The ƒ/D Book of Pinhole is a collection of pinhole photos from 99 photographers which was submitted in response to a Call for Entry in July and August of 2016. The photographs were selected and accepted based on their aesthetic quality, uniqueness of execution, appropriate use of pinhole and, in some cases, demonstration of persevering through the challenges of pinhole. In their entry, photographers also noted their response to the prompt “I saw through a pinhole” – quotes from these will be featured in the book.
The photographers represent the North & South American, European, and Asian continents in geographical and aesthetic uniqueness. The photographs themselves represent executions that show the “pinhole look” in general as well as the unique ways in which pinhole works with motion and time, bent film planes, infrared, and other techniques and formats.
A Pinhole Photography Primer
The pinhole camera serves as a creative antidote to today’s pixel-perfect world. ƒ/D feels that pinhole can serve as a creative bedrock from which a photographer can build in a number of directions. Whether you are a current or aspiring pinhole practitioner, or you practice other forms of photography, there is a wealth of inspiration provided by these photos showing what can be accomplished with time and the barest equipment.
Pinhole cameras, by definition, use no lens. Instead, light is focused by a tiny hole; oftentimes it is literally a hole made with a pin. The camera relies on the property of light to travel in a straight line. The numerous rays of light from a scene are projected individually through the pinhole and onto the photo taking medium (film, photo paper, or digital sensor). Because the pinhole is tiny, often fractions of a millimeter, the f-stop of such cameras tend to be very high numbers – usually above 100. Consequently, exposure times usually range from about a second to 10 or more minutes. In addition, the tiny pinhole aperture provides almost infinite depth of field, usually extending from an inch in front of the camera to infinity.
Because of the way the light is focused by the pinhole, and the long exposure times, Pinhole Photographs have some unique properties. Details in a scene are softened compared to lensed images. Because of the long exposure times, parts of a scene that move are blurred. Between the softened details and the blurred motion, pinhole photos tend to skew towards abstract and surreal imagery. Sometimes this combination of qualities can result in unpredictably creative effects – effects that we can in some cases apply in other aspects of photography.
Exhibit review by contributor Patrick Collier – Blake Andrews at Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR – June 2016
I’ve known about Blake Andrews for many years. He is a force to be reckoned with in the world of photography, particularly because of his minimally titled blog, B. Steeped in the history of and a dialog about photography, the blog is informative, but its real bite comes when Andrews applies his creative, incisive wit—sometimes so dry that how one interprets him says more about the person reading than what he writes—that makes it a must-read. Those who make the mistake of taking him at face value are said to start bleeding a good 24 hours later from the place his scalpel almost imperceptibly pierced their skin.
But I’m here to talk about his exhibit of photographs, specifically his exhibit this past June, Pictures of a gone world at Blue Sky Gallery. All framed by sprocket holes (not visible in the reproductions here), the 28, black and white, analog photographs carefully attend to a specific aesthetic and technical history of his craft. The subject matter is mostly his wife and kids, which some might consider a bit of a throwback. But the images illustrate the title for the exhibit, “Pictures of a gone world,” which, the exhibit’s press release informs us, is also the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first book of poems.
“Gone?” If I were of a literal bent, I’d see no pending doom in these photographs. (Well, maybe in one photo, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Quite the contrary: I see joy, even in the most chaotic of moments portrayed in these images, and a lot of fun being had.
Oh! “Gone!” Like in “Gone, Daddy, gone,” as in “far out,” taking things to a new level, or being unconstrained. It is a vernacular older than Andrews; another time lost; still, albeit anachronistic, applicable for this exhibit.
