Saturday, December 2, 2023

3600 Watt Pinhole Portraiture

Every time I go to a museum and look at portraits painted during almost any era, it seems the calm demeanor of subjects holding still while being drawn was something that would work great with pinhole. I even made a camera once specifically for portraiture, but only took a self-portrait with it. A current goal is to take more pictures of people and specifically posed portraits - not just grabbed candids. A few weeks ago I saw the exhibit Fashioned by Sargent at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and had a new fire lit under me.

At the events sponsored by Photo Opp, there is always some portraiture going on, both candid and formal studio. At the last Photo Opp open house (at which I had very slow film), I measured what the exposure would be with Lomography 800 with the two large soft light boxes they had set up. Thirty seconds. That sounds doable. Lomography just dropped the price of all of it's 120 films and I snapped up a bunch of the 800, which I was impressed with at the photo walk this fall and for the pre-pandemic Then and Now exhibit at the Oshkosh Public Museum.

With another open house of Photo Opp's building occuring, I thought I could take the opportunity and maybe provide a little entertainment for the attendees. I messaged Graham Watashka. He replied the studio lighting was now in the basement and was set up for someone's special project. Could I use strobes? He had two 1200 watt and two 600 watt devices, portable and battery powered. Hmmmm. I had heard of people using flash with pinhole but it was usually many flashes with tens of seconds between charges, or with the flash several inches from the subject. In the 80's with a lens, I once did several self-portraits with a flash held against either cheek. None of this sounded like an approach I wanted to take, but the idea was now stuck in my head. Would it work? I vaguely remembered there was a formula that yielded the distance the light needed to be from the subject. A few keystrokes later: The guide number of the flash divided by the f-stop equals the distance in feet for ISO 100 film. I didn't want a too wide angle view, but did want as fast a camera as possible. The 45mm, 67 degree wide, f160 Little Mutant fit the bill. The total guide number of Graham's lights is 360 divided by f160 equals 2.25 feet. ISO 100 to 400 is two stops so that doubles the distance to 4.5 feet (Inverse Square Law, ya know) with a little gravy thrown in for an extra stop for ISO 800. The math works!

A few issues remained. 

What I was interested in were the poses people held for long periods to be drawn by hand. Did I want instantaneous pictures? The shutter had to be opened and the flashes set off with a button on the charging box. That would take a few seconds so it would be sort of like a long exposure.

Another was that these were bare flash bulbs. I had always imagined doing this with a giant Vermeer window, maybe simulated by a couple umbrellas, not a tiny source like a flash. But I take pictures outside with the sun all the time. What's the difference?

The last was that I couldn't actually see how the lighting was going to look but isn't that kind of normal for pinhole? I could sort of previsualize what it would be like. Light travels in straight lines so there was some idea where shadows would fall. I eventually found out there were modeling lights, but just found them confusing with the room lights also on.

All this was intriguingly unknown and something I had never done but had always wanted to. Kind of a tall order for someone nearing three-quarters of a century. And without risking my life or spending a lot of money to find out.

Within ten minutes I messaged Graham back and said I'd like to try it.

The inspiration for this had always been Renaissance, Flemish and Tudor painters, but suddenly, with the direct flash, my thinking shifted to the turn of the 20th century, Picasso's Gertrude Stein and Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet coming to mind.

In the intervening few days, I decided the comfy lounge in the basement would be more interesting than a plain back drop. When we got the first strobe set up and I saw how quickly it recharged, it seemed it would be more flexible, easier and safer to move just one light stand. Three pops with one 1200 would equal the same as all four units and would only take about six seconds to recharge and fire three times. There were also two desk lamps on that I thought might add some hair lights.

Being the instigator of all this, it is only appropriate to have a direct reflection of the flash exactly in one of Graham's eyeballs.

Board member Morgan Kirchenwitz struggled for minutes to hold a pose she could maintain. I got the math right, but I forgot to move the flash this time and it was about 6 feet away and pointed directly at the wall. She was just at the edge of the coverage of the strobe, resulting in a bit of an underexposed negative. I had bragged that I could probably get a decent image out of almost any negative, and that was necessary for this one but it captures the painterly quality I was hoping for. (Sorry, Steiglitz, but not sorry.) 

Char Brandis worked in my department while she was a student. She's been to almost all the Photo Opp events with her Minolta SLR. I had already been thinking about how I was going to do this photograph.

