Pinhole cameras and Camera Obscura’s are a lens less form of photography and are one of the simplest forms of image capturing devices around. The concept dates back thousands of years with writings on the subject found in early 5th century BC China (Historic Camera nd China) . We also have evidence of great Greek philosophers such as Aristotle who in 4th Century BC pondered on the naturally occurring images that he observed when watching light pass through wicker baskets (Wikipedia Projectors 2014)
When we look at the world around us we are seeing light reflected off our surroundings and entering our brain through the eye. Rather than us looking out it is light coming in that allows us to see. Pinhole cameras work on the same principle. By making a tiny hole the size of a pin into a light sealed box it allows the light to pass through the hole and form an image on the inside. The image in the box will appear upside down and reversed because light continues to travel in the same direction even after it has passed through the pinhole. Our brains reverse the image and similarly a mirror can be placed in the box to correct the image if required.
Camera Obscura found its self being used by artists, astronomers, scientists and even members of the Papacy who used it to demonstrate to Pope Gregory XIII that the Spring Equinox was out by 10 days. This eventually led to a change in the calendar, from Julian to the Gregorian that we know today (Eric Renner 2009)
The Renaissance made great use of the camera obscura with great artists such as Leonardo Da-Vinci writing about it in his ‘Codex Atlanticus’ (Historic Camera Da Vinci nd). In 1475 Italian Mathematician Paolo Toscanelli fitted an aperture to a window in the Cathedral of Florence. Still in use today, a solar image is projected through the hole onto the cathedral floor (Safari Online nd)
The term ‘Camera Obscura’ literally means ‘Dark Room’ and was coined by inventor Johannes Kepler in 1604 who later went onto to invent the first portable Camera Obscura (Timeline nd)
All manner of sizes and shapes have been used to create Camera Obscura, from boxes to entire buildings. There are many buildings around today that still have Camera Obscura’s built-in.
Today there are modern artists still using Pinhole Cameras and Camera Obscura s to create amazing images. One such person is Cuban Born former University Lecturer Abelardo Morrell. It was in 1988 when he was looking for a way to convey his message to his students that he converted his classroom into a Camera Obscura. The reaction of his students convinced Morrell that this required further exploration and he set about looking for a way to photograph the Camera Obscura Effect. Here are two images by Abel Morell; both are of the Brooklyn Bridge taken in 2009 and 2010. Each one looks quite different as they were both achieved using a unique types of Camera Obscura.
Stunning and surreal this pin sharp image of the Brooklyn Bridge materialises magically upon the wall of a Manhattan Apartment. This spectacular live projection took a five-hour exposure to capture the image on film. Morell achieved this using his usual darkened room technique with a pinhole of light to allow in the image through.
This hard and gritty image of the same bridge was made using a Camera Obscura tent. In this instance Morell has projected the image directly onto a tarmac rooftop. Morell used a new type of Camera Obscura for this. He has developed a portable hemispherical tent. A periscope peeks out of the top of this dome to allow the light to enter.
Although Pinhole photography had largely died out by the 1930’s it experienced a revival during the 1960’s and 70’s and there are still several photographers that regularly use this method for their art.
Chris Pinchbeck combines his love of nature with his passion for photography. He sees a beauty in the natural landscape that most of us perhaps fail to appreciate. He uses Pinhole Photography as it offers him the infinite depth that only this format can.
This panorama of these open fields is a merging of these two passions. The combination of the science used to capture this image and the open fields and rolling hills gives a feeling of freedom and liberty.
He created this using a large two-wheel trailer sized Pinhole Camera Obscura. The exposure ran into several hours and was captured on photographic paper measuring 8ft wide by 3ft tall. It’s taken of a field where cows graze and you can see a hazy blur across the image where the cows had wandered close to the camera during the exposure and it reminded me a little of George Davisons Onion Fields made around 100 years earlier.
Davison, the managing director of Kodak and member of a group known as ‘The Linked Ring’, whose intent was to promote the artistic merit of photography and move away from the Photographic Society of Great Britain who they believed where overly focused on the scientific and technical aspects of photography.
The image above was taken using a pinhole camera, this image was a revelation for many when it was first exhibited, the soft edges and rough paper gave the photograph a far closer association to a painted picture. Taken in 1890 it was originally called ‘An Old Farmstead’. Farming had altered dramatically during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century and where the fields were once the province of the lower classes, advancements in farming techniques and new machines and tools meant that employment was falling.
Even though a lot of the farm work was still done by hand, much of the hard work had been eliminated by new technologies. This presents such interesting similarities between the photographer and his subject. Davison himself was born into and grew up within a poor family but due to his wise investments within the Kodak Company he became a millionaire. Interestingly too that as it was new technology that allowed Davison to capture this image it was new technology that was emptying the fields of its workers.
Davison’s image was hailed as a success and is considered to be one of the earliest impressionist works of photographic art ever.
Pictorialism died out during the 1920’s. Even those that had so vehemently embraced this style had now turned their back on it and moved towards the sharp defined images we know today. However they did make some significant strides forward in getting photography recognised as a legitimate art form with certain artists selling prints of their work and being exhibited in main stream galleries. The pictorialist photographer has not completely gone and there are still some modern practitioners of this art.
One such person is American Lynn Geesaman who travels around Europe taking pictures of the gardens and scenes of nature. She applies the soft focus associated with this style through post processing.
The image here has much more in common with a landscape water colour style of painting than a sharp focused photograph. The soft post processing technique has added a dreamy like quality to the image which feels very peaceful. Geesaman like others has taken a simplistic man-made invention and used to showcase nature’s complex creation.
Scott Stillman attributes a large amount of his success to his work with Pinhole Cameras. Now an author of his own book about Pinhole photography he has travelled extensively and captured images from around the world.
I was drawn to this particular image of a Paris suburb because of its enticing lines and seemingly infinite depth.
A wonderful capture of a seemingly deserted street, captured early in the morning before Parisian life burst into action. The rows of cars seek to remind the viewer of the sheer amount of daily life that is currently hiding behind the rows of windows of the typical city district, poised to burst into activity at any moment.
Taken by American born Scott Speck, Professional Photographer, Artist, Scientist and philosopher.
This image is so unusual with its distorted and dramatic angles and is an excellent representation of pinhole photography and a direct reflection of the artist that took it.
Speck whose ecclesiastical calling was the dominant driving force in his early life made a dramatic change, when on the verge of becoming a monk he discovered that science was his true calling.
A man moved by power and strength whose view of the universe attempts to highlight our insignificance to the power of god as a universal force rather than an individual persona.
The Grecian Columns lead your eye through the picture, the point of view makes the viewer feel humble, a miniscule presence, overpowered and subservient before your colossal surroundings.
It is the unique nature of the pinhole camera that can offer us this perspective through its lens less construction. Our own eyes have built-in lenses making this view impossible to us except through this unique medium.