Tag Archives: pinhole camera

The Spirit of Pinhole Photography

Like a lot of people, I learned about pinhole photography in college, in a basic photography course. For me, that was in 1972. Some pinhole evangelists (from Georgia I believe) were travelling through and showed us their cameras and photos they had made. I think most of us were pretty amazed at what they were doing.

After listening to our pinhole visitors discuss the medium, our instructor handed out instruction sheets for us to make our own pinhole cameras for the next class. We did (shown here is my first camera), and then we made our first images. We wandered around campus, placing these little boxes on the ground, opening up the shutters and then watching them soak up the light rays. Most of us weren’t satisfied with out first or second negative and kept going back to try it again. It was a lot of fun for the class. The next week the class moved on to learning about how our 35mm cameras worked and how to develop film and make prints. But I kept on just couldn’t get enough of the pinhole camera. That began what has turned out to be my life-long involvement with pinhole photography.

my first pinhole camera

A question that is often asked is “why pinhole?”. Over the last 30 years or so, this question has been the subject (either overtly or implied) of numerous discussions and exhibitions of pinhole photographs. Pinhole photography holds a fascination for a lot of people, and more and more people seem to be giving it try, to see what its all about.

There must be some good reasons I have continued to experiment with the pinhole for 30 some years. At least I hope so. I intend to use these pages to explore what some of these good reasons might be. I plan to add occasional postings on the subject of “the spirit of pinhole photography” as they come to mind.

Racing a Pinhole Camera

A couple of months ago I got an email from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art telling me about a “pinewood car” race they were putting on. It seems that artists in the Northeastern US had been building and racing their “pinewood cars” for several years and now SECCA was inviting them down South to take on artists from the Southeast. Sounded like a “photo op” to me, so I began working on a design for a pinhole camera pine car racer, or a PINholE CAmeRa RACER.

I ordered a pinewood kit (block of wood and wheels) and built a pinhole camera to fit the dimensions. The camera takes a 2″ x 2.5″ negative. I’ll take both paper and film to the race, but I expect to use the film. I’m assuming the race will last just a few seconds, so I may need to use a film rated at 400 and push the processing.
2″ x 2.5″ pinhole camera, curved negative carrier

Once the camera was completed, I choose a crew and built the car.

Jane and baby, ready to race

This will be Jane’s first auto race. Her previous outing was flying a biplane in the early 80′s. Baby is happy to go anywhere.

The car is designed to travel slow in order to prolong the camera exposure and hopefully capture a sense of the faster cars in the race. We’re in no hurry in the PINholE CAmeRa racer.

Jane and baby had time for a test run before the trip to Winston-Salem via the US Postal Service.

test photo
Jane and Baby pose for camera before race

Please wish us luck in coming in last with a fine photo finish of the race. The race will be held Saturday, Sep 16th from 1-4pm, but the cars will be on exhibit July 22 through October 1, 2006. SECCA is a great museum of contemporary art, so please visit.

The Starbucks Columbian Camera

Even before it landed in the kitchen trashcan, my hand was reaching for the empty coffee bag I just tossed. I rarely let solid containers like cans or boxes go to the trash before evaluating their potential as a pinhole camera. But I hadn’t considered something as flimsy as a bag being a camera. This was a Starbucks Columbian coffee bean bag, made of aluminum foil, light-tight (I assumed), and would hold a 4×5 negative. It suddenly sounded like a camera to me.

So, I shook out the remaining coffee bean bits, took it to my studio, put a sheet of paper in it and took it outside. In the bright sun, I punctured the front with a needle, aimed it at a porch railing, and pulled the needle out. Five seconds later, I placed my finger over the hole and took the camera to the darkroom.

Columbian Coffee Bag Camera

Uh oh, fogged paper! Coffee bags have a one-way air valve in them to allow air to b squeezed out, but not in. This one may have also let some light in. So, I added tape over the air valve to block out any light. And, just to be safe, I sprayed the inside of the bag with flat black paint to prevent light from bouncing around.

Starbuck Photo

Back outside, I took this photo of myself. With the time it took to spray the bag, make the pinhole, and tape the air valve, this was about a 5 minute exposure.


Cold Moon (1)

The next full moon (the Cold Moon ) will be on December 15th.

From the US Naval Observatory website:

Manteo, Dare County, North Carolina (longitude W75.7, latitude N35.9):
Thursday 15 December 2005      Eastern Standard Time
Begin civil twilight       6:37 a.m.
Sunrise                    7:06 a.m.
Sun transit               11:58 a.m.
Sunset                     4:50 p.m.
End civil twilight         5:19 p.m.

Moonrise                   3:49 p.m. on preceding day
Moon transit              11:31 p.m. on preceding day
Moonset                    7:18 a.m.
Moonrise                   4:38 p.m.
Moonset                    8:15 a.m. on following day
Full Moon on 15 December 2005 at 11:16 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

I’m planning on setting cameras out at two or three locations for the full Cold Moon: one at the stone cross at the Manteo waterfront, one at Bodie Island lighthouse, and perhaps another try at Coquina Beach.

I scouted out the Bodie Island lighthouse during the last full moon and have an idea where to place the camera to capture the arc of the moon behind the lighthouse. I’m not sure about where to place a camera at the Manteo waterfront, so will wait and see on that one.

coffee can camera

I have a new camera to try this time, made from a Progresso tomato soup can. Its a perfect size for 4×5 film. The older camera is also metal, a small coffee can. For both of the shots on the 15th, I plan to use B/W film. B/W is very fitting for a cold moon, and I’ll also be able to develop it right away to adjust my setup for the following nights.

I’ll also use my new monopods this time, made from broom handles, with a 1/4″ threaded bolt to mount the cameras.


can bottom

I added 1/4″ nuts to both of the metal cameras today.

I’ve been using cans for cameras in public places, partly to avoid their being noticed. I just place them on the ground or in the sand. But then, there really aren’t that many people wandering about through the night. So I probably don’t have to worry so much about someone walking off with a pinhole camera. Still, they do handle the weather well. They may look a little suspiciuous mounted on broom handles. But, that’s the chance you take.