Pinhole timescapes

I set out to discover, through a pinhole, images of the landscape left behind as I travel through it on my bicycle.

For some years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of moving a pinhole camera through the landscape to discover what images might be revealed. One of the first such images I made was in 2014 with my then new Harman TiTAN 4×5 pinhole camera. Taken through the front window of the top deck of a bus as it followed a cyclist along a busy Edinburgh street, the cyclist was rendered relatively recognisable in a streaked world of mystical shapes. It was an image that time and again has me taking a pinhole camera out for an adventure in time travel through the landscape.

Two years ago I blogged such an adventure with the pincam mounted behind the windscreen of my car (http://pinhole-time-travel). At other times I’ve carried a pincam as I walked or ran but the one thing that I could never quite work out was how to mount a pincam on my bicycle such that I could operate it while on the move.

The answer came to me a couple of months ago and gave me a new perspective for the image – I could mount a 35mm camera fitted with a bodycap pinhole to a board fixed to the pannier rack and operate it on the ‘B’ setting by a long cable release threaded through the frame and attached to the crossbar!

That the camera would face backwards to where I had been rather than forward to where I was going seemed appropriate to the idea of photographing what has been. The moment we think of as ‘now’ immediately becoming the past as it passes into memory (I sometimes wonder whether ‘now’ ever exists at all) and the long exposure of the pinhole image blurring the memory as so often happens in the mind.

My first attempt was with an old Zenit camera. It’s shutter has been dodgy for ages, slow and often sticking, but the ‘B’ setting worked – or at least it did! The vibration on the bike was too much for it. Although several successful frames were made, it was curtains for the shutter. My attempts at repair were to no avail but I had been prepared to make the sacrifice. With lessons learned I changed the Zenit for an Olympus OM1, this time with some cushioning and I’m pleased to say that the OM1 is going strong after a couple more outings.

The images may not be to everyone’s taste but they work for me! Getting the exposure ‘correct’ has been and continues to be a challenge. Scanning the Kentmere 400 negatives produced files that I found unworkable but I picked a few frames to print on Ilford MGIV FB glossy paper (all I have at the moment). Without further comment, these are what follow:

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2019

Pinhole images through a vortoscope: Is it a first?

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of April. For several years I’ve joined my friends in the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group for a pinhole photowalk and trying each year to do ‘something different’ with a light-tight space, some form of light-sensitive media and a very, very, small hole.

While the ultimate goal in celebrating the Day is to produce a single image that will be uploaded to the WPPD website, it is also a fun, social occasion with friends, a sharing of ideas, coffee, an interesting location, cake, pincam comparisons and inevitably food and drink in a pub or restaurant afterwards. To make the day interesting photographically I usually prepare several pincams and this year I carried three. My intention was to make one pre-planned image for WPPD19 and to simply have fun with the others to see how they turned out.

First was the ‘Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin’ pincam, then came the ‘All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole’ pincam and finally, the ‘Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole’ pincam. Each will be explained below in some detail. (This will be a long blog post)!

The Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin pincam

Choose one pinhole from three … the lower landscape pinhole is uncovered

I last used this 90mm deep biscuit tin which holds a sheet of 10″x8″ paper, a few months ago while experimenting with SE1 emulsion on tracing paper. The success of that experiment was iffy at best but it did confirm the accuracy of the f/360 pinhole apertures (it has three to choose from) and the angles of view achievable. It seemed a safe bet to put it to use for WPPD19 loaded with a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper which would subsequently be developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade.

Our walk passed a large concrete arrow set in the grass. Apparently the arrow had served some purpose to the RAF during the second world war. It seemed an ideal subject for pinhole imagery. I set up the pincam on a high tripod, aiming downward and used the lower landscape pinhole so as to raise the horizon and include the shadow of the pincam in the image.

Using the lower landscape pinhole together with the pincam aimed downwards ensures the inclusion of the pincam’s shadow.

The All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole pincam

The shutter is an old 5″x4″ darkslide fitted with high-density foam and magnets
Five pinholes concurrently uncovered to provide five overlapping image planes

Like the Belgian Biscuit tin, this pincam had been last used in my experiments with emulsion on tracing paper. It is much shallower at only 55mm and although very wide, the angle of view of each pinhole is insufficient to cover the 10″x8″ paper that fits inside the tin. By using multiple apertures light would be projected by the peripheral ones into the areas of the paper unexposed by the central one. This would also create the interesting idea of overlapping image planes.