Amy James is the Board President of Photo Opp but I didn't know that until after she had agreed to let me do her portrait with my experimental set up. She has painted portraits and reassured me she understood the worry of whether a sitter will like what you've done. With her knit scarf, patterned skirt, dark coat and shiny necklace, I couldn't help bring up Sargent. We speculated how he would have posed her. 

Bard Media partner Jake Viannes, whom I'd never met before. He didn't have a favorite portrait painter to imagine but he said he liked Edward Hopper. Perfect for the direct flash. He seemed comfortable with my suggestion that he pose as though he were a Spanish royal being painted by Valasquez.

Brandi Grahl repeats her Mona Lisa smile. I had been hoping I could get somebody curled up in this chair for my square format camera. 

Char and her husband Matt have often been to these events together. Another picture that I had imagined was them gazing into each others' eyes.

Another new aquaintance Jeff Braatz and I conversed for some time about being theater photographers, me 40 years ago in a small college and he currently with a high school. Eventually it came up what was going on downstairs with the pinhole camera.

Photographic scientist and UW-Oshkosh chemistry grad, Almon Benton, who went right for the Kodak apron which serendipitously matches his hat.

From even farther away than me, Alex Simpson of Silvergraphics in Ripon. You can tell by the business name he's into a lot of analog processes. He's done tintypes at these events. Just before this I listened to an extended conversation with Almon about direct reversal images using color photographic paper in the camera. He told me while counting the flashes he was thinking that he had a 4800 watt unit so we could use just one flash and maybe bounce it off something if I'd like to try that. Hmmm. 

In previous outings with Photo Opp, several double exposures occured while interacting with other people and forgetting to wind the film. They get displayed on my blog if they're instructive about composition, optics or exposure. I really don't like it when this happens. Photo Opp used a few of these in their blog and some other materials after I had told them to use anything they liked, and reluctantly agreed when they chose the inadvertant doubles. Brandi had asked what my objection was to using those pictures. It's mostly because it's a random occurence and despite promoting serendipity as a virtue of pinhole, it doesn't seem something I can claim authorship of. I really would rather have the two pictures I intended to take. Can you see where I'm going with this?

With every subject there was some discussion of the myriad uncertainties in my method that night, and the small but non-zero probability that it would lead to unusable negatives - or grotesque distortions. This conversation was usually repeated immediately after the exposure while trying to move camera and light stand to let them get up from their pose. I kept catching myself a few minutes later remembering to wind the film, a couple times just before making the next picture. Well, it turns out I did forget to wind the film for the first exposure. Sorry, John and Dave. To add insult, I advanced an extra frame with out exposing after doubling Dave on top of John, which explains only 11 pictures in this blog. I hate when that happens too.

It is a little extraordinary how closely merged the two figures are, seated on different sides of the room. Both sets of hands are visible but otherwise it's a combination of the two figures and their less exposed backgrounds which are surprising low contrast compared to the doubled figures. You can just see a bit of John's lighter collar inside Dave's darker shirt.

I'm very happy how this worked out, although still a little flummoxed about it. Now that I've made the leap to asking people to sit, I hope to be able to continue now that I have confidence it will work. These were about the most cooperative subjects one could ask for. Thank you all. The flash was interesting and will probably try this again. I just realized the other 1200 watt strobe could have been pointed at the ceiling and gotten some fill without having to move it every time. I also want to try using some continuous, big light sources as originally planned. The sun through the stained glass windows of Photo Opp on a bright day also seems an interesting source of light to reflect off of some people. Would being in that majestic space affect how people posed compared to the cozy lounge?

Ironically, this weekend Michael Cooney invited me to model with one of my cameras for his Art of Photography class for a lesson on studio lighting. That was a very weird experience with what seemed like 10,000 frames exposed in about 10 minutes while I mugged for their lenses.

The Little Mutant has a hand-drilled .27mm pinhole 45mm from a 6x6 frame. After developing nine rolls in my original C-41 kit, I mixed a fresh kit for this roll of film.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Bridge Tender's Houses and Streets Named Washington

In my travels in Oshkosh and beyond in the last year, I have photographed 6 of the 11 bridge tender's houses on the draw bridges and one lift bridge over the Fox River between Oshkosh and Green Bay. 

