I took my new pinhole camera on holiday this year, as part of an ongoing fascination with the most analogue of photography. For a while now i’ve been enjoying the simplicity of Lomography film cameras, which take an almost wilfully sub optimised perspective on pictures, with fisheye lenses, multiple exposures, and even a special filter to allow you to inject your choice of liquid to fill a lens. The Lomography community (and it is as much a community as it is a set of cameras) is guided by principles of spontaneity, individual aesthetic and chance. My pinhole camera, a crowd funded Pinsta affair, takes this to the extreme, starting with it’s exposure time, which starts at about two minutes on a sunny day, and carrying through to the vials of developer and fixing fluid that you have to carry around with you, along with a mobile darkroom (e.g. a light tight bag!).
River has been fascinated by the whole thing but i realise that in my attempts to explain pinhole cameras to a four year old i have resorted to language that is one step away from invoking the deities: i talk about how light dances on the paper, how we capture it, how it waits until we can let it out into the light again. We veer close to alchemy, but he seems to enjoy using the syringes that we use to inject the developer into the camera, and then washing the subsequent prints until no longer toxic.
It is an almost mediative activity, and a highly ritualistic one. Almost like an extreme flavour of the modern vinyl collector, who chooses to sacrifice versatility, cheapness and quality in favour of experience and the ability to hold an actual artefact in their hands. I have to say that the moment when you finally open the camera up, and discover (at various times) a perfect print, an elusive and shaky shadow, or a blank sheet of paper (where you loaded the photo paper in back to front in the dark by mistake…).
My nonagenarian Great Aunt, gives away her germanic heritage by saying that she has ‘made a photo’ (as opposed to my English approach of ‘taking’ one). But i suppose, in a very real sense, through the pinhole and paraphernalia, the photo is truly made.
* For those not familiar with the process, a pinhole camera can be as simple as a shoebox with a tiny hole in it which you can cover with gaffer tape: to take a picture you put photosensitive paper inside the box (you have to do this in the dark…) and then remove the tape for the length of exposure required. This can be anything from maybe two to eight minutes, if the clouds are in. Afterwards you develop the picture (also in the dark) and by the magic of science bingo: you have spent fifteen minutes doing what your iPhone could do in seconds. But it is fun.