A new generation possibilities

:

of photographers of the simple,

il pUlhing the ardstic: technique of

old-fashioned

taking picture.

thTougb a tiny hole in a box

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KAZIMIERSKI

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UNIVERSITY,

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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.
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"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 tOOunfocused to make an image. There's
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too much confusion." Consider this: the daylight illumicreen. The neighborhood J.cids now gather in the attic to nating the wall of a room actually Iorms a jumble of overwatch-in wide-s reen full-rn tion colorl+passing clouds, lapping images as light bounces off objects outside the sunlight glinting IT m ripples n the river in the distance, window. The light on the wall is, in fact, an upside-down and 0 casionally peopl walking ar und upside down in projection of the scene outside your window, JUSt a very, our yard. If this is tOOelaborate for you, jam a crewdrivvery fuzzy one. hrink the window, and you make thi er into th side of a carton to make a hole and hold the image sharper, but dimmer. box against your chest outside with a dark toweldraped In addition to more conventional lens photography, over your head. ince you're peeling down into the carMorell create bizarre room portraits by covering all ihc ton, he image has the advantage of appearing right-side windows in a room save for a sinup. Watch out for neighbor . gle hole the size of an aspirin. The NOT A CAMERA FOR opening admits only a single faint THOSE IN A HURRY cone of daylight int the darkened room. The confusion of overlapA PINHOLE CAMERA GOES A STEP ping lighr rays is g ne. Inside this further than a camera obscura. By camera obscura, Morell leaves a u ing film, it records the projected image for posterity. Its hief drawlen camera on a tripod ointing at back, of course, is [hat it doesn't the far wall for eight hours with admit very much light-several the shutter open. Of the sunlight scattered in all directi ns by the rip th usand times less than a len an inch wide=-s you must wait of a distant steeple, say, only those light ray. that happen to head patiently as enough accumulates on the film to make a picture. On straight toward the pill-size hole the other hand, the image stays in gain entry t M rell' dark chamber. Inside, the pencil of light conlocu no matter how far you place unue on and strike a single p t the film from the aperture (though "focus" is a relative term in pinon the far wall, forming the tip of a dim, inverted steeple. hole photography; an image proIn Morell's photographs, a hotel jected through even a tiny pinhole room wall in Wyoming reveals an is never as sharp as one focused by upside-d wn portrait of the Grand a de ent len ). early any light-tight container Tetons: the distant horizon becomes trompe I' eil wains ring. can be made into a pinhole camera: In a Manhattan hotel room, the an oatmeal box, a seashell a suitEmpire State Building prawls, ca e, a h le in the ground. German spent, aero s an unmade bed. "I photographer Thomas Bachler love the idea that images are enterplaced £1m in his mouth, then tood in front of a mirror and briefly ing your space without your intending it," Morell says. in pursed his lips to make a self-portrait. (It didn't look like mu h, but explaining his obsession. After taking in an exhibition of he deserves an A for eflort.) Pinhole Morell's photographs at Boston' . pioneer Eric Renner made a pickleMuseum of Fine Arts (his onejar camera for underwater work He man show comes to the Zoellner once put a pinhole in a red pepper; Main Gallery at Lehigh University the vegetable's translucent flesh in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, June acted as a natural safelight. 21), I immediately convened my Renner is one of the pinhole'S attic to a camera obscura by coverPinhole images give a new look to famiLiarsubjects: most influential advocates. With ing the window with a punctured Thomas Harding's wide-angle view of a 101-year- his wife and fellow pinholer, sheet of cardboard and hanging ancy Dize Spencer, he publishes old schoolhouse in Arkansas (opposite) and Wiley bedsheets from [he rafters as a . Sanderson's seed-stage leeks (above). the thri e-yearly Pinhole Journal
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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.
SNAPSHOTS
THl!

FROM A BISCUIT

TIN

FIR T MORNI G, I J I THE HAI.F-OOZEN T OEr-rf 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 susiei 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' older 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 shutter, 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 [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-landpes, 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.

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Wiley Sanderson,

a pioneer in the r vival of pinhole art, has buill panorama,

some 50 cameras, including (top to bottom) a cardboard

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 excruciatT H

ingly tedious. nly with the pread of the quicker dryplate photography in the 1880sand 18gosdid 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.)
FUZZINESS
DE PITE THE PINHOLE

HAS ITS APPEAL
REPUTATION AS A OVHTY,

CAMEIV\S

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."
"EVERY
TilE PINHOLE

IMAGE IS A SURPRISE"
CURRENT REDI C VERY A, BE

AMERA'S

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 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," !

or

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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