Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pinholiness–now on YouTube

I often worked with a very enthusiastic, but somewhat technically challenged, business professor to help him with using multimedia materials and several other aspects of his on-line course.  Don's a very sociable person and we often talked about our personal interests.  I had a collection of pinhole cameras on a table in the corner of my office, so that came up quite often.

He was a member of the Southwest Noon Rotary, which had a tradition of including some kind of educational talk at their monthly meeting, and Don was active in recruiting (mostly) faculty to give these presentations.  In 2007, he asked me to give a presentation on Pinhole Photography and it's appeal.

I occasionally have had the feeling when trying to explain why I do things in a particular way, such as my reluctance to crop images and printing pinhole negatives at their actual size (before I was seduced by the demon 35mm), that my justifications often sounded more like a religious argument than anything else, so I named the presentation Pinholiness. Since Don warned me that the meeting would begin with a prayer, I figured that might have some appeal.

I think the thesis that pinhole is not just a middle school science demo, but is a mature method of expression for photographers holds up pretty well almost a decade later.

I used one of the first voice recorders for an iPod to record the audio, and later synced it with the slides into a internet deliverable presentation with Adobe Presenter, a flash-based product.  It's been on my web site since then, but it's kind of an odd format, even for flash, and lately wouldn't play on some browsers, and of course, not on a lot of portable devices.  Also my web site is the only thing left on an old server that sooner (probably) than later the university is going to shut down.  Time to get it on another spot and covert it into a more modern, more accessible, format. Many thanks to Wayne (who you may remember as the guy who gave me the Scotch that led to the Glenmorangie Evil Cube) for his help converting it to this format.

So here it is on YouTube.  The presentation is a little over 25 minutes long and 32 minutes including the Q&A. It's embedded below.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Populist for Minnesota

Recently on the League of Upper Midwest Pinholers Facebook page, Scott Stillman announced he would be giving a presentation on pinhole photography in anticipation of the annual Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day celebration at a regular event at the Minneapolis Photo Center. At the end of the post, he wondered if anyone could loan him a Populist to demo for the crowd. Hmmm, could he be referring to me?

My first thought was "Hey, it's a camera anyone can make – build one."  But almost immediately reconsidered that Scott was a young guy who was probably pretty busy and has demonstrated his bona fides as a pinhole photographer adapting a lot of cameras to work without a lens.  Also, I hadn't built one in a long time, and then thought of a joke I could build into the camera.

Since this camera was going to Minnesota, I made it out of the carton from a 24 pack of Wisconsin beer, Leinenkugels of Chippewa Falls (famous for being where Annie Hall grew up).  I'm from Eau Claire about 10 miles to the south of Chippewa, and therefore drank Walters when I lived there, but they don't exist anymore, so I now consider Leinies my local beer, even though I now live on the other side of the state.  (Chief Oshkosh Brewery no longer exists either in case you were wondering.)

On the front I put the portrait of the Chippewa maiden that has been the symbol of Leinies since it was founded.  I think most young men who grow up in northwestern Wisconsin are probably secretly in love with her.


I had to do some tricky placement of the pattern to get the image aligned on both the camera front and the shutter.  She's on both the front and back of the carton, so it wasn't all that difficult.

On the back, of course, I had to put the map of the State of Wisconsin.


I did use tape from Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing.

It's a completely stock Populist with none of the modifications I've done to The Populist, but that's appropriate to the purpose of the build.

I hand drilled the pinhole.  I probably should have used a Leinie's can, but I have a lot of brass shim stock around so I used that. I just used a common pin against a marble table top and sanded it with some 600 grit emery paper.

That's it on the left,  compared to a Gilder .2mm Electron Microscope Aperture on the right at the same magnification. It measures out to about .18 mm. A little small, but it looks pretty round and smooth, and exposures shouldn't be much different than for a .2mm. I've always used a .15mm Gilder aperture on The Populist, which is precisely 1 stop slower than a .2. Close enough for modern films.

While I was building it, I couldn't help but think of Gregg Kemp, in who's memory this year's Pinhole Day is dedicated. For the last few years Gregg was extremely bothered that so many people who submitted images to Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day just bought a pinhole lens cap for their Digital SLR and fired away on auto exposure. To him, the pinhole experience was more about crafting your own camera and experimenting with the medium than it was simply about the fact that no lens was involved. What struck me is this is all pretty easy to do adequately and with a little care can be done pretty well.  I'm not as concerned as Gregg was about this, but if you want to honor Gregg this Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, make a camera, or at least, drill your own pinhole. There are lots of other simple camera designs out there besides the Populist.