The press release goes on to explain that this exhibit is inspired by a specific Ferlinghetti poem, “The World is a Beautiful Place,” which starts out: “The world is a beautiful place/to be born into/if you don’t mind happiness/not always being/so very much fun.” Continuing the theme, the poem finishes: “Yes the world is the best place of all/for a lot of such things as/making the fun scene/and making the love scene/and making the sad scene/and singing low songs and having inspirations/and walking around/looking at everything/and smelling flowers/and goosing statues/and even thinking/and kissing people and/making babies and wearing pants/and waving hats and/dancing/and going swimming in rivers/on picnics/in the middle of the summer/and just generally/’living it up’/Yes/but then right in the middle of it/comes the smiling/mortician”
I have gone to the bother of transcribing most of this poem for a reason, and it is not because these photographs are not capable of standing on their own. The majority were taken between 2006 and 2010, yet span a slightly longer period of time. As such, they function as a chronicle of his family as they age, and as one might suspect, there is a broad range of emotions portrayed.
Andrews is known as a street photographer, a practice that is said to depend heavily on the “decisive moment,” that critical and optimal split second in which the photo comes together in both form and content within the frame. These street skills become paramount when capturing the half-feral, gleeful chaos that can be found in a child’s exuberance. Even so, to be both parent and photographer must pose some interesting problems: To be both in the moment and outside of it; enjoying/enduring the time in a dual capacity; and then capturing it as best he can. Stopping to appreciate that which has just passed is an indulgence he may not be able to afford, that is if he is to follow the photographer’s dictate: Take it all in, watch, watch, watch to see and be ready before the moment becomes a missed opportunity. (And, I would add, capturing the decisive moment is only an attempt, the actual accomplishment something else, closer, perhaps, to the happy accident in one of ~36 frames.) Only at a later time might he make something of the experience.
Taken as such, the option of staging a photo doesn’t seem like a bad decision. And there is one photo in this group that does have that flavor, a photo that, somewhat understandably, was not available for reproduction here. It shows one of Andrew’s sons at a fairly young age, naked and holding a large pair of garden shears—the limb-lopper variety—in front of himself.
Despite this psychoanalytic show-stopper, I can hear someone ask incredulously, “Pictures of his children are worthy of an exhibition?” and perhaps continue with a litany of photo history references that amount to an argument of “been done a thousand times.” Sure, if the work simulated the times I’ve been trapped on someone’s couch with their photo album in front of me. Instead, Andrew’s combination of the candid moment and his composition skills set a stage from which to dismantle the contempt of even the most hardened, wow-me-now gallery-goers—and perhaps not just the ones who have watched their own children grow.
Still, is the temptation to ask such a question telling of another gone world? There is a certain cynicism as well as disregard that lurks in the contemporary art arena; both attend to our need to expect the unusual. In the face of such a reaction, Andrews might smirk. The yearning for the quirky or unique creates a disconnect, both passive and active (seen that, done that), and manifests as a loss. In spite of all of the obvious fun his kids are having, these images could very well flip around and act as a stand-in for anyone’s loss of innocence or sense of wonder.
On the surface, cynicism is antithetical to sentimentality. A closer look finds something not always easy to perceive, let alone embrace and utilize: cynicism and sentimentality are two sides of the same coin. What if, then, we were to accept this kinship? What if cynicism was just as hackneyed as sentimentality, and just as much from the heart? After all, in the quest for artistic contemporaneity, should we distance ourselves from a substantial part of what has nurtured us?
We learn to anticipate loss. The loss all parents experience as their children’s autonomy burgeons is just one aspect of this life-long lesson. Blake Andrews’ images celebrate playfulness—including his own with a camera—all the while making us look more closely at what we have lost in our sophistication as adults. After all, it is the adult, not the child, who worries about that garden tool.
Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, Oregon, who has been “shooting photos since 1993, with occasional one hour breaks.” His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as Artget Gallery in Belgrade, Photofusion Gallery in London, Drkrm Gallery in Los Angeles, Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco, Lightbox Photographic Gallery in Astoria, and Newspace Center for Photography and the Art Gym in Portland.
