Each year since 2001 the last Sunday in April has been designated World Pinhole Day. The website www.pinholeday.org is the place to go. The rules are simple: submit one lensless photograph per person, taken on the Sunday. There has been a workshop run at Photospace every year of WPHD, the first one run by Eddie Shaw, then Mark Marriott and I took over when Eddie moved back to England. Being in New Zealand, we get the jump on the rest of the world timezone-wise, usually getting the first photos on the exhibition site. This year is no exception. I can’t help wondering if the wonderful, dedicated people who run this website/event are getting a tiny bit sick of us. “[Groan] Oh Christ, not those guys again.”
Anyway, the whole pleasure of partaking is in creating a photograph with a camera you’ve made yourself (we use Pringles cartons, the small ones) and developed in the darkroom. The first time I experienced this myself, in 2001, coincided with the arrival of a new digital camera (the second one - the first having been pressed into service in 1999) for the photography business and trying to figure out how to run the thing. Making a camera out of a Planters cashew nut tin and getting a perfectly sharp, well-exposed and still interesting photo out of it was a real buzz, and in complete contrast to wrestling with the new digi.
The technology employed is 19th century (well, mid-20th, since we use resin-coated silver-gelatin paper for a negative) and the thinking much older. The camera obscura (described in the 5th century) vastly predates the photographic negative (William Henry Fox Talbot, 1830s) and the observation of light coming through a small hole into a dark room (or cave!) and creating a projected image of outdoors, reversed and inverted, is probably prehistoric.
The pleasure of doing something with photography that is hands on is, for me, greater than using a computer-driven hunk of plastic that is today’s digital camera, moving the image into a computer (more plastic) and then to a website. The digital image often never hits the ground; that is, it never has a material existence, so there doesn’t tend to be the associated strong feeling of having created something oneself; technology dilutes this feeling, perhaps because so much of the work has been done by others.
I guess I sound a bit old school here, but most people who do our workshops have never done anything except digital photography, and they get a huge buzz out of making the camera, discovering the characteristics of it and developing their own images in chemicals. The most common feedback is, ‘You wouldn’t believe you could take a photo with something as simple as this.’
Obviously there has to be some restriction on the size of the images stored on the www.pinholeday.org 2008 gallery pages, so you can’t really see the detail recorded. For example, in Bethany Campbell’s image (#5 ) the writing on the Sweet Mothers Kitchen sign is clearly readable in the original print.
And there are some fine photos taken using a pinhole on the front of a digital camera, but really… it’s cheating.
by james | 27 April, 2008