Friday, March 25, 2016

Pinhole Footography

Everybody loves a pun and lately, my lower extremities have been dominating my life. Also, it's a particularly pinholey topic.  One common experience of the beginning pinholer is that often the camera has no tripod mount, but in order to take long exposures, it needs to be well supported and the ground is the most convenient place to do that.  Combine that with the advantage of filling the frame with something and one's feet become an almost inevitable subject.

I've also always had a bit of an issue with my feet.  When major universities were competing to give my basketball star older brother a scholarship, John Erickson, head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers came to our house to recruit him.  At the time I was about 5' 4" and had the same size 13 (46 in Europe) feet I have now.  He called me "Feets." He ran for the Senate in 1970.  It made my first experience casting a ballot that much better to be able to vote against him.  (He lost.)

The call for submissions forum on f295 had a Portraits topic one year.  I had just taken this photograph of the distinctive tan pattern of my sandals which I thought captured my essence pretty well.


One winter we had a series of thawing and refreezing days and I was impressed by the way the ice cracked under my feet as a I walked to Walgreens to get some film developed.


Some times you need some sort of a scale object to demonstrate the size of something as with this assessment of agricultural progress done on June 30th one year.


My son attended a wedding where they gave a spruce seedling to all the guests.  After about a year we finally got around to planting it at Sarah's family farm.


One summer I experienced a very painful episode of gout, the famous medieval affliction, while we were on a getaway weekend in Madison with friends.


Occasionally, ground conditions make it difficult to get a good footograph.


One thing that always irritates me a little as a reviewer for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is how many photographs are submitted with the camera sitting directly on the ground with the pavement of the town square filling most of the frame, so I took this picture inspired by those folks.  If you're running a workshop for pinhole day this year where your participants will be putting the camera on the ground, you might suggest footography.


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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Populist: a derivative.

I should preface this post with this cartoon which appeared in an issue of the CoEvolution Quarterly, a magazine published from 1974 to 1985, founded by Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog. This cartoon has been displayed somewhere in our house ever since (Hand colored by Sarah)


Shortly after I posted the directions for the Populist on-line, an editor from Barnes and Noble sent a message to Gregg Kemp's Pinhole Visions email list indicating that they were thinking of producing a package with a book on Pinhole Photography that included a kit with everything you needed to make a pinhole camera, and could anyone recommend a paper engineer to help them out.

I responded that I was certainly no paper engineer (if you follow this blog you know just how funny that idea is), but just to get some idea of the kind of thing that was available for free on-line, sent them the link to the Populist

Much to my surprise, she responded several months later and asked if I would like to be involved in the project. I was concerned that if I did, I would have to take down the on-line version, which would have been philosophically distasteful  (after all, it is a camera anyone can make). Her response was that the populations who might buy a kit browsing in a Barnes & Noble and those downloading plans on the internet didn't overlap very much. And they offered me money for it.  Not enough to retire on, but enough to make Christmas a lot more fun that year. 

They just wanted the rights to use the design but they'd like me to kibbitz on what they did with it. We worked together on and off for about six months.

It came out in time for the 2009 holiday season as Create your own pinhole camera bundled with the  book Adventures with pinhole and home made cameras by John Evans which they had previously published in 2003. The book is pretty comprehensive and well done, but it's kind of obvious that the kit and book weren't done as an integrated piece. I'm not credited anywhere, nor is the Populist mentioned as the basis for the camera.



It's still available on-line for $16.99.  It's got eight reviews with an average rating of 3.9 so it must work, although one of the reviews criticizes the recommendations for exposure.


The directions booklet follows the outline for the Populist pretty well, but all the photographs were redone with the materials from the kit of course, and the text rewritten by a professional copywriter. There's still a little bit of my text in there.  It's really pretty well done.