Photographer and writer Mandy Williams attended this year’s Paris Photo exposition, and had a special interest in viewing works from galleries that were owned by, or whose directors are women. As a special contribution to Wobneb Magazine this month, Williams presents her experience and particular works of note. She found the artists’ desire to expand the definitions of photography was the highlight of the show.
Mandy Williams, PARIS – Visiting Paris Photo for a day when there are 153 galleries, 29 publishers and 1255 artists exhibiting means having a clear idea of what you want to see. I decided to focus on galleries with women directors, but specifically those showing distinctive contemporary work from emerging and mid-career artists. All of them had female directors, and all were showing artists who are either working beyond the flat surface of traditional photography, or exploring ideas of ‘real fictions’.
One of these was Binôme, a gallery founded by Valérie Cazin. At Paris Photo they showed two artists, Mustapha Azeroual, who applies old processes to contemporary photography, and Thibault Brunet whose camera-less photographs are created from digital sources.
I was immediately drawn to Brunet’s Typologie du Virtuel series, 2014-16 where he takes images of suburban buildings that have been modeled in 3D by Google Earth users. He personalises these images by adding a drop shadow according to the date and time of its creation and chooses a dominant colour for each building ‘defined by the objective modeling file data’. Visually, the work is stunning. The buildings seem to float halfway between reality and artifice in a world of muted colour. Brunet pursues his interests with intelligence, adding his voice to debates about authorship and our relationship to the virtual world.
At Melanie Rio gallery I was interested in the work of Edgar Martins, a Portugese photographer living in the UK. His 2010 series, ‘A Metaphysical Survey of British Dwellings’ shows the mock-up of a town created in 2003 for the purposes of police and firearm training. Pizzaland was on display at Paris Photo and like others from his series it appears both hyper-real and fictional. The blank facades, black skies and unpopulated streets create a sense of anxiety. This displacement, this absence of community is according to Martins ‘not just a simulacrum of contemporary British towns’ but ‘also a metaphor for the modern asocial city’.
Leyla Cardenas, showing at Galerie Dix9 Hélène Lacharmoise, explores urban ruins and city landscapes as indications of social transformation, loss and historical memory. In “Contained Entropy”, her image of the building is mounted on demolition debris, through an extension of the image. “Unshrouded #3” is a photo showing the facade of an old building in Bogotá, and is printed on fabric she uncovers at one end. She has used fabric and thread in her work for a long time and felt it was logical to start working with veils, ‘that are like phantoms, the last fragile image of places that are about to disappear and dissolve’.
Another artist using thread is Iris Hutegger at Esther Woerdehoffgallery, who applies drawing and stitching to her landscape photographs. The stitching is integrated smoothly into the surface using a machine she helped develop and the textural interventions are only visible up-close. From a distance ,the work appears as a fluid photograph. Her locations are deliberately unpopulated and place-specific references are limited. By choosing titles with numeric codes she keeps these places private and mysterious.
At Les Filles du Calvaire, run by Stéphane Magnan and Christine Ollier, I was drawn to the work of Katrien De Blauwer. I was drawn in part to the intimate scale of her work, but you can also see her skillful eye and artistic sensibility in her images made by cutting and layering found images. Her source material is mainly magazines from the 1930s-60s. Most images feature women suggesting an element of autobiography. She has said, ‘My work contains hidden layers, parts of me (or my past) in the work’. These small images possess a vivid cinematic quality, a mysterious voyeurism, but also a genuine emotional impact through her skillful cutting and layering.
Creating innovative new work from old material is an element of Thomas Mailaender’s work at Roman Road, a gallery opened by Marisa Bellani. Mailaender showed work from Illustrated People (2013) where he used a powerful UV light to temporarily imprint negatives – freely accessed from The Archive of Modern Conflicts collection of 19th and 20th century photographic documents – onto the skin of his models. His Cyanotypes (2013- present), are impressive large-scale images of often mundane or unexpected subject matter found on the internet. In both series old processes are reinvigorated and brought into the 21st century through performative elements, humour and visual puns.
