Friday, June 09, 2006

Pinhole Photography

Pinhole photography. That's the past-time I'm the most passionate about.

The image displayed here was made using a cardboard craft box, converted to a camera by the application of black spray paint inside the box, a thin brass sheet perforated with a minute pinhole, and a light-tight fitting lid. The sheet-film used was Ilford's FP-4 in 4"X5" format, developed in Kodak's HC-110, using dilution "B".

You can see more of my pinhole images at:

I've been "doing" pinhole photography for about 10 or 12 years. Doing, because pinhole is not just about the resulting image; rather, its about the whole process. Or rather, its a holistic process, in the sense that the process itself is perhaps just as important as the results. And my lack of precision regarding the inception date seems to derive from the effect that the process of pinhole has on one's personal recollection of the history involved. You get so tied up in the whole affair that it seems like you've been doing it practically forever.

Pinhole, in the manner in which I practice it, is a direct off-shoot of the craft of the silver-based traditional black and white darkroom. Its one step away from the photogram, which is the direct tranference of an object's optical properties onto a light sensitive surface, without the intervening medium of an optical gear-train.

The pinhole camera is a camera obscura with a light-sensitive medium placed at the projection plane.

Some of the limitations of hand-crafted box cameras I have come to discover can be the greatest strength of the medium. You have no accurate viewfinder within which to visualize the composition, in all its glory. At best, perhaps guide lines or viewing dots on the sides and top of the box, as an aid to aiming. And at the small working apertures used in pinhole, most photographic media operate beyond their linear light sensitivity response. Meaning you've got to deal with what's called reciprocity failure; each camera, film type and lighting condition has to be calibrated before hand. Light meters are therefore practically useless. And you find yourself using media such as black and white photo paper in applications it was not intended for, such as a form of inexpensive orthochromatic film.

But these limitations are its strength. Your imagination, and serendipity, become the modus operandi. You never know what image will result until you see it slowly begin to tarnish in the red illumination of the developer tray. And unless your eye is carefully trained to recognize the resulting positive print from a mere negative, you really don't know what you have until it's either printed in the darkroom, or scanned and inverted to a positive on a monitor screen.

My personal vision of the craft of pinhole photography is that the end goal in mind is always a finely crafted silver gelatin print, archivally processed onto fine fiber-based paper. Although I do frquently revert to the convenience of the scan, invert and post online. But nothing beats a fine contact print on fiber paper.

I hope you'll take the time to enjoy some of these images.


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