The challenge would be to produce five near identical pinhole apertures. This would ensure evenly balanced exposures in the periphery while the central area would receive light from all five apertures. From experiments with three holes I reckoned I could meter the subject, divide by five and deduct that well-known pinhole unit of measure: the ‘bit’. I marked out and drilled holes in the tin lid. The f/160 pinhole apertures were created by pushing a dress-making pin part-way through squares of thin aluminium foil which were then measured for accuracy and consistency before attachement to the inside of the tin. Measurement was made by scanning each pinhole at 9600dpi, measuring onscreen at full size and comparing against the known measurement of a steel rule scanned and viewed at the same resolution and size.

steel rule vs pinhole. Scanned at 9600dpi and viewed on screen at full size, surprisingly accurate measurements can be made for consistency across several pinholes

The twist I wanted to put on the image made with this camera was based on the fact that the meeting point to start our walk was to be outside a theatre. Now the universal symbol for the theatrical arts is a mask and with the potential for the overlapping image produced by this pincam to ‘mask’ the subject, I thought I would take it a little further and make a mask for a member of our group to wear while posing for my WPPD19 image!

a simple papier-mache mask with a few splashes of acrylic paint

Unfortunately the person I had in mind (whose ‘big’ wild hair would have set off the mask very well) was unable to attend the meetup so I ended up wearing it myself and taking a selfie! I quite underestimated just how close the pincam to subject distance would need to be: this was taken at about 30cm – it really needed to be half that or even closer!

Not quite as intended – the jury’s out on whether this is worthy of WPPD19 submission.

The Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole pincam

It was while browsing my local craft store for mask materials that I spotted some 5cm square mirrors. Some years ago I had been introduced to vortographs, an interesting technique that once tried quickly found its way to the dark recesses of my memory. Something clicked and I decided it would be fun to make a vortoscope through which to make pinhole images. (A good starting point to learn about vortoscopism is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Langdon_Coburn)

A vortoscope is a gadget that produces kaleidoscope-like images. It is made up of three (I guess it could be more) mirrors formed into a tube-like construction of triangular section which is placed over a lens (or in my case, over a pinhole aperture). The resulting image consists of a central direct section surrounded by peripheral reflections. The ‘diameter’ and length of the vortoscope affects the size and clarity of each of these sections and the abstraction of the image.

I made mine from a pack of 5cm square mirrors which I cut to size with a glass-cutter, a toilet roll core, copious amounts of hot-melt glue and some sticky-back foam. The bodycap has long been adapted for pinhole but to be sure I did re-make the pinhole aperture to the optimum 0.29mm for the 49mm projection distance when mounted on my old Olympus OM1n camera.

I was pretty pleased with the results. The camera was loaded with Kentmere 400 film from a bulk roll and subsequently developed in Ilfosol 3. I make no apology for showing all of the images here, warts and all, because I think they are quite cool! These have been scanned and slight adjustments made in Afinity Photo for exposure and levels. Most of the images were between half and one and a half stops underexposed which was probably down to my poor metering!

WPPD19: which image to submit?

At the time of writing, I have not yet decided which of all the pinhole images made on the day I should submit as my WPPD19 image. I’m open to suggestions.

Pinhole day this year was the first in a long time that I can remember having good, almost too good, weather for pinhole photography. It was unusual for me to come home with nothing I could call a failure!

The best thing about the day? Time spent with friends, sharing our enjoyment of simple image-making pleasures.

A final anecdote

We came across many bird watchers, apparently drawn to reports of two rare species of duck having been spotted along the coast where we were walking. Like us, each of them carried the tools of their hobby: while ours were tin cans and changing bags, theirs were tripods, spotting scopes and big digital cameras with huge long lenses surely capable of resolving the tail-feather detail of sparrows in flight at 1000 metres!

One of them was passing me when he spotted the Olympus round my neck: “Oh! What sort of lens is that? I’ve not seen one of these before.” he asked. Willing to be engaged in a spot of photographic gear talk I removed said ‘lens’ from the camera to show the pinhole end of the device. “It’s not a lens, it’s a vortoscopic bodycap pinhole.” I replied.

Oh dear! The clues were written all over his face. This conversation was going nowhere. It was quite clearly considered that I was some wacko with a screw loose! I need to invest time in the study of ornithology.