Dinh Q Lê’s installation, TWC in Four Moments, at Shoshana Wayne Gallery is another work where reality and fiction merge. Each moment is represented by a 50 metre long digitally stretched and manipulated photograph of the World Trade Centre taken during the 9/11 attack from different perspectives in New York. Seeing the long colour strips spilling down to settle gently on raised plinths was surprisingly emotional in spite of their abstraction. Inevitably, memories of that event are revisited, adding layers and complexity to the abstracted images. Lê abstracts the scenes and creates a scroll-like landscape that is experienced one section at a time, much like traditional landscape paintings. The artist asks us to think about the images in relation to time; to travel through a landscape. The fact that the viewer only sees a limited part of an image that has been abstracted is exactly the point—the story behind each image is far more complex, layered, and interwoven than the eye can see.
Cary Benbow (CB): Why did you become a photographer? How did you get started?
Carrie Schreck (CS): I messed around a bit with film as a kid but the real answer this: when I first lived in San Francisco, my boyfriend and I never locked our car. It’s best just to leave it unlocked with nothing in it; if someone breaks in, at least you don’t have to replace your windows. One night someone must have been ripping off cars, got into ours and fell asleep. The next morning my boyfriend walks in with a Canon AE-1 left in the back seat. That’s how I got in to photography. Seriously. I still have that camera.
CB: Where do you get the ideas for your personal photography?
CS: I’m looking for genuine moments, powerful moments, and I hope to have the right mix of luck and speed to be able to catch them and do them some justice.
CB: Explain the idea behind your Moped portfolio images – How do they relate to your other projects?
CS: I’ve been shooting moped riders and moped gangs for 7 years. I shoot it because it’s my life and what’s going on around me, but it’s such a close-knit community, it’s a brotherhood and sisterhood. The story lines around each gang, each ride, each rally are a total challenge to capture. I wanted to save the memories for the people in them, that was always my first priority. Say, if Ashlee ever has kids and they are able to see a photo of her bombing the Coronado bridge after racing hundreds of miles, fixing her bike on the side of the road, doing something silly and dangerous but daring… maybe they’ll be inspired. With a photograph, that inspiration can happen long after I’m gone, after she’s gone.
CB: Seven years definitely counts as a large, long-term project. What work are you currently shooting?
CS: ‘Larger series’ is about right. I’ve taken about 50,000 photos over the last 7 years. This fall I’ll be showing a slice of them at Haphazard Gallery in Santa Monica opening October 29. I’ve gotten the selects down to about one thousand, so I’m still editing. This coming week I’m traveling to Europe to meet with some moped gangs over there, tour a factory, follow a race, then I’ll be back in the states for the big national rally in San Francisco. That will be 8 years in total shooting bikes, I’m about ready to find a new subject.
CB: What will you be doing while you are in Europe? Where will you be traveling?
CS: I’ll be in Slovenia and Croatia, so I’m very interested in the lives of people displaced passing through from Syria and Jordan. I’m drawn to human ingenuity and how people excel at making the best of their situation. If I can find people willing to be photographed, I might. There are some moments that just don’t need to be photographed, I’m always aware of that, too.
CB: What or who are your personal photography inspirations?
CS: You know, strangely enough I found out a few years ago that my great Aunt was one of the first famous female photographers, Nancy Ford Cones. Like me, she liked documenting life’s moments. In her later years she started to become more experimental, creating scenes, when her husband died she stopped shooting altogether. Weirdly, I learned all of this way after my own interest in photography began. In a way I feel like I’m continuing to shoot for her, so she’s a big inspiration for me.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
CS: If Arthur Pollock had a 5D and hung out with grimey gear-head punks. Something like that.
The World Press Photo recently announced the creation of a new contest whereby the documentary photos in it would not be limited by their manner of creation. Murabayashi raises an important question about what criteria documentary photographers should be obligated to when telling a story through photography.