Pinhole Camera Part 1


I have been thinking about pinhole cameras since last week when I was describing the photography of Abelardo Morell to my creative director. If you are unfamiliar with Abelardo Morell, the link above will take you to a gallery of his work. What Morell is famous for is essentially turning entire rooms into cameras. By blocking out all the light in a room except for a small aperture on the window, the image outside the room is projected across the room. Morell, standing inside the “camera” used a long exposure to photograph the inside of the room with the outside projected upon the interior. With a little more research, I learned that what he was building is actually called a camera obscura, a tool that dates back to the 5th century BC. The reason I bring this up is partly because I took some heat a few posts back for criticizing Paula Scher, a technophobe, for endorsing the G5.

I came off as a bit of a “techno snob,” in trying to make the argument that the computer is just a tool. Whether or not we embrace technology, I think all of us have experienced some degree of techno burnout. As designers we are constantly rushing to upgrade our computers, learn the latest software, and fix the endless bugs and glitches. It wears us out, and sometimes interferes with our creativity.

The place where I feel the burnout the most is in the realm of digital photography. Unlike when I am doing web design, photography is something I can do without a computer. My photography is a very personal experience, and for the last few months, I haven’t been able to shake my thoughts that it doesn’t have to be so complex. It doesn’t have to be so … digital.

My camera doesn’t need to be a computer. It doesn’t need a phone attached to it. It doesn’t need megapixels. It doesn’t need optical zoom, unlimited settings, and a 209 page operating manual. In fact, it doesn’t even need a battery, a lens, or film. I am tired of fighting with a machine that thinks it knows what I am trying to do better than I do. The camera isn’t taking the photo, I am, and I want the control back.

I need to get back to basics. I miss the sound of the shutter release. I miss turning the crank to advance the film. I miss turning the lens to bring the subject in and out of focus. I miss the darkroom. So, this weekend I stripped it all away and built myself a pinhole camera. All it took was black electrical tape, some black matte board, a needle, and a Pepsi can. Maybe it isn’t the most practical thing, but it sure feels good to free myself from technology, if just for a little while. Now that I have built my low-tech camera, I have lots of experiments I want to try. I look forward to sharing them with you in part 2.

Originally Published on Be A Design Group.

If you are interested in pinhole photography, Ebay might be a good place to find a starter pinhole camera. Here are the pinhole camera auctions going on right now:

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