That having been said, there are a couple points I noticed while building this camera.

The clicker is unquestionably kind of tricky. It has to extend over the divider by just about 1mm and there's not much tolerance. If too high, it folds over, and while it still makes a click, it's a very quiet one. Luckily, it's pretty easy to try several times until you get a good loud click. In order to make it easier to place, it really helps to load the film, and with some kind of marker that's going to be visible on black tape, put a little mark through the sprocket hole. I'm lucky to be married to an artist with a vast collection of pens including a gold one that shows up really well, especially on 3M #235.



The second thing I noticed was that it's really helpful to get the slot in the winder wide enough, and long enough to really engage the tab inside the take-up reel.   The one on the left will feel a little like you're engaged with the tab, but if things are a little tight, it will slip and ride up on the tab and it takes a lot of force to keep the reel rotating.  The one on the right, although it's a little ugly, sits completely over the tab and stays engaged more reliably.

Having a craft knife like an X-Acto to cut the winder and shutter holes neatly and accurately is really worthwhile, rather than using scissors only method I included since I thought a craft knife might not be a common thing to have, and maybe dangerous with younger builders.

We often talk about the role of serendipity in pinhole, but Murphy's law is the flip side of that. Very early in the process of working on the Populist, I realized that the default print setting for a PDF file is fit to paper, which will often reduce the size of the image to the printable area of the printer, which can sometimes be very subtle.  I changed the default setting of the file to print at 100%, but I think some printers and PDF viewers don't recognize that. I put a 25mm bar on the diagram so you could check the size.

I knew I had some diagrams in a box in the basement, and just grabbed the one on top.  I remember actually noticing the 25mm bar, but didn't measure it. As I was making the camera, it did seem oddly small, but then I'm so used to The Populist which has several layers of tape on it. When I put the film cassette in it, I had to really jam it in there, and when the camera was closed, I could just barely advance the film, and it wouldn't rewind at all. I finally went down stairs and got one of the prototypes and what do you know, it was about 2 or 3 percent smaller than it was suppose to be, and I had to start over. Moral of the story: measure that calibration bar.

I've told Scott to give the camera away as a door prize, so if you're in the Twin Cites on April 5th, check out his talk and maybe get a hand made camera to use on Pinhole Day. If not, it's a camera anyone can make.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Roadtrip: Art in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Art Museum has been closed for about a year for remodeling. They reopened last month so we thought it was time to check it out.

We had never been to the Haggerty Art Museum at Marquette University.  It's fairly small so we could fit a visit in before lunch.  It used to be pretty rare for photography to be allowed at all in most art museums but recently that seems to have changed.  They're usually pretty crowded with few places to sit a camera without it getting bothered during a long exposure, but we were the only ones in this gallery for most of the exposure and there was a nice ledge at just the right height.


And a bench just through that doorway.


In the middle of the Marquette campus is a 14th century chapel from France.  It was moved to Long Island in the 20's and then again here in the 60's when it was donated to Marquette.


It's called the Joan of Arc chapel because it contains a stone at which she once prayed that the architect brought from another French chapel when they reassembled it in America. Even at Marquette they're skeptical about that.


Then we walked a few blocks down Wisconsin Avenue to the Ambassador Hotel for lunch.  I wanted to go there because I stayed there when I played in the 1966 Wisconsin Catholic State Basketball Tournament. (It later changed to the Wisconsin Independent Schools but now everybody plays together in one tournament in Madison)  We came in third.  The place was full of girls from Racine. The next year coach put us in a motel way out in Wauwatosa.

We got there too late to have lunch in the dining room so we had to eat in the Lounge. (We didn't get to go in there in 1966.)  I had a Bloody Mary that came with a sausage stick, a stick of cheese, a pickle, a stalk of asparagus, a mushroom, a big green olive and a pearl onion in it.  Practically lunch by itself.


The entrance to the Milwaukee Art Museum is in a large hall with a 200 foot set of wings that open and close on top of it (it's a sunscreen they say).  The special exhibits gallery and museum store are between it and the rest of the galleries.  It's all connected by these long corridors.


They have several galleries dedicated to large contemporary paintings and sculpture. 


The Museum is right on the Lake.  We took a break for a beer in the little bar with it's walls of windows facing the lake.  This turned into a pretty nice sunset just after I finished this exposure, but we'd finished our drinks and went back to the art.


And, Sarah and I contemplating one of our favorites: a Mark Rothko painting.  I think a 6 x 9 foot print of this photograph would be a great addition to their collection.