Life is short, Large Format Photography is long  ·  Pinhole Day at The Draw  ·  Student of Large Format Pinhole

On a nice autumn day, there was a meeting of the Fox Valley Photography Group in Kaukauna. I could pick up the two bridges in Menasha and since I was half way to Green Bay, go cruisin' in the Mustang up to the three near the mouth of the river. The weather forecast was just a bit iffy with rain predicted for later in the evening.

First was the Tayco Street Bridge over the lock channel, connecting Doty Island to the rest of the town. Built in 1929, one of its houses is also a tiny historical museum. The bridge collapsed in 1989 (I don't remember that) and took one of the four towers with it. Must have damaged the other one on the island because it looks quite a bit different than the ones on this side. The 45mm front was on the Variable Cuboid. One lesson was you can't park very close to a draw bridge. I'm usually on a bicycle. After parallel parking on a busy street two blocks away, forgetfully left my back pack in the car and wished I would have had a narrower angle camera when I got there. The pointy little roof gets obscured when you're this close and there was plenty of room to move the camera back, but it turns out the best camera is the one you have with you.

Up river, toward the lake before the lock and main channels divide, is the Washington Street Bridge with a traffic circle on the north side. Beyond which the nearest parking was in a metered space. Same mistake with the wide angle and it's alternatives left in the car.

The weather predictions turned out to be on the gloomier side of the percentages and it was heavily misting when I got to Green Bay for the Dousman Street Bridge. A handy plastic bag went over the camera. Free parking in the Neville Museum lot but had to walk all the way across the bridge to get near the bridge tender's house. Built in 1989 and named for Ray Nitschke, Packer linebacker, TV pitchman and local philanthropist. It seems to be a larger version of the historic structures in Menasha.

To get to the Walnut Street Bridge house, the nearest parking was a metered spot on Washington Street, busy at rush hour with both pedestrians and cars. The mist was getting a little wet now. These are pretty big bridges so the drawing part is significantly out on the bridge. Standing out there with a bag on a tripod in the rain with traffic going by for a two minute exposure was an odd experience.

At Mason Street I had the choice of a half-mile walk and by now a five-minute exposure with the wide angle, or try from the shore with the 200mm which would need a half-hour. I drove on to Kaukauna.

Back home I switched to the 35mm front to finish the roll. 

My mind drifting to a far-off land reading a dark academia novel.

This little kiosk probably contains rules and instructions for docking your boat there on the other side, but from this side there is at least six feet of water and rock. What do they expect you to read? Must be a stock part they just used in this one-sided application.

Bare trees and their shadows cast against buildings again. The old post office in the neoclassical cluster on Washington Avenue. Anybody else notice that's the third prominent street named after old George in this post?

The utilitarian addition on the back is the same stone, but not so neoclassical.

A few doors down, the accessible entrance behind the Washington Building on Washington Avenue with lots of lines and angles and not as many shadows as it seemed at the time.

A tree with a lumber baron's mansion behind it.

About the time Pabst began bragging about that blue ribbon, they couldn't ship bottled beer as far as the Fox Valley before it spoiled, but a barrel was massive enough to stay cold and get bottled locally. They constructed this building next to the railroad (which is now the street in front of it) to pursue the Oshkosh market which was then the second largest city in the state. It's for sale now.

The 35mm front for the Variable Cuboid has a .25mm pinhole, the 45mm a .27mm, both hand-drilled, mounted in continuously adjustable rising fronts with 10mm of travel above the axis. The film is Kentmere 100 semi-stand developed in caffenol.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Supporting local business


To everybody else, Kimberly-Clark is a huge international conglomerate, but in the Fox Valley, they're a local business. Like other large companies they occasionally provide support to area non-profits like Photo Opp, so maybe a camera made out of their packaging might contribute somehow. On their web site they promote a hashtag #KleenexCrafts for projects made from their packaging.

They put a lot of effort in making attractive boxes for Kleenex that are ubiquitous in homes and offices. I liked this one featuring a toucan with a penetrating gaze but had to wait a while until it was empty to make a camera out of it. Which is kind of ironic because my nose is currently trying to expel some kind of virus and I've gone through almost a box while working on this blog post. Despite having a few shrink wrapped multi-packs in the closet, there was just one with this design. A little judicious splicing made a big enough piece for the camera front and back and allowed me to retain the toucans for the shutters and the top viewfinder.

