Pinhole Photography Day
Life through an absent lens
As Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day looms, Sara McMillan explains why she’s a devotee of the most lo-tech of art forms
Contemporary life is cluttered with days commemorating anything and everything. April 30 is, of all things, Hairstyle Appreciation Day. Personally I’m not especially interested in celebrating perfectly coiffed locks, but occasionally one of these events - marked out by a group of cult enthusiasts - offers open, unsuspecting minds a peek into a new world. For some, this is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated every year on September 19. For me, and a few others I know, it’s Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, which always falls on the last Sunday in April.
A pinhole camera is simply a lensless camera that uses the fundamental law of light diffraction in order to work its magic. In a pinhole camera, light passes through a small point projecting an organised, upside down, image on the surface it first encounters. Cover the surface with photosensitive film and you can capture any image - wide angled, with almost zero depth of field and a characteristic soft focus.
Since there’s no lens, a pinhole camera can be crafted from just about anything - a cereal box, an old Polaroid camera, even Lego (seriously - check out www.found photography.com to see full instructions on how to make your own). One enthusiast has even created (and sold on eBay) the Smileycam. Small enough to fit in your mouth, the Smileycam lets you see the world through the eyes of your tonsils, a perspective all too often overlooked in our busy, distracted lives.
Pinhole cameras inspire strange levels of devotion in their followers: enthusiasts will stand dutifully next to their home-made camera for 10 minutes or more in the bleeding cold to capture a simple shaft of light. The reaction of light passing through a lensless hole forces the photographer to think of objects as something softer, more fluid, distorted, unreal. After viewing the world through this (non) lens, it becomes increasingly difficult to go back.
Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day has been running since 2001, and now thousands of people from all round the world spend the day taking pinhole photographs and sharing the results in the Pinhole Day online gallery. I joined the movement last year, when two friends who were already pinhole aficionados invited us to celebrate with them.
We drove out to Crammond for a walk along the River Almond. I had been to this spot many times before; but this time I was aware of every shadow, every ripple of light, the subtlety of every texture. The five of us walked around, each trying our hand at taking artsy photographs of tree roots and the walled separation of earth and sea. We embraced the slow, lo-fi nature of pinhole photography. We posed, ridiculously and painfully, crouching contortedly on top of each other in the doorway of a ruined building. Each exposure time is dependent on the strength and directness of the light, some taking just seconds while others need minutes. Our poses, formed under cloudy skies, seemed to last forever.