Pinhole Heaven

It's hard being an artist. I personally give myself a hard time about my own work. There are definite peeks and troff’s in art making and its direction is totally self driven, it can be an extremely slippery process to maintain, especially with many other responsibilities and distractions. So when the energy comes you have to grab it with both hands and feet and go with the direction it takes you. While working with Newlaiths Primary I asked if I could put a pinhole camera in the grounds of the school for a three week long exposure. I have never done one before and the Assistant Head was happy to support the experimental nature of my suggestion. The Site Attendant mentioned that there was a disused air vent on the roof we could strap it too. He secured the pinhole camera to the vent with copious amounts of duck tape. And we waited. 

Analogue photography can be tricky especially when you have one camera and many variables to consider, but this experiment had a ‘Who knows vibe’. I knew the sun would set and rise and that the light could be captured on the photographic medium, but there was also the chance that light could creep in an burn any image away and I wouldn’t know until I tried to develop it. I had the unease of an experiment, asking myself questions like, ‘Do I develop it like I normally would in the dark room? Do I just fix the image like I do with a Lumen print? I just didn’t know but what I did know was that I could wipe whatever image was on the paper with the wrong process. 

I was painfully aware that other people were expecting something. They expected an image. They didn’t know what the image was but they had an image in their head of what I was suggesting COULD happen. Anyway on the last week the site manager took the camera down and I brought it home. I had read online that I should just scan the image strait into the computer and not develop it at all in the dark room. I decided to do it the way I knew and processed it in the darkroom. I was so disappointed and swore a lot as I couldn’t see anything on the paper. It was just totally exposed. I could have used three ways of revealing an image and I had only one shot at it, I felt I had chose the wrong way. Then, as I cursed I could see shapes in the darkness of the print. I couldn’t see anything but maybe my camera phone could, so I took a photo of a photo. The digital eye can help us see things differently. I rotated it and saw I was looking it the wrong way. I changed altered the levels in photoshop and inverted it. It had captured something and I wasn’t a total failure. I sent the images to the contact at the school. I knew it wasn’t as clear as I would have liked but I thought it looked cool so I sent it anyway. 

Whether the outcome was a success or not, this experience made me curious again about my love for analogue photography and I could actually see how digital can make the process easier. I don’t have to turn my negatives in to positives, I can just invert them in photoshop. Which means I can play better and more efficiently. I bought some knew photo paper I have never tried and Ive been playing. I took this energy and shared it with the lads in my open studio sessions. We played with photo paper, foil and pin holes and discussed camera-less photography. I also made my family sit through pinhole portraits on Sunday afternoon. I started Lumen printing again. My lesson from all of this is that its worth trying and failing to stir up curiosity, because curiosity leads to ideas and that leads to making interesting work. Children need to see and be apart of this experimental process, photography is a great way of doing this as we learn about the beauty of physics, chemistry and art.

Penny Rowe