People frequently ask me about my pinhole camera and pinhole photography in general. I first learned about this process when I was attending the Art Institute of Boston for my MFA. One of the faculty members, Jessica Ferguson, presented her work. She makes lovely pinhole images of dioramas she creates with collected objects. Her work intrigued me and I decided I wanted to know more about the process. I was fortunate to participate in a pinhole photography workshop with her the following semester. She then put me in touch with Craig Barber, another outstanding pinhole artist who doesn’t live far from me. Craig was kind enough to provide me with instructions for building the camera you see pictured above. He also provided me with the aluminum shim with the appropriately sized pinhole (which acts as the lens.) His instructions for operating this device were the equivalent of licking your finger and sticking your hand in the air to see which direction the wind is blowing… but I understood it’s an intuitive process. You have to go by “feel”. That’s one of the things I like about it.
Pinhole photography stands on the basic physics behind photography. Light passing through a tiny hole will produce a reversed image on a perpendicular plane. References to this phenomenon have been traced back to Chinese texts from the fifth century B.C. Many of us are familiar with the Camera Obscura, a drawing device used by some Renaissance artists, which was, essentially, a pinhole camera. Subsequently, lenses were developed to gain greater control over the refracting light and chemical processes evolved to create a permanent image – leading up to the wonderful world of photography we have today. (This, of course, is the highly abridged version of the history of photography.)
In an age when you can take a picture with your cell phone, I enjoy exploring photography’s roots. As you can see, my camera is pretty simple. It is made out of black mat board and duct tape and is fitted with a Polaroid sheet film holder. The Polaroid film holder is great on many levels – one being I don’t have a dark room and two, I’m not the most patient person. Since pinhole photography can be tricky at best, I like know right away whether or not I got a good shot.
The interesting thing is, I scan the Polaroid images and print digitally. So by using a pinhole camera, Polaroid film, and digital printing, my process just about covers the entire span of the history of photography. : )