In his book Problems, Aristotle asked himself: “Why is it that when the sun passes through quadrilaterals, as for instance in wickerwork, it doesn’t produce a rectangular figure but a circle one
instead?”. After him, scientists, philosophers and artists, among many others, continued disserting ver the nature of the optical phenomenae that occurs when an image of a scene is projected through a small hole as an inverted image, calling it camerae obscurae.
Further analyses derived in devices to reproduce the optical process, changing our ways of seeing and understanding human vision and representation. This also gave birth to what is known as pinhole camera, an apparatus that can reproduce the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene is projected through a small hole as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening.
In his Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century (1990), essayist Jonathan Crary mentions that during the 17th and 18th centuries, the camera obscura was “the most widely used model for explaining human vision, and for representing the relation of a between the perceiver and the position of a knowing subject in regard to an the external world”. For Crary, the camera obscura cannot be reduced to a technological or discursive object because, as Deleuze said “Machines are social before being technical”.
In this spirit, Pinhole Photography is born being both social and technical, connecting people to the principles of photography. It’s an inexpensive hands-on experience through which people from all ages can learn by doing images. It is about building your own camera with cardboard and experimenting, about investing time in reflecting on the subject and the media to capture it. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message”.
Pinhole Photography can be as simple as making pictures with a box with a tiny aperture, a handmade camera without a lens. Light from a scene passes through the aperture and projects an inverted image on
the opposite side of the box, to be finally fixed on a support than can be either a negative photographic film) or a positive (photographic paper).
Photographer Daniel Kazimierski (Poland, 1949) has mastered the process after years of practicing and teaching. Known internationally for his work with pinhole cameras and 19th-century printing processes,
Kazimierski has worked extensively with traditional and digital cameras and formats, but has chosen pinhole photography not only for the aesthetic aspects related to the images produced by this technique, but also for the process in itself, that entails long time exposures with no viewfinder help. “Using a pinhole camera is an intuitive art form, evocative and personal”, states Kazimierski in his Web page. From his hometown in Nova Scotia, he agreed to answer some questions on Pinhole Photography for MIP.
In your own words, what is pinhole photography?
Using pinhole photography, which is based on the principle of camera obscura, is using the most ancient apparatus to produce images without a lens. The huge revival of this image making in the past 30-40
years is due to the evocative quality of the images and true back to basics, low-tech image making.
When, how and why did you start doing pinhole photography?
In the early 80’s, while I was teaching at ICP and NYU, I got very distraught by the students’ constant bragging about their fancy cameras and the lenses they were using. As a result, I began taking pictures with 6×6 amateur Chinese Seagull camera with single lens and bellows. It was to prove to the students that, as an American filmmaker, Maya Deren stated poignantly in the 1930’s, “Cameras don’t take pictures, people do.” From there, it was a natural progress for me to move to the pinhole camera, which I have been using now for over 35 years.
Did you have any mentors? Can you share your personal history while becoming a photographer and a teacher?
I started my photographic interests in Poland in my early 20’s when I began combining photography with writing. This journalistic career more or less ended when I moved to Canada in 1975 to continue studies of film and photography at Vancouver School of Art. Consequently, I ended up at York University in Toronto. While engaged at the Master’s degree program in Photography, I was fortunate to study with the late Jack Dale, who taught me the arcane methods of historical printing processes. With the support of a Canada Council Art Grant, I was able to move to New York City in 1980 where I taught Photography and Filmmaking at numerous institutions such as ICP, NYU, School of Visual Arts, and various international workshops. For the past 17 years, I have been teaching darkroom photography at a private school in Manhattan.
What are your favorite subjects when working with pinhole cameras?
My preferred time to work with the pinhole camera is the evening when limited light enables me to expose the film for a longer time (1.5 to 3 minutes). That kind of exposure registers nuances of the changing light that are not possible to see while using shorter exposures.
What follows the processing of the negative in terms of the decisions you have to make in choosing different supports to make positives?
A few years ago I gave up enlarging negatives and producing large cyanotypes, mostly due to space constraints. Instead, now I use color negatives, which I develop commercially, scan into the computer, and make digital prints.
Can you share any tips for students who would like to experiment with pinhole?
There is such an amazing wealth of YouTube and other information that can be found with Google searches that I would highly recommend anyone interested to embark on research. It would be incredibly
rewarding and fun as well.
Daniel Kazimierski is best known for his pinhole photography and extensive knowledge of historical printing processes. However, he also works with traditional and digital cameras.
He is represented in many public and private collections in several countries and has taught photography and filmmaking at art schools, universities, and schools in the United States, Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Brazil.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, he studied Photography and Film at the Vancouver School of Art, York University, Toronto, and New York University. Currently, he resides in Piermont, New York, and Mabou,
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Glossary of terms (from Kazimierki’s Web page)
The phenomenon of light moving through a tiny hole and projecting an image onto another surface was observed as long ago as the fifth century BC in China. Medieval and Renaissance artists learned about making the camera obscura from the writings of Alhazen, a first-century Egyptian mathematician, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the images could be transferred to film.
Pinhole cameras do not have a lens. One result of this is that there is no depth of field. Objects that are close are as sharp as ones far away. Because we are used to seeing a soft background when looking at pictures of small objects, in a pinhole image, the small object may seem to be very large.
It takes a long time to make a good exposure with a pinhole camera. For that reason, parts of the picture, such as moving water or people will often appear softer or blurred or, if they move quickly through the picture, they may not even register on the negative.
For all these reasons, pinhole camera photographs have a different feel from traditional camera pictures. For some artists, they become a fascinating and more personal art form.
The cyanotype process was developed in 1842 by Sir John Herschel as a way of reproducing diagrams (blueprints). In 1843, Anna Atkins, one of the first known female photographers, started using it to make beautiful images of her botanical collections. The name comes from potassium ferricyanide, one of the chemicals used to make the print surface light-sensitive, which also gives the prints their distinctive blue color.