To make a pinhole exposure is to open a door on serendipity.
Every exposure is an experimental exercise in imprecision.
It was back in 2010 that I was introduced to pinhole photography. A group of friends with whom I regularly met up for photowalks decided to celebrate Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD). WPPD has been held on the last Sunday of April each year since its inception in 2001 and there is a website with a gallery to which participants may upload one of their pinhole photographs taken on the day.
Like many hobby photographers I had entered the 21st century ditching my film equipment for the emerging technology of digital photography. Many cameras, tens of thousands of images and crammed full hard drives later I was beginning to accept that I had developed an addiction to shooting and chimping at every opportunity.
I turned up for our 2010 WPPD walk with my latest digital camera set to its pinhole effect filter. Almost everybody else had tin cans,wooden boxes or their old film cameras adapted for pinhole and all loaded up with photo paper or film. Everybody else made just a few careful images while I snapped away at a couple of hundred or more.
We met up again a few weeks later to compare our pinhole photos. I had already consigned most of mine to the bin. The effect filter had rendered all of my photos with exactly the same digi-faux-grain vignette that rendered them completely soulless. Actually, come to think about it they weren’t far off soulless to begin with! While I had been staring at a computer screen my friends had been tinkering in darkrooms doing alchemy and producing works of art that could be handled, passed around and admired. Their photographs had a softness and were vignetted but each had a unique character and depth that reflected the care that had gone into their making. They had soul and I loved them.
2012: Pioneering inspiration
I was off galavanting somewhere so missed pinhole day 2011 but by the time WPPD 2012 came around I was rediscovering the enjoyment of photography with film and was ready for the annual pinhole day photo walk. We met up to visit Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh wherein may be found the gravestone of David Octavius Hill, he of the photographic pioneer duo Hill and Adamson. This time I had my bodycap adapted Olympus OM1 and a repurposed Coronet box camera bought on eBay for just £1.49!
I wasn’t able to meet up with the group for a WPPD 2013 photowalk and although I was getting increasingly back into film photography, pinhole was still something I mainly thought about as a pinhole day activity. We may not have met but I set up the OM1 to take a pinhole photograph of garden implements in the shed.
By WPPD 2014 I had definitely taken the bait and bitten deep on the barbed hook of pinhole photography. I’d bought a Harman TiTAN 5×4 pinhole camera and was experimenting with constructing my own cameras. My exposures were being made on film, regular photo paper and my favourite, Harman Direct Positive paper. My pincam for the group outing was specially constructed for the day, made from foamcore board and fitted with a tripod mount, sighting pins and a sliding shutter! Unfortunately it didn’t hold the paper quite flat and I made the mistake of using glossy paper so light was bounced around inside, creating interesting flare effects and a bit of fogging … on the other hand, what was it I said about serendipity?
During 2014 I was invited to submit photographs to the Edinburgh Lo-fi Photography Group’s exhibition that year. For this I produced Continuum. The project was deeply engaging for me and led me deeper into my understanding of pinhole photography as an expressive art. My blog Understanding ‘Continuum’ gives some insight into my thinking as the project developed.
I tried my hand at pinhole street photography for WPPD 2015! This time I had constructed a matchbox pincam loaded with 35mm film. It was an interesting experiment which produced interesting results that I quite liked. I have a mental list (read that as you will) of projects and things I’d like to follow up on. Street pinhole is on the list!
During 2015 I was asked by a community group based in Leith if I would run a pinhole camera construction workshop. There seemed little point in constructing cameras without using them so when eventually in January 2016 we found space to hold the workshop in Leith School of Art it had developed into a talk and demonstration, camera construction, picture taking and photo developing event. I even made a temporary darkroom out of plastic piping and bin bags especially for the day! We had great fun, some amazing images were produced and hopefully some of the participants went away enthused to take it further.
For WPPD 2016 I went back to the pure simplicity of a tin can. I punched a pinhole directly into the side of a coffee can, about one third from the top to give an image with a low horizon line. Just a strip of black electrical tape sufficed as the shutter and a piece of Direct Positive paper wrapped around the inside would record a curved plane image. We met this year in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and I am very pleased to have made this image of the wonderful Victorian Palm House in the gardens.
Where to next?
For more than two years now my ‘go to’ camera has been a pincam. My work has been exhibited, I’ve run workshops and I’ve introduced my grandchildren and one or two others to the fun of photography and the magic of image creation in the darkroom. That’s not to say I’ve put all other forms of photography to one side. I still use 35mm film and digital cameras and through pinhole I’ve begun an adventure into the wonders of large format photography.
I’m looking forward to preparing and using glass plate negatives for both pinhole and lens images in a large format camera. Looking forward too to using a pinhole on a large format camera and to make salt prints from large format negatives. Alongside that I am already working on quite a large project producing unique images of little harbours as seen through the little apertures of pinhole cameras. And it’s still just a hobby!
When I make pinhole exposures
time seems to stand still.
Yet time never does,
as the images show.