When my daughter chose Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2017 as her wedding day I just had to make an appropriate photographic record of it.
Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day has been an event on my calendar for some years, usually meeting up with a group of friends to make cameras, take photographs and encourage non-pinholers to give it a go.
When my daughter announced the date for her wedding, something at the back of my mind rang an alarm bell. No, it wasn’t the thought of giving a Father-of-the-Bride speech, it was the date itself – Sunday 30th April 2017 – the last Sunday in April, the day ‘reserved’ each year to a celebration of pinholing.
There was nothing for it. No father could ask his daughter to change the date of her biggest day and I wasn’t going to be the first! My daughter is sympathetic to my photographic distractions and we agreed that I would take some pinhole wedding shots on the day.
I chose to rely on my Harman TiTAN 5×4 camera and to make my exposures on Ilford FP4+ film as that combination could be expected to be more reliable and require shorter exposure times than something homemade and exposing on paper.
The TiTAN, six sheets of film, a small tripod and a basic lightmeter made up a lightweight and fairly compact kit. Somehow I managed to waste one sheet, but the other five have worked out much as I hoped. The day was bright and exposures were all around eight seconds.
I have yet to decide which one image to submit to the WPPD2017 website. I rather like ‘Two white dresses’ but I’m leaning towards ‘The happy couple’ as I think it sums up the day more completely. So far I have only scanned the negative but I’d like to print them too, perhaps as salted paper enlarged prints.
The Father-of-the-Bride speech? – I winged it and I think I got away with it!
The Democratic Camera Club which meets monthly at Stills, Edinburgh and of which I am a member has organised a Winter Exhibition. I am thrilled to have had four of my pinhole images accepted and am honoured that they will be displayed alongside the exhibits of fellow club members and artists whose work I admire and take inspiration from.
My images were made with my Harman TiTAN pinhole camera on Direct Positive Paper and so each exhibit is an original, unique image. They were made in the area of Talla Water reservoir in the Scottish Borders.
I sought to find a balance between the rugged beauty of the natural landscape and those elements of that landscape which man has used to his own end: reservoir, walls and bridge. I find serenity in contemplating the purposeful recreation of these elements blending with the land from which they were formed. A new ‘natural’ landscape is created wherein the man-made draws the eye and the mind to the beauty of the natural shape and form of hill and valley.
The originals have so much more depth than these scans can show. Come along to the exhibition, see it for yourself and enjoy all of the excellent photography on show.
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)
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.
I’ve been keen to take the Countess out for a stroll to see what she can do since receiving her as a gift from Oonagh. The opportunity came last weekend when I also had a day off work on the Monday. It’s been a while since I had the TiTAN out too, so a weekend of photo fun was planned.
Since receiving her as a gift from Oonagh, I’ve been keen to take the Countess out for a stroll to see what she can do. The opportunity came last weekend when I also had a day off work on the Monday. It’s been a while since I had the TiTAN out too, so a weekend of photo fun was planned.
Once the domestic chores were out of the way on Saturday, I set about preparing cameras for an outing. I gave the Countess another thorough clean and rubbed down some of the rusty ‘patination’ on her plate holders so that they could be operated smoothly. Then I cut and loaded pieces of Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper which would create paper negatives from which I would later make contact prints. A stack of 5×4 film holders were loaded with Harman Direct Positive paper for the TiTAN and finally ancillary kit such as changing bag, spare paper, tripods and light meter were laid out and packed ready for a sharp exit on Sunday morning.
Sunday dawned fine and dry, if a little misty, and with fair weather forecast I set off early for Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife. My plan was to get there early enough to find a parking space, take a walk around the harbour and then up the coast to Cellardyke, returning to the car to reload the film holders and have a bite to eat before heading down the coast to Pittenweem and perhaps St Monans.
All went to plan and the day was as fine as had been forecast. A gentle easterly breeze kept the temperature comfortable and a light, high mistiness diffused the sunlight to give perfect conditions for photography. The tide was out when I arrived so I wandered the beach around the Dreel Burn, giving both the Countess and the TiTAN their chance to play.
Here’s the Countess, perched like a pinhead atop my tripod, getting in the first shot of the day with a view of the picturesque churchyard and quayside of the little harbour at the mouth of the Dreel Burn.
Below is an enlarged image of the contact print I made from the paper negative.
The houses and church made an attractive background so I walked a bit upstream to find a spot where the long pinhole exposure of the TiTAN would smooth out the flow of the water and show their reflection. The TiTAN was positioned low to get the best effect.
This is how the TiTAN saw the scene, flipped the right-way-round in software.
Moving on towards the main harbour area, Anstruther’s fish bars were already busy and the distinctive aroma was filling the air! It so happened that I’d chosen to visit Anstruther on the day of the 2016 Thistle Run, a rally from the Falkirk Wheel to Anstruther for Minis of all vintages. The rally aims to raise money for charities, not least of which is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The main car parks and the quaysides were being filled up with scores of Minis and the RNLI were setting up stalls on the quay beside the lifeboat station. I was glad to have got there early and parked out of the way!