The camera you see in the photo at the top of this post isn't made from the kit.  They sent me a proof printed on the final material before they made the final dies to cut it out, so I had to cut the parts out with an X-acto knife. It all went together all right and no changes were necessary in the final product. They didn't include any pinholes, and I never exposed any film in it.  I've never put together the final product they sent me,

There are some changes from the original Populist design. They didn't like the idea of the corners being taped because they wanted it to look like a real camera. The box is held together with glueing flaps. I had considered that for the Populist, but I was concerned about the corners being light tight, and if you were going to cover them with opaque tape, the flaps weren't necessary to hold the box together. They did include a roll of black tape and the directions indicate to use it in the internal box, but the tape is no where near opaque.  Since the film in the side chambers is enclosed in a cassette, I've often wondered if the opaque tape was necessary on the corners and have been meaning to make a camera with clear tape to find out. Since no reviews said anything  about light leaks, it's probably not a problem.

Another change was the addition of a second winder and the placement of the rewind hole on the top.  In the original Populist, I thought making a second winder was an unnecessary hassle, and I put the rewind hole on the bottom so it would rewind in the same direction as for winding and suggested just inserting a piece of card stock between the two boxes to cover it except when rewinding. 

One change they made that I'm not too thrilled with was the addition of a frame at the top of the shutter to act as a handle, and as the viewfinder.  On the Populist I include viewfinding triangles to go on the top and sides of the camera.

To be honest, if you put your eye up to the back of a camera as you would with an SLR, it does include just about what the camera will capture.  In this day of people viewfinding through phones and LCD panels on the back of the camera I don't think a lot of people will be doing that.  And if you think of the common ways this camera is going to be supported, sitting on some table or bench, maybe supported by a tabletop tripod, getting your head in the right place is going to be nearly impossible. I'm also a big fan of closeups and this is also going to introduce a fair amount of parallax error if you do look through it. It's kind of floppy and I don't think it would survive many trips in and out of a pocket, and (this is one of those times that sound more like a religious argument) its not very pinholey.

They wanted to include two sizes of pinhole and a blank piece of brass to drill your own pinhole.  In order to accommodate that, I suggested a new part to attach the pinhole to which snugly slides inside the exposure chamber with folded flaps that held the pinhole tightly in the front of the camera.

The pinholes they included are supposed to be .2 and .15mm and look to be fairly close so I'm not sure about the criticism in one review that exposures in bright sun required minutes rather than seconds. They appear to be drilled either with a laser or an electric spark. Until I started writing this post, I had never gotten them out and looked at them. I hate to say this, but they're really terrible pinholes. They appear to be roughly the right size, but they both have really ragged edges. The larger one seems to have a raised blister around it, and the smaller one is more semicircular than round. Almost anyone with the least bit of care could drill a better pinhole. I suppose to be fair, I should put them in a camera and try them out.

When it was first released my son saw it on a shelf in a Barnes and Noble in Boston, but otherwise I've never seen any mention of anyone using it, and never seen one mentioned in a post to the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day gallery.  About a year after it was released, I asked how it was doing and they said it was OK.  It's sales rank on Barnes and Noble is 93,217, but they sell a lot of books so that doesn't really mean anything.

Last year I was sent a request to put a link on the Pinhole Day site resources page from someone in Italy and was surprised to see the camera featured on the home page, so I guess it's gotten around.

If anybody has used one, I'd be curious to hear about it.

I've always been a little perplexed by the design on the front, but recently realized it was a stylized version of looking straight on to a bellows folder.  You know, a real camera.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Roadtrip: The Museum of Wisconsin Art

I've never been to West Bend.  When I moved to Wisconsin and told people we came from South Bend, Indiana everyone misremembered it as West Bend. We saw a segment on a Wisconsin tourism show that featured the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which we had never heard of and looked cooler than I would have expected, although Wisconsin does boast some pretty heavy hitters – Georgia O'Keefe, Edward Steichen and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Among pinhole notables, Ruth Thorne Thomsen is from Door County.

Sarah needed to replace some specialized light bulbs so we stopped at the Kristopher Kringle Shoppe since it was right on the way in Fond du Lac.


It's crammed with decorated Christmas trees and every sort of collectible figurine or miniature village you can think of.  Surprisingly cheering on a bleak, windy February morning.


