Pinhole Cameras and Photos

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Almost ten years ago I took a week long class in pinhole photography and, after that, for several years took photos with cameras I made from various sizes and types of cans. I chose cans with tight-fitting lids and would use a tack or pin to make a tiny hole in the side. Then I’d sand down the rough spot around the hole, and the can’s interior so it would hold paint. I’d spray paint the inside black and make my “shutter” with a piece of duct tape over the hole. Ta da! Camera!

These were my cans of choice:

I brought the cans/cameras with me to Florida, California, the Grand Canyon and China. Using a photography black bag I’d load a single sheet of large format film into the camera: typically 4×5″ or 5×8″.  One picture per can. I did that several mornings in China and then threw the cans into a backpack. I did worry I’d be stopped someplace by security and have to explain what they were. Empty bombs? The black spray paint and duct tape added a whiff of garage terrorist to the enterprise.

Actually, I loved the way the cans smelled. Something about the film and spray paint.

Exposure time was educated guesswork. I kept a notebook with times for most photos. I got a rough guide going in class, when I would develop film the same day I shot it, but on my own it was weeks or months before I could develop the film I shot. I still have undeveloped film in my closet, from years ago.

Once I was no longer in a class, developing the oversized film was a big pain in the ass. I needed a darkroom and could only develop one negative at a time – very time consuming! Then I printed them in my bathrooms using cyanotype or van dyke brown. Also – an insane process that began by painting the exposure chemicals onto heavy duty art-quality paper, putting the paper and negative (in an almost dark room) into my homemade contact press, running down the stairs to go outside and expose the image in sunlight, running back up the stairs to develop the print, which involved lots of hoses, trays, plastic sheeting, light control, yellow clamp lamps, and lots and lots of running. It was a messy, sweaty, time consuming process. It took a couple of hours to set it all up and then maybe I’d print 5 or 6 photos the entire afternoon. If it clouded over I may have wept.

So I printed maybe 10-20% of my negatives. And because these printing processes don’t bring out photo details the way typical photographic paper does, some of the photos looked very cool while others were just a blobby mess.

A few months ago, I bought a Groupon for a company that scans photos and negatives – so I sent all my pinhole negatives to them and they were able to scan about 90. I just got them back today. I’ll start posting the best ones.

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