Light: Pinhole Photography

Currently I have been looking at Pinhole photography and how to make my own pinhole camera. A pinhole camera is almost the same as a camera obscura, which was created in the renaissance. A camera obscura was a darkened room with a small hole in it, this hole then was able to project the outside world inside the room. It was first created to be an experience for people to sit inside it and see the world pass by, it was then used for artist to trace the image for paintings. The different between a camera obscura and a pinhole camera is that a pinhole camera records the projection as it has photographic paper inside it. But essentially they are pretty much the same thing.

I have looked at a lot of different artists who use pinhole cameras and how they have created some of their own wacky cameras.

Ilan Wolff – he used to use boxes of old cans for his pinhole camera, today he uses his van and rooms to get a large projection. He has wrapped film inside the back of tilted cylindrical containers to produce weirdly distorted images of bridges, bedouins and cityscapes. “Every image is a surprise, which fascinates me,” he says. Why take a picture, he asks if you know exactly how it will turn out? Working with black-and-white photographic paper, he adds sepia tones or uses color paper to create aurora-like glows of red and orange. He recently converted a van into a rolling pinhole camera. “I have holes on both sides, on the back and on the roof,” Wolff says. The roof holes he uses for poster-sized portraits of buildings like the ever-photogenic Eiffel Tower. To compose his shots, he’s forced to do a lot of illegal parking, he cheerfully admits. “I get many tickets, but I just add these to the price of the photographs.”  (

Thomas Harding – was once a military photographer and focused on portraiture, later started to used pinhole cameras. Most of his work now is done by natural light and a pinhole camera, he did use to focus on still lives and landscapes; but then moved on to focus on schoolhouses, they were collected in a book called One-Room Schoolhouses of Arkansas as Seen through a Pinhole. After schoolhouses he focused on outhouses, he says they’re fun and the pictures also combine his love for Arkansas history with photography of deceptive simplicity. His book An Outhouse by any other Name, a third of the pictures was captured on a homemade pinhole camera. It was two pieces of three-quarter inch plywood; he then drilled a hole through the wood. A piece of brass with a pinhole in it was attached over the hole in the front. He fixed a Packard Air Release Shutter to the pinhole, behind the hole to hold the sheet film he attached the back of a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera. The f-stop was f-128 and the field of view is about 120 degrees. (From An Outhouse by any Other Name)

Abelardo Morell – he creates his photographs by using a camera obscura and then photographing the image that has been projected. He would go to hotel rooms or any room really in different countries and black out the whole room apart from a pinhole, the projection of the outside world completely transformed the room. His work is completely stunning. I have added a video which shows how Morell creates his photographs.


Thomas Bachler – At the Window – Each room is more or less a pinhole camera: a dark room with a window as an opening to the outside world. That is what makes me want to work with the relationship between inner and outer spaces when working with a pinhole camera.

Eric Renner – created the pinhole resource website with Nancy Spencer. He has created many different pinhole cameras including one which was in a jar so it was able to go underwater, he used a red pepper as a pinhole camera and a face that has been made out of plaster which are called the plaster face camera. These are just a few of the type of cameras that he makes, he can pretty much make a pinhole camera out of anything.

Wiley Sanderson – “One day in 1968, I was walking down the street, and I said to myself, or something said to me “Why don’t you make a camera that takes a whole environment into view?” I was sort of disgusted with what I had seen in photography–a single image didn’t say enough to me somehow. I remembered I knew something about pinhole photography. After about two months, I made a camera that used six pinholes to make a 360 degree image. I love pinhole photography–it was like I had found a way to get inside myself–express what was inside of me. I’ve always depended upon artwork in lots of ways and had real feelings about people and this planet-the things that are on it-the sun, the moon, the clouds, the love. I’ve always wanted some way to sense these things; the way that seem appropriate was pinhole photography.” (Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique – book)

Dianne Bos – “My work challenges the view of photography as a way to “capture an instant in time.” By using pinhole cameras and long exposure times I record, not a instant, but rather the passage of time at a site. Viewers have said that my work evokes the memory-image that remains for them long after they have viewed a familiar location. I think this recognizes the importance I have always assigned to time, memory, and capturing the essence of the place, in my images of architectural icons and classic travellers destinations.

Much of my work centres around contemplative spaces and offers a meditation on time’s movement within a still image. Time and light, movement and stillness, memory and the observer: these elements link all of the diverse images I create.”

George Davison – the tranquil scene of an onion field, taken in the early summer of 1889 at the village of Gomshall in Surrey, is the first successful Impressionist photograph in the history of the medium. Made with a pinhole camera requiring a long exposure time, it is the work of an artist convinced that the kind of sharp focus practised in the 1880s was unnatural. Soft focus led to what Davidson called ‘diffusion’ and meant that a scene could be read quickly and for its overall feeling.  His intentions were as much social as aesthetic, for the response he most wanted to elicit was one of sympathy for working people. (The Photo Book)

Willie Anne Wright – “In the summer of1972 I enrolled in a photography class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. I wished to learn to use a newly acquired 35 mm camera to photograph my paintings.

Our first assignment was to construct and use a pinhole camera. This was not something I had anticipated. I set about, with reluctance, cutting and piecing together the mat board for the preplanned box. It turned out to be a cleverly designed 4″ x 5″ instrument with three focal lengths. After a week’s struggle to make a light-proof imaging instrument, class members loaded their boxes with #1 grade photo paper (then available) to fulfil their next assignment— pinholing a class partner.

Having no previous darkroom experience, I was overwhelmed when the image from my first paper negative emerged in the developer. It was a defining moment. I had come to the class frustrated by an unsuccessful attempt at making a painting derived from a 19th century family photograph. Here before me was the way to realize the ideas that had been swirling in my head. From that moment, the pinhole path opened to me. The class moved on to learning to use our 35mm cameras, but I knew creative adventures lay with my pinhole camera.

The themes I am drawn to in pinhole photography came into my life with the 19th century family photographs, mentioned in question one. When I was a teenager, an elderly relative gave me a series of five albumen prints of a group of young people enjoying a day in the country in the late 1880s. My father (who was 50 when I was born) was a young child looking on at his elders in several of the photos. Something about the past and present being a continuum and even interfacing fascinated me. I have yet to relinquish the mind-set the poignancy of these family photographs established. Recently, I used the 1880s photographs in two “combines” of my Channeling series.” (

Phil Simkin – he did a month long project with 15000 hand assembled and preloaded pinhole cameras in the Philadelphia Museum of Art – people came into the museum, picked up a camera and made an exposure. The images were then developed in a public darkroom in the museum and were continually displayed in the museum.

Justin Quinnell – used his mouth and a dustbin as pinhole cameras.


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