All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

Friday, February 12, 2016

More caffenol

I loaded the frozen roll of Tri-X into my Compact 120 6x9cm camera and gave development with Caffenol another shot.  Since I had pretty bad base fogging on the last roll, this time I used the Caffenol C-H recipe from The Caffenol Cookbook and Bible, recommended for use with faster films. The recipe calls for Potassium Bromide as a restrainer, but somewhere else on the internet I saw a note you could use plain old table salt, just ten times as much. The recipe calls for one gram of KBr so that's not as extreme as it sounds.

The base fogging was a little better.  Here is an old 35mm negative on top, compared to the previous roll on the left, and the new roll on the right.  It still looks like I have a ways to go.  I also think I may be fogging the film a little when I'm loading it.  Several negatives had what looked more like a light leak than overexposure. The next roll I'm going to try to load the camera in the changing bag to make darn sure that's not the problem.  And it is nearly 10 year old film, but it's been in the freezer the whole time.  If I still have a problem with the next roll, I think I'll have to buy a new roll of film to compare it to.

I did get a couple halfway decent shots, but nothing ready for exhibition yet.

I returned to the south kitchen window that had been a major subject when I was using black and white paper negatives.


And, when you can't come up with any other subject matter, a self portrait is always an option.



Monday, February 1, 2016

The Populist: variations sans pattern

What makes the Populist "a camera that anyone can make" is probably the printed pattern, but the basis of the design is the front box with chambers on the side for the film reels, and the back which slides over the front, which makes for a nice, light-tight enclosure.

I've made a couple variations just by measuring the parts out without using a printed pattern. 

I mentioned in the post about the Glenmorangie Evil Cube that Sarah had given me a bottle of scotch for Christmas with the sentiment that she chose it because it looked the most like you could make a pinhole camera out of the box.


Scotch does generally come in some pretty sturdy boxes, and in this case, I really just used it as cardboard with a few folds already in the right place, and of course, I wanted the design on the box to look like it was made for the camera.



The width of a box of Scotch is just greater than the size of a 120 reel, so I added some foamcore spacers to get it right. The other dimension can be adjusted, but there really wasn't enough material to make a 6x9 and keep the pinhole where I wanted it on the design, and I think I've mentioned my inner cheapskate freaking out about only getting 8 pictures out of a role of 120 film, so it's 6x6cm.

The distance to the pinhole was again determined by how much cardboard I had while keeping the design of the box in place, which turned out to be 45mm. I used a .3mm Gilder electron microscope aperture, which is about the ideal size according to Mr. Pinhole.

I used it to photograph a gift I gave to Sarah that Christmas. 


And of me rocking out in the basement.


A couple years later I got it out again to make Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day special, and submitted another variation on one of my favorite themes.


Last summer as part of my renewed interest in larger formats, I again loaded it up and set out to start a series on historic places in Oshkosh.  Here's Oaks Candy, established in 1884.  I had to buy a bunch of candy to justify taking up space in their store for this shot, but that's the price you pay for art.


I've always been fascinated with portrait painting.  The poses required for sketching from life seem like something that could accommodate pinhole exposure times.  A few years ago, my instructional media department inherited a photographic studio very near my office when the Publications department got one built near their main offices in another building.  In my hopes for taking advantage of this, I built this 4.5 x 6 cm camera with a vertical format as it was mounted on the tripod  which is a typical format for a portrait with a 6 cm distance to the pinhole yielding a relatively "normal" perspective to reproduce what a painter would be seeing with their eyes, although still a little wide for what we might consider for lens portraiture.


I never did get the guts to ask anyone to pose for me in the studio, except for that most convenient and cooperative model.


I did use it for a bit in the garden.


With both of these cameras I had problems with the film jamming up about the 9th or 10th frame.  I thought it was because the film reels got out of parallel and bound up, but I've had the film smoothly go through in both at other times, and I never had a problem with the 120 Populist or the Stereo 120 Populist.  I think it might have something to do with not advancing the film far enough on the take-up reel before I put it in the camera.  On subsequent 120 cameras, I've been putting a second winder and some little axle in the bottom of the reel to make sure they remain parallel.

Sometimes problems lead to serendipity though.  When I was working on the Portrait camera I was dealing with the worst personnel conflict of my career and took this face-palm shot just as I had read an email from one of the participants right after I got home from work. (Career advancement tip: Don't email the boss about problems right after work) The camera was in the process of jamming and after a series of aggressive twists just barely getting it to advance, I think it must have squeezed the film so hard it left these red marks on the image which I think enhanced the impression of frustration in the picture. I used it as my Facebook profile picture for about a year.