I set up the Countess to take a photograph of the Anstruther lifeboat but I realised too late that I had omitted a vital step in the image-making procedure. Once set up on the tripod with the bellows open and the focussing screen in position the aperture needs to be opened fully so that the brightest possible (i.e. least dim) image can be seen on the screen. Once the lens is focussed (more on that later), the aperture needs to be closed down to the taking aperture, and the shutter cocked. The focussing screen is then replaced with a plate holder and the darkslide removed before the exposure is made by pressing the shutter lever. The darkslide is then replace so that the plate holder can be removed.
It’s a fiddly process but one that should become second nature with experience. I have not had sufficient experience. On this occasion I missed out the step of shutting down the aperture. The lifeboat was inside the station and the required exposure for my chosen aperture of f/32 was fifteen seconds. With the aperture fully open the negative was grossly overexposed! Lesson learned.
Anstruther houses the Scottish Fisheries Museum and in the harbour is berthed the restored historic Fifie fishing boat, Reaper. The TiTAN made this image of her. It’s worth noting that the images made on direct positive paper are created in-camera and as there is no intermediate negative to print from, the image is reversed. (The image at the top of the post has been ‘flipped’ in software to be the right way round after scanning the original.)
At the harbour mouth I was setting up the TiTAN to photograph the Chalmers Lighthouse when I heard a commotion in the water behind me. I turned round to see a pod of eight or nine dolphins just offshore making their way down the Forth. Unfortunately the wide angle and long exposure of pinhole cameras are not conducive to action photography!
On the way back I stopped to set up the Countess to take a general shot of the harbour. I was approached by a very pleasant lady who simply asked me if I was a press photographer taking photos of the Thistle Run cars!
At this point I need to explain that as a presbiopic astigmatic hypermetrope, focussing on that screen is impossible without the help of a loupe or other focussing aid. Even then there is very little room for maneouvre. The focus adjustment is a bit jerky but there is a detent for what appears to be infinity focus. I’ve taken to setting the aperture to its minimum of f/32, trusting to depth of field to avoid blurry images! It all adds to the fun and is good practice for the Intrepid which is due to join my collection very soon.
The walk to Cellardyke was pleasant and interesting along the narrow streets stretching through the fishing village as it hugged the coastline. Villagers’ washing lines are strung out along the harbour quayside. At low tide the harbour is a sea of seaweed and it was low tide when I got there.
As happens on my photowalks my estimates of how long I’ll take are always optimistic. I never learn. By the time I returned to Anstruther the RNLI stalls were in full flow and I was lucky to get a burger and a drink for a late lunch. The RNLI is funded entirely by donations and lifeboats are crewed by volunteers who drop what they’re doing and put their lives on the line every time a shout goes up. They deserve whatever support they can muster.
Pittenweem was my final photo stop for the day. A couple of miles from Anstruther in the other direction from Cellardyke this is a working harbour with fish market and boats from all around Scotland berthed at its piers. I had just two remaining sheets of paper loaded for the TiTAN and made that do for the day.
My iPhone’s view of Pittenweem and below as it was seen by the TiTAN.
The TiTAN’s angle of view is much wider, which contributes to the characteristic vignetting, the image is softer due to diffraction of light as it passes through the 0.35mm aperture of the pinhole and the image is reversed on the Direct Positive paper.
The TiTAN has been my go to camera for a couple of years or so and Direct Positive paper is my favourite media to use with it. The Countess is new to me and already I’m in love with it too. It arrived unexpectedly and as a result of a spur-of-the-moment decision to join a dry plate workshop at which I found new friends and embarked on a new photo adventure a little bit different but which fits in with how I like photographic things to be. They are soon to be joined by the Intrepid, the result of a crowdfunding project to develop an affordable 5×4 field camera. I’m looking forward to preparing and using dry plate glass negatives with both the Countess and the Intrepid. I’ll have a harem of cool cameras!
My quest to photograph the harbours around the Forth estuary is part of Little Harbours, a long term project which really qualifies for a blog post of its own, and in due course it will.
“But you don’t say what river it is.” was a comment made to me by one of the viewers of my photo set Continuum. “Which river is irrelevant,” I replied. “Continuum is about the experience of the moment.”
Question and answer
“But you don’t say what river it is.” was a comment made to me by one of the viewers of my previous blog Continuum. “Which river is irrelevant,” I replied. “Continuum is about the experience of the moment.”
Admittedly Continuum did begin as a project to create a portfolio of prints showing moving water as seen through the aperture of a pinhole camera. A river was the obvious subject choice.
At the time the Harman TiTAN 5×4 Pinhole Camera was still fairly new to me and with it I was exploring the characteristics of Harman Direct Positive paper, both for exposure and development. Direct Positive paper is exposed in camera and when developed makes a positive print. Because there is no intermediate stage as is the case with a negative, the print is completely unique. It also has the quirk of being reversed, a mirror image. Together with the inherent high contrast of the glossy double weight fibre / baryta base paper, I was interested to find out what I could create with it.
