Saturday, March 31, 2018

Some thoughts stirred by Thoughts on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

I just watched Joe Van Cleave's YouTube video "Thoughts on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day" which he recorded last year (using a pinhole!). It isn't quite right to say this post was provoked or inspired by it, but it did start ideas swirling in my head.  Joe's video covers his general feelings about pinhole photography,  his particular practice of it, and with pinhole as a movement, particularly as it exists on the internet. I am impressed by his ability to do this on camera.  Nobody wants to watch me stumble for words and constantly interrupt and correct myself.  Although I can do it live if I practice enough.

Joe discusses the impact Tom Persinger's f295 forum had on him. The internet also had a big impact on my practice of pinhole photography. Tom created f295 as a replacement for Gregg Kemp's Pinhole Vision discussion forum which had pretty much the same format, which Gregg discontinued during his first bout with cancer in 2004. (I was the first post on f295!) Even before the Worldwide Web,  Gregg created the pinhole photography email discussion list, although that was pretty much limited to verbal discussion and not sharing of images. I have to say the feeling of community was strongest on that email forum. Evidence for that is that Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day was organized by members in about six weeks after Zernike Au's offhand remark about a day for pinholers. (more about WPPD below).  By the way, Gregg was also pivotal in creating Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.  We still use essentially the same code he wrote.

I had been doing pinhole photography sporadically since the 80's, starting with a workshop given by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen and later had spurts when I got involved in a Science Outreach grant project using pinhole photography as an example of chemical and physical concepts, and then doing a summer class for fourth through seventh graders for several years. 

But what really kept me doing it regularly and long- term was the ability to share my pictures and talk about them with other people around the world on the internet. It still gives me chills when I respond to someone on the other side of the world and they respond back seconds later.

In his video Joe talks about how this changed his practice of pinhole as he strived to impress the community on f295 rather than just to play with pinhole for his own satisfaction.  I can't say I can separate those two things.  I play with pinhole to amuse myself, but I've also have always had kind of an attitude of "let's try to freak the audience out."  I occasionally say things just to be provocative. The measure of whether this is what keeps me going is the relative lack of discussion on Social Media today. I've been doing this blog for two and half years and after 128 posts, I've gotten a total of 69 comments, including my own responses.  If I was doing this just for the audience response, I think I might have lost interest. I've described my motivation in the past as more like an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I announce posts of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, and I think I get more comments on Facebook than I do directly on the blog, which sort of irritates me because then they're disconnected from the post after a few days.  But they do constitute evidence that an audience is out there and seeing the work they post in those venues does let me at least imagine what the discussion would be like if there was one.

I do obsessively check my stats on the blog for what that's worth.

I see all this blogging and social media as a structure for me to keep exploring.

Joe opines that pinhole photography has been the latest trendy gimmick and that the worldwide short-attention-span is starting to fade. I agree a little. My brief involvement with the commercial end was almost a decade ago, but I still see new products being introduced, so it's been a fairly long fad as far as the internet goes.

In one way,  good riddance.  I've mentioned earlier my impatience with one-time experiences with pinhole which from my workshop presenter's point of view seem to be just technical demonstrations that it works.  I'd really like to get together a mature group that really wanted to explore and make great photographs. However, my own personal fascination with pinhole starts with the magical impression of seeing an image come out of that empty box with a tiny hole in the end, and even in a limited event, it's fun to give people that experience.

Joe's discussion of Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day reminds me of Ed McMahon's (look him up, kids) assessment of New Year's Eve - it's when the amateur drinkers come out so the real practitioners prefer to avoid it.  I have to be careful here because I'm the team coordinator.  I agree that one of the faults of Pinhole Day is that for many participants, it's the only time they do any pinhole photography. This was really a problem for Gregg, especially because it often involved just purchasing a DSLR body cap with a pinhole (although he had a renewed enthusiasm just before he died in 2016). I understand that objection, but I'm OK with it. As in the previous paragraph, just experiencing something so basic about image-making, even if just this once, is worthwhile, although it is sort of like wading in up to your knees and calling it swimming.

A lot of people organize groups, events, and school projects which they might not do if it were not for a holiday to associate it with.  All of these are good things in my book.  As noted before, commiserating with like-minded people is a positive experience for most people.

Especially dear are those school groups.  Joe brings up one perception about pinhole photography is that it's viewed as some sort of children's activity. I also hate hearing it compartmentalized like that, but it's also kind of neat to hear about kids having what I think is a significant educational experience.  It's a hands on demonstration of lots of physical science, as in my grant project mentioned above, but meets lots of other objectives, most notably that you can make something with your own hands and create pictures with it in a dark closet.  It also can be extended to re-experience what earlier generations experienced of photography with the long exposures and processing of a light sensitive surface (My major as an education undergraduate was History).

And I'm a big fan of the fact that we're all one species wherever we are.

I've blogged about it before, but personally I really like the challenge of having to get a really great picture on that one day, whatever the conditions, and being required to pick the best one, and then sharing that with the world.

Joe also talks in the video about the role of digital tools, and follow-through to a print that are rumbling around in my cerebrum, and I'll have to address them in a future post.


  1. On f295, I would have commented on Joe’s post and on your post, and our friends around the world would have commented as well. I can’t afford the time to follow all of the Pinhole blogs that are worth following, so I miss a lot. I miss f295 a lot, but since Facebook took over, I have been introduced to many very cool Pinhole artists that did not post to f295.

    I love Pinhole Day - everything about it. It is fun that people do it only once a year or only once at all. I also share the challenge of making just one image when the weather is more often bad than good. Keep doing it.

    As far as keeping in touch with the community of top notch, dedicated pinhole artists, I don’t see anything that can compete with those special 6 to 8 years of f295.

  2. I appreciate Joe's video and feel the same way. After starting my niche pinhole company I felt I always had to be shooting and posting blender images for publicity. I'm disappointed that f295 has closed down and pinhole has dwindled but this has allowed me to pursue other image making interests like collodion and linocut and letterpress. Thanks for you blog and for the link to Joe's video. I had not seen it when it came out but now its inspiring me to make a WPPD shooting group and maybe an event.