One innovation is sealing it with Mod Podge after years of being disappointed with clear spray acrylics and their smell. I wish I would have tried it before. It seals the cut edges of the cardboard, which have a tendency to delaminate with use, makes it a little waterproof and provides some additional stiffness.

I had .26mm and .28mm pinholes that were rejects from trying to make smaller pinholes. Optimal at 45mm is .27mm. Close enough.

In an ongoing tradition, I took it to Massachussets recently but didn't make any exposures. Did you notice it in the last blog post?

I've made cameras out of Kleenex boxes before. An error on the template required some on-the-fly adjustments to the Diversity 30 that gave it a little bit of a rough look and one ill fitting side. I only had one box for that one as well. Last year when sending a couple medium format cameras overseas, I thought those folks might have fun with a little camera they could just throw in their purse. Plenty of cardboard for a 35mm Populist in even the smaller cube boxes of Kleenex. I don't think either of these have seen film since.

One thing I really liked about the pictures from the Appleton Photo Walk were reflections in the glass walls of buildings. Looking at the Viking and the refrigerator while I was cooking, it seemed they might provide some of the same sort of play with light. The exposure occurred while we ate dinner.

Photo Opp held an open house of their repurposed church. There were some interesting compositions I had noticed before and there's usually plenty of time for very long exposures while chatting about film photography with the hosts and other visitors. One of them was a UW Oshkosh colleague who had participated in my pinhole workshop shortly after she started there in 1996.

n.b. I'm having another Pinhole Day event with Photo Opp again next year on April 28.

The scenes I had remembered required a bit wider angle than this camera provided so I had it backed up right against a corner where I couldn't get behind it for all three of the next pictures. I never get the pointing right when I try this. It makes for some tightly cropped, asymetrical but kind of dynamic compositions.

The other stairwell.

When they first acquired the building, the nave had a dropped ceiling which they've opened up for what will be a dramatic studio space.

Those three previous exposures were about twenty minutes, but outside I could squeeze in an exposure before going home. The Fox Valley Photography Group's theme this month was patterns. This might have been my contribution, but my head started leaking the morning of the meeting and I forgot about it.

The last cherry tomatoes that had been ripening in a paper bag and a few habeneros were sitting on the kitchen counter looking like an interesting color photograph. By the way, these next three are almost 1:1 macro closeups.

There wasn't any more produce coming from the garden but there was still a little action out there. This pansy blossomed long after the tomatoes were gone.

Right next to it was an unopened bud that I didn't think had much of a chance but after several nights in the low 20's F, but several days in the 60's, it opened in mid-November!

We had planted a few red cabbages.There was a near-drought this summer and they never formed heads but did make the garden decorative and fed the butterflies' children. This would have been another possibility for the patterns theme but I had submitted a cabbage for Wabi-sabi last month.

I'm not sure if this is a different variety or just different development but this one had a more pastel color scheme than the other.

My periodic public service announcement about the defensive capabilities of the climbing roses on the arbor.

The almost completed front portico project. The first time the electricians came they only had one part to attach the new lamps to clapboards. One old and one new lamp made the house a little more interesting for Halloween. Since it now looks so fashionable, Sarah painted the door black and accessorized with a white wreath and mums. I almost feel like I live on a posh London street. I lowered the camera and used the rising front to minimize the bare pressure-treated floor of the porch which we can't paint until next spring.

The Toucan 45 has .26mm and .28mm pinholes, on the axis and 13mm above it, 45mm from a 6x6cm frame. The film is I'm-getting-fed-up-with-how-curly-it-is Kodak Gold 200, the ninth roll processed in the C-41 kit from, which exceeds the officially rated capacity.

A tripodology postscript.

One of the ideas about making better pinhole photographs is to learn to previsualize the image and then put the camera where it needs to be to get that picture. Not always that easy. Here are a few examples.

A two Populist accessory support.

Local resource utilization.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Weekend in Weymouth

Off again in a giant aluminum and carbon fiber reinforced plastic bird to visit Andy and Kristin on the East Coast. There was still film in the PrePopulist.

Beginning at MKE again.