The early weeks of the project were taken up experimenting with using the paper ‘straight’ or with various amounts of pre-exposure and then developing in various dilutions and ages of developer. Substantial differences in the contrast of the final image are possible with these variations. It was also a time of investigating locations and making decisions on the sort of images I wanted to produce. I decided to concentrate on contrasting the highlight of ‘white’ water against enclosing backgrounds of the shaded overhangs along the river’s edge. To render such images effectively I decided to use the paper with no pre-exposure and develop in freshly prepared Ilford Multigrade developer at 1+4 dilution at 20°C for the full recommended three minutes. The length of exposure I would give to each image would be calculated to just show detail in the deepest shadow.
The project develops
A side effect of this period of experimentation was my developing awareness of what my senses were telling me. I was using sight to set up the camera: choosing a location, determining my viewpoint and estimating the framing (pinhole cameras have no viewfinder), choosing the shadow areas on which to base my exposure and keeping an eye on weather and changing light conditions as the exposure progressed. Exposures over the project ranged from eight or nine minutes through to over an hour in some instances. As I set up the camera and waited for the exposure to complete I found myself increasingly aware of sounds and smells, wildlife in the trees, in the air and in the river itself, the touch of insects and branches. My senses were aroused to the point I could almost taste the environment I was in and experiencing. My awareness of time passing and of how things changed with time, however imperceptibly, became intense.
In my notebook, which I used to record location and exposure details, I began to jot down those things that aroused my senses. Often I would sit long after finishing the exposure, just soaking up the atmosphere of the environment and I began to make these notes in a poetic fashion. In due course these would be the basis of the captions I would use for display of the images and indeed to form a handwritten poetic image as part of the work.
My perception was of a moving picture playing out before me that I would record as a single still image. This image was one that was unseen until the print was developed. It was a record of a time that had been, that was history yet through the medium of the print was recalled from the past into the present time in which it was viewed. I became deeply immersed in the process of creating these images and in the written record of my thoughts.
Many photographers will recognise the thought that when they press the shutter they capture a moment in time. A moment that once captured is gone forever. Many strive to capture the ‘decisive’ moment. With the long exposures required for pinhole photography I was watching a continuous succession of moments passing before me and all being recorded together on the same piece of photosensitive media. It was from this thought that the title ‘Continuum’ came to mind.
As I watched the flow of the river and experienced the continuum of moments passing before me I made analogies with life itself: Where does it begin and where does it end? Sometimes it takes a gentle, meandering path, at others it is tossed around, twisted and shattered and yet in the end it comes together and carries on, one way or another. There is an inevitability and an irreversibility: time neither stands still nor repeats the moment. Where two streams meet they merge and move onward together. Perhaps most importantly there is merit and satisfaction to be had in enjoying the moment rather than chasing the flow.
The project was exhibited as part of the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group’s exhibition mounted in Edinburgh Central Library during September 2014. Six 5″x4″ original direct positive prints and one handwritten poem to the same dimensions all captioned with handwritten poetic captions. The handwritten element fitted with the group’s low tech approach to image making. I also created a Blurb book of the work.
I am fond of small prints: they encourage me to look more closely, perhaps to linger awhile, better still to feel a relationship with the image and perhaps to sense something of what the photographer experienced in the making of it. I hope that when viewing Continuum here the viewer will take that time to enjoy the moment.
But which river is it?
Just for the record, and to answer the original question: The river is the River Almond at various locations through West Lothian, Scotland.
Continuum is an exploration of that moment we call the present which in the same instant becomes the past as our experience of it passes into memory.
(Continuum was originally prepared for an exhibition in 2014. It consists of six unique, original silver gelatine direct positive prints, and one original handwritten poem. Each was exhibited with an original handwritten caption which is reproduced here as typed text.)
Continuum is an exploration of that moment we call the present which in the same instant becomes the past as our experience of it passes into memory.
While creating images for Continuum the sights, sounds, smell, touch and even taste of the river and its environs inspired me to combine text and images together to convey my experiences.
Through the media of pinhole photography on direct positive paper and of the written word, I sought to bring together that multitude of memories as motion pictures in unique still images, otherwise unseen images of the shapes and patterns of time passing by.
Between here and there,
The present that is ‘now’
And the past that was ‘then’,
Meander to their ultimate end.
In the white heat of confusion
present and past become as one
And are ultimately gone.
The edge is irresistible,
The present, irretrievable.
Present pours into past
In the mercurial glimmer
Of passing moments.
Present and past
rush past the rock
In the lee of which
is a pool of peace.
Memories of present moments past
In the continuum of ‘now’.
In the memory of that moment
Where two become one,
Is the existence in the present
Of that which is now
irretrievably in the past.