid. It-focu landscapes of Impressionist paintings. eorge Davison stunned the art world in 18go when his gauzy pinhole photograph 'The Onion Field won the highest honors at a major London exhibition. A bemused critic for the Times observed. "It is certainly a saure on the labours of the pu ian that after

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With a film cartridge pinhole camera tucked in his mouth and his finger as a shutter, Justin Quinnell immortalizes his bath.

the resources of s ience have been exhausted to produce a perle t lens, the best work can be produced with no more elaborate optical instrument than a bit of sheet metal with a hole pier ed in it."


TilE PINHOLE AMERA'S CURRENT REDI C VERY A, BE traced to a handful of photographers, mo r of whom began experimenung with Ienslcss optics in the late 19605: Eri Renner. Willie Anne Wright, David Lebe, Wiley anderson, and in Europe, Gottfried Jager and Paolo Gioli. A seminal event in the technique's revival was a do-it-yourself extravaganza at the Philadelphia Museum of An in 1975. Conceptual artist Phillips Simkin provided more than 12,000 prcloaded cardb ard pinhole cameras free to visitors over the cour c of a m nth, inviting "an exchange of perccpti ns," then mounted a rotating display of the results.

Pinh le artists today are more apt to exploit the process's oddities than its painterly possibilities. nan Wolff, an [ raeli-Dutch phorogra her living in France, has wra ped film inside the back of tilted cylindrical container to produce weirdly distorted images of bridges,



bedouins and irys apc . "Evely image i it urprisc, whi h fascinates me," he says. Vv'hy take ,I picture, he a ks, if you know exactly how it will turn lit? Working with hbekand-white photographic paper, he" Id sepia t ncs or uses color paper to reate aurora-like glow, of red and orange. He recently convened a van into a riling inhole camera, "I have hole 11 borh sides, on the ba k and on the r I," Wolff ays. The roof hies he u e for poster-size portraits of buildings like the ever-photogenic iffcl Tower. To

ompose his hots, he' forced to do ~ I r of illegal parking, he cheerfully admits. "I get man ti kcts, bur I JUSt add these to the price or rhe photographs."

For mo t pinh Ie photographers, what's rewarding is the thrill of building an imago.: with an empry homemade box, big or small, n r the result. "It's s dire l and yet so magical," says prinrmakcr-turned-pinholc-ar isi arah van Kcurcn, echoing rhe sentiment of pinhole people everywhere. .. rnehow I'm just taken with it over and over again," !

Doug S ewart, a regular contributor to this ma9azine and an amateur photog apher, is convert inq his house into a gallery of camera obscures, rOOIl1 b)' room.

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