My pinhole camera never lies, but the truth it tells is from another realm. It speaks from a world beyond stop-action shutter speeds. Beyond lenses and razor edged detail. Beyond digital trickery. There are things in this world that only a pinhole camera can see — as if a parallel universe was opened up. Those images are revealed to you, or me, only later, often much later, when the film is developed and a contact sheet laid down. It is photography stripped bare of falseness.
I am a digital retoucher by profession, where everything is digital, everything enhanced or downright fake; pinhole represents the complete opposite — esthetically, technologically and ethically. Elegance, simplicity and magic take the place of art direction, complexity and layers.
Camera as Object
In fall of 2010 I acquired a new pinhole camera, made by Kurt Mottweiler who works out of Portland, Ore. It is quite possibly the finest thing I own — handmade one at a time of cherry, with custom brass fittings. Kurt, whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit, is really a patient, careful and incredibly capable engineer and craftsman. I simply love it, and have been using it quite a bit since October, 2010. Like my first pinhole camera (below) one of the attractions is its employment of medium format film. You get some great negatives from that size film that can be blown up beautifully. A defining feature of the P.90 is its curved back, which is reminiscent of the old oatmeal-box pinhole camera.
My original pinhole was also wonderful — the Zero 2000 made from teak and coming from Hong Kong. THe website describes it as a “collectible” camera, but don’t be fooled: It’s a true working machine, and I’ve enjoyed using it for nearly 10 years. With the arrival of my P.90, however, this camera will probably be retired.
Pinhole photography is not without its pitfalls. The first thrilling variable is that I can never be sure if the camera is truly framing the subject as I envision. There’s no viewfinder, so every shot is a crapshoot. The second variable is the exposure time, which ranges from eight to twenty seconds or more depending on the film speed and the lighting conditions. Sure, there are (imprecise) exposure guides out there, and I use one. But really, most of it is just an educated guess. That bothers me not. I’m a bit of a cowboy that way. It’s always an adventure opening the contact sheets to see how things turned out. (It helps to use a film that’s tolerant of exposure errors... I’ve been relying on Agfapan 100.)
I carry my tripod and camera on just about every trip I take, hence the range of locales reflected in my photos — New York City, Canada, Texas, Argentina, the Baltic States, California, the Pacific Northwest, the American Southwest, and New Zealand. Iceland is coming soon...