World Pinhole Photography Day is an international event held annually on the last Sunday in April. The event was created to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography in an increasingly technological world. With camera manufacturers leapfrogging each other technologically with each new release it’s refreshing to get back to the basics of image making. I also appreciate the fact that it is not a competition. Anyone who takes a lensless photograph on that day can upload one photo to the gallery. There are no fees, no judging, no prizes, no ads and with 69 countries represented, it truly is international.
This will be the 5th year I’ve participated since WPPD’s inception in 2001. There are two variables that determine whether I participate or not. First is the weather. Early spring here in the Northeast is a crap shoot, it could be sunny and in the 70’s or in the 40’s and raining. Fortunately, this year the weather cooperated, though it was cloudy for most of the day. The second variable is having the right materials on hand. Do I have film or photographic paper, chemicals for processing? This takes some forethought, and often ordering on line then waiting for delivery as it has become difficult to source photographic materials locally. While it is acceptable to shoot with a digital camera mounted with a pinhole body cap, It’s not my preference. I feel it’s antithetical to the simplicity of the pinhole process.
This year I chose to photograph the Manayunk Bridge that spans the Schuylkill River and Manayunk canal. My inspiration came after seeing a painting of the bridge by Babette Martino at New Material Culture. The former railroad bridge is now part of a pedestrian and cycling trail joining Bala Cynwyd to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. I find the bridge with its arches aesthetically pleasing and it lends itself well to pinhole photography because it does not move while the river, trees, pedestrians and vehicles below do.
I shot with two different Graflex 4x5 cameras, one a Speed Graphic and the other a Crown Graphic. The main difference being the focal lengths and angles of view. With the Speed’s bellows fully collapsed the angle of view is moderately wide. If I draw the bellows to the middle of the bed the angle of view is normal. If I draw the bellows to the end of the rail the angle of view is like that of a short telephoto. In contrast the body of the Crown Graphic is shallower due to the fact that it did not have a cloth shutter like the Speed Graphic. The shallower body means the pinhole can be positioned much closer to the film plane allowing for a super wide angle of view. So wide in fact, I had to saw off the rail bed so it didn’t show in the photo. Sacrilege, I know. Not sure I could bring myself to do it again. I have multiple lens boards with various pinholes mounted to match the various focal lengths. I purchased laser drilled pinholes from The Pinhole Resource so I could be confident matching them to the various focal lengths.
Aside from the variable focal lengths the Graphics offer other advantages. 4x5 inch negatives yield higher image quality than smaller formats, especially if you decide to crop. Both cameras have tripod sockets for both horizontal and vertical shooting, peep sights for rough composition, rise on the front standard, ground glass viewing and graflock back. The number of shots you can take is limited only by the number of holders you can carry.
The Crown Graphic has no shutter and the cloth shutter in my Speed is broken. Initially I used a piece of gaffer tape over the pinhole but later I added a piece of steel cut from a coffee can, to the back of the aluminum lens boards so I could use refrigerator magnets. Not only do the magnets act as shutters they add a bit of whimsy too.
I had plenty of 5x7 Ilford multigrade RC paper so I decided to make paper negatives though I had to cut it down to fit into 4x5 holders. Aside from being economical I like the slow speed of the paper which necessitates long exposures I associate with pinhole work. You’re capturing the passage of, rather than instants in time. Exposures times ranged from 8 to 16 minutes.
Sources on the internet vary as to what the speed of photographic paper is. I’ve read anywhere from ISO 3 to 25. I went with the conservative ISO of 3, dialing it into my Gossen meter. I took a reading at 1 second and translated the reading using a pinhole calculator slider. Then I doubled that time as I had taped a #1 Kodak polycontrast filter behind the pinhole. I added the filter to reduce the contrast inherent in making paper negatives. To further control contrast I processed the paper in Kodak HC110 dilution B. The idea being that film developer acts more slowly than paper developer allowing shadow detail to build up without blowing out the highlights.
Another vital piece of equipment necessary for pinhole work is a solid tripod. I use an old Majestic that is extremely stable. The disadvantage is having to lug it around.
My favorite photo from the day was an accidental multiple exposure. I had made an exposure with the speed graphic then loaded that holder into the Crown Graphic and exposed it again. Pinhole work is full of surprises! I look forward to seeing what you come up with next Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.
For a good source of technical information and inspiration I recommend Pinhole Photography: From Historic Technique to Digital Application, by Eric Renner.