“Just do it and let others sort out their problems with it”, was Justin Quinnell‘s advice to the club on Thursday night. Apparently the pinhole camera, admittedly a minority interest, is rather divisive. To artists it is science. To scientists it is art. By this division, apparently irreconcilable, a fascinating and deceptively simple technique for creating long term expressions of the passage of time and not a little mystery is largely disregarded. Links nicely with David Southwell’s definition of photography quoted in last week’s blog ,”An art supported by science”, which seems to square that circle, and, while we are on the topic, a conclusion from the blog before that, that we use tools as a means of controlling what we can in order to look for the art in the rest. Problems of the world solved we move on with this fascinating perspective.
The effect is not new, that is to say, our knowledge of the effect is not new, though its use is contested. Aristotle (384-322 BC) knew of the pinhole effect. Justin has christened it “Aristotle’s Hole” and pointed out that it’s an effect in nature traceable over 5,000,000 years, possibly more. That isn’t an argument for Intelligent Design, at least not one I recognise, but it does show that as a species we seem to be constantly trying to catch up with the rest of nature. Justin had his audience hooked from the off and a gallop through the history of the pinhole, taking in pretty much everything from nature, a sieve and leaves (Aristotle’s implements of choice), mirrors, the camera obscura, ancient Greece, the Renaissance and modern times, certainly added to the evening. Did you know that there are pinhole glasses as well as pinhole cameras? You won’t be getting them on prescription any time soon though.
So, just what is a pinhole camera? Well it’s an enclosed, dark space with a single, small, hole in it positioned so that light can enter through the hole. Light, as we know from previous blogs and those lessons in school science that we paid attention too, travels in straight lines. When it meets a surface it turns an angle and continues in straight lines. If there is a light sensitive material for those straight lines to bounce back off then an image can be fixed. If that material is translucent then it can, as long as a modicum of shade is preserved be used as a screen to view the live image on. Pretty straight forward (though you can make things as difficult for yourself as you wish). Use a mirror and you can project onto another surface, such as paper where you can trace over the image (as long as the light holds). This is a technique that has a long history, though the question of whether that is an honourable history is a provocation itself and goes to the very heart of the question of what should be called art, which I think rather nicely brings us back to where we started this post.
Justin introduced us to some major practitioners, (of whom he is one), my favourite being where whole rooms have been turned into camera obscura’s and the results captured on video or stills photography. One day, maybe. The fact is the physical limits are well known and, as usual, the most limiting factor is the imagination of the photographer. Certainly his own projects have shown that thinking unconventionally doesn’t have to mean great expense. Maybe it’s simplicity works against it. At its’ most unadorned it requires the cooperation of others, a beer can or similar container, some gaffer tape, something with a point on to make a small hole, tin opener and a photographic medium. The idea’s of short and long exposures has to be adjusted. We are talking seconds/minutes not fractions of seconds for short exposures and months (if not years) for long ones. Interestingly – though I suppose quite obviously – there is no development involved. This is because it will go completely dark when you develop the image, or try to, if the fix hasn’t washed the image away. Instead digital comes to the rescue, either using a scanner or a camera – you could probably use your camera phone – and then the reverse option in an image editing application. The truly amazing thing is the latitude the paper negative yields, meaning that the image burning out is rarely, if ever, a problem. Justine was at a loss to explain why, but that does not prevent him from exploiting the phenomenon.
All in all a fascinating evening and one which, maybe, the club could follow up with some practical work?
N E X T M E E T I N G
12th March – Tonight we’ll be answering many of the questions you submitted about photography back in January. The topics will cover all the more commonly asked questions as well as a few unusual ones. Join in the discussion afterwards. Entries for 3rd round of the Reflex Open Competition now due. Final submission for Banwell Photobattle, co-ordinate with Alison.
19th March – an evening in honour of St Patrick, see this PDF prepared by our own Mr Gerry Painter RCC_notice_Ian
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Firstly a very special Reflex congratulations to Ruth on her Ruby Wedding Anniversary celebrated last Saturday with family and friends at the Pomphrey Hill Pavillion, home of the Carsons & Mangotsfield Cricket Club. I admit I was ignorant of Ruth’s passion for the game until someone passed me this photo from her wedding day of Ruth appealing for an LBW.
Secondly, well there is no secondly, how could you possibly follow that?