Six rooms full of the stuff on two floors.


West Bend has several really interesting sounding restaurants, but they're all open only for dinner, so for lunch you're left with the chains out by Highway 45, or the bars downtown.  You can't go too wrong by picking a microbrewery.  This dining room is probably pretty cheery in the summer.  The Milwaukee River with a nice patio is right out those windows.  Kind of dark and drab in February.


The Museum is a new building shaped like a rather severe acute triangle that points due north.  The point is made of windows and a stairway.


It is focused on work of artists born in, or who worked in Wisconsin for a significant time.  It includes the largest removable framed painting in Wisconsin, The Flagellents by Carl von Marr (born in Milwaukee but mostly worked in Munich).  After being exhibited in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, it was bought by someone from Wisconsin and actually belongs to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Kind of a gross idea, but surprisingly unbloody for the subject. It's 14 x 23 feet and from the bench I had the tripod on I didn't expect to get the whole thing in the frame. Does it occur to anyone else that somehow I must have bowed the film plane somehow to create those curves at the top and bottom of the frame.



The south end of the building has the special exhibitions gallery, a reception area and another windowed stairway.


The Wisconsin Biennial juried show was the current special exhibit.  Lots of pretty good stuff (no pinhole though).  My favorite piece was an erased geological map of Wisconsin with a small display case next to it with the erasings from each county, each in a separate labeled compartment.



You get a pretty good view of downtown West Bend through that south window.  Looks like the weather is a little nicer for the drive home.


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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

University Club

U-Club is a campus social group which meets monthly during the school year for drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and general commiserating and conspiring.

I only take photographs there occasionally, because there's the perpetual pinhole problem of not much of a place to put a tabletop tripod (much less a regular tripod) where it won't get bumped by the milling crowd, and I have an odd reluctance to be noticed doing it.

Occasionally both objections are manageable, and I take a few exposures.

The most recent meeting, I was one of the earlier arrivals and got a seat on a couch with the only coffee table in the room right in front of me.

I sat down next to Grace, a former big city journalist who followed her mathematician spouse to the outlands.  By sheer force of will, Grace developed a class which involves one big all-class project which my department would help stroke into print, web and video productions.  The University loves her because she get's at least half a page in the local newspaper and a few minutes on the Green Bay TV news every time she puts one of these out. (Grace would kill me if I didn't link to her latest project). Here's she's trying to corral Bill, a chemistry professor, into giving a presentation in one of her live happenings.  I'm trying to figure out how to explain to Bill that his head has been replaced by the lamp shade behind him. I got it – it's symbolizing how bright scientist are.  Yea, that's it.  Bill is also heavily involved in the Faculty Senate so possibly it represents the transparency of University governance.


When I went into the other room I ran into Allison, the University's new photography teacher, whom I'd already met last fall.  While we chatted about teaching photography and of course, me plugging pinhole, with the dining room table right in front of us, it seemed obvious to take a picture.  I didn't get a chance to ask Alison about her own work so I googled her and she's doing this fantastic project about "a place between reality and play", in which she appears in all the photographs.  I can relate to self-portraiture.  Allison has a really consistent conceptual framework and looks like very disciplined preparation.  I do self-portraiture because it's convenient.


Standing next to us were Jennifer, chair of the Chemistry Department, and Mary Ann, a faculty spouse who shepherds foreign exchange students, looking quite saintly haloed by the wall sconce with the camera looking up at her.  I wish I could say this was my idea, but it's often said that half the fun of pinhole photography is finding out what actually came through the pinhole. During the previous exposure, which took about 5 minutes,  Mary Ann mentioned that she had never been photographed with a pinhole camera.  It would be impolite to ignore a direct invitation like that. I warned her that sometimes odd things happen in pinhole portraiture.  The overexposed light coming through the hair on the back of her head somewhat modified her coiffure and reinforced the notion that she was glowing.  The overall composition of this picture was also a pleasant surprise, and brings out my latent didactic photo teacher.  Please discuss leading lines, framing, the rule of thirds and a high contrast center of interest.


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