We had flown a few times out of Appleton when Southwest discontinued their non-stop to Logan from Milwaukee. Non-stops are now offered by JetBlue but require a relatively early departure if you have to drive from Oshkosh. JetBlue flies out of the D concourse. Except for last year, the previous time we had been down there was to see Andy to the gate to go snowboarding when he was a teenager, before the current security environment occurred.

Our airplane got away from Detroit late and was further delayed at Logan but we were only 45 minutes late getting off the ground in Milwaukee.

Andy and Kristin have recently had their kitchen remodeled. Shiny new cabinets, appliances and countertops and most notably removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room which had an odd window divided by three mass produced turned balusters. It looks and cooks much nicer now.

The wall was replaced by useful cabinets and some extra countertop so I could place my pinhole camera to photograph us eating Andy's Bolognese.

We drove in to Quincy Adams for a trip into the city.

Ridin' the Red Line from Quincy Adams to about South Station. At 10:30 am, it's rather empty, although you coulda' fooled me that it was rush hour at the Highway 3/I-93/I-95 interchange.

We were on our way to the Museum of Fine Arts. The last time we were there was the day before Andy and Kristin's wedding. The little tripod was sitting on one of those posts that hold the bands that control queues in public spaces while we waited for a table at the New American Café in the courtyard.

The entrance to the special exhibit Fashioned by Sargent, with his portraits of society movers and shakers and some of their clothes and accessories. I was very inspired. Anybody want to sit for a pinhole portrait?

The film in the PrePopulist ended so Philly took over with the same Gilder electron microscope aperture at the same distance to the film, but with just the normal 36mm wide frame

The exit from the special exhibition.

The grand staircase in the oldest part of the building.

The musical instrument room. Always interesting to go to a museum with an Art Major and a Musicologist.

Walking in Weymouth on Saturday morning.

Andy and Kristin's very blue hydrangeas adopt a two-tone outfit in the autumn.

As I was editing photographs, Greyson leaned up against me and fell sound asleep. He stayed there as I got up, placed the camera, sat back down with my computer and opened the shutter. He then moved over with just his rear end in the frame and stayed absolutely still for the rest of the exposure. Maybe he read my post about being inspired by Degas.

We went to visit Barrel House Z, sponsor of Andy and Kristin's run club. In addition to the seating being around barrels, the fences are made out of barrel staves.

There's even a few around the stainless steel brewing equipment. They still use them for some of their special brews.

We were there to see the Plymouth Punk Rock Market which travels to various venues on the south shore. We bought this ornament for their Xmas tree.

I wanted to get a vinyl copy of the new Rolling Stones album to listen to on their analog stereo. The nearest record store was in the South Shore Mall in Braintree. A footbridge crosses from the parking ramp to the second level. The view of the exterior entrance to Target.

From the other side of the footbridge.

Inside the mall.

These footbridges are great. It's like someone gave you a 15 foot tall tripod so you can get parallel verticals without a rising front.

Without moving the camera, tilting it down for the glowing red Target entrance and the perfectly smooth escalators.

Neither the record store nor Target had the album.

Stopped for a light lunch at Untold Brewing's tasting room in Hingham.

On to a wine tasting at Elli's Wine Cellar in Weymouth.

I placed the camera where I thought it would be out of the way for a twenty minute exposure as we enjoyed the dry French wines at the first table. When I checked on my camera it was gone. A man behind a nearby counter had picked it up and it was lying facing up with the shutter still open. He returned my camera and pointed me out to the owner. She said that taking pictures of people without prior permission was a violation of privacy. I tried to explain that it's almost impossible for anyone to be recognized in a twenty minute exposure, but I don't think she understood. She was very anxious about it so I put the camera back in my pocket and enjoyed a very entertaining event. Whatever the ethics of my exposure, I don't think anybody's privacy will be invaded by publishing the resulting image.

Dawn at Logan for JetBlue's only non-stop, or even one-stop flight from Boston to Milwaukee, which will become the flight back to Boston we took on the way here.

After flying for 500 miles over a flat expanse of clouds we encountered this dramatic turbulent band which quickly changed to a brief clear period and then back to the flat stratus layer all the way to Wisconsin.

Home again to the spooky decorating after our hasty early morning departure on November 2nd.


Philly has a .15mm Gilder electron microscope aperture 24mm from a 24x36mm frame. The film is Lomography 100, half of the seventh and eighth rolls done in an liquid quart C-41 kit.