“What you doin’ here?”
“I’m, uh, taking some photographs.”
“I’m a photographer.”
That was my first conversation last Sunday morning, April 26, 2009. It was the last Sunday in April, and therefore it was also Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. I was at a drive in theater with my Holga super-wide panoramic pinhole camera, exploring what I thought would be an abandoned place. It was beautiful: A panoramic view of two huge white outdoor screens with the Catalina Mountains between and behind them. In the foreground, where cars had parked the night before were regular piles of movie food garbage.
The clean-up guy told me I was not supposed to be there. I asked him if I could take a photo before I left. He said it was ok, but his boss would be there soon and he didn’t want to get in trouble. So I did what you do when you are taking a pinhole photograph: stand next to the tripod with the lens cap in hand, counting the seconds. “1-one thousand-2 one thousand….5” Nothing much to it.
As they say on the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day Web site, Anyone, anywhere in the world, who makes a pinhole photograph on the last Sunday in April, can scan it and upload it to this website where it will become part of the annual Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day celebration’s online gallery.”
What for? Again on the WPPD site, that is explained.
Pinhole photography allows you to make a photograph that requires only a light-tight container (box, can,…) with a tiny hole in one side (as a camera) and any photo-sensitive surface in it. You can adapt an existing camera, or make the camera yourself . The experience of image-making becomes a little more special when created with your own hand-made camera; so, we provide different instructions in making your camera on our Support page.
This is the camera I used to take the photo at the top of this post of my daughter Claire. We made it in about 5 minutes at the Pinhole Photography workshop we attended together last January at Photographic Works lab here in Tucson. To make it we used an empty Ilford paper box that was lying around, a small sheet of thin metal from a hardware store, a pin, and duct tape. This gives new meaning to the term “box camera.”
It may blow you mind to make images with one of these home-made cameras–there in nothing between your photo-sensitive material and the outside world but air, through a tiny hole. No lens. Not much of anything at all. Just light and shadow. Kind of gives a new meaning to the term “reality.
This is my new Holga pinhole panoramic camera. I went to several pinhole sites on the Web looking for exposure information. I even tried calculating the f/stop and exposure using a light meter. But I found that almost every exposure worked, there is so much latitude. And the reciprocity effect of the several second exposures is enough to make a few seconds over and under not make a significant difference. Also pinhole cameras just do not respond to technical calculations.
I now just go out there and guess, using my experience and the small chart Holga provides on the back of the camera. It’s close enough. It’s art. It’s quantum physics.