Thursday, October 22, 2020

Autumn Expressionism

I had a conversation the other day with a Product Design student who is developing a pretty neat pinhole camera for her thesis. She wanted to interview pinholers as part of her project. One of the questions she asked is what I liked about pinhole. I talked about the fascination of how the image was formed with such a simple and basic system, how I could build the whole camera myself and the process of carefully previsualizing the picture. One thing I found it harder to express was why I like the images pinholes make. Trying to describe it, the term painterly always comes into my head. When I say that I guiltily recall Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adam’s strident positions on “pure“ photography and rejection of any association with painting or other earlier art forms. That was probably valid in the early 20th century but one of the values one now hears of pinhole and other alternative methods is the need for some variation to that f64 sensibility. 

So now how I’ve come to think of it is that I like paintings that remind me of pinhole photography. That includes Abstract Expressionism.

Riding around on my bicycle recently, like everyone, I’ve been struck by the beauty of the fall colors but also concerned of what a cliché the subject was. Maybe closing in and filling the frame with the foliage to create an abstraction rather than capturing a scenic landscape would be a bit different approach.

A narrow angle camera would facilitate filling the frame with what are some relatively distant objects that are high in the air. Also, my recent work with 2.5 x 10 inch negatives in the Pinhole Lab Camera has gotten me thinking about larger negatives. On a somewhat dark and cloudy afternoon, I set out for a walk around my neighborhood with the 200mm front on the 6x9cm Variable Cuboid loaded with Portra 400.

Red Maples have the starring role in this ecosystem. I usually am a little self-conscious taking photographs in a public place. This time I found it amusing to think about what the rush hour drivers on Jackson Street were thinking about this guy on the curb with the cardboard box on top the tripod.

The branches are as much a graphic element as the brilliant leaves.

A smaller tree contrasted against the green background with the long camera somewhat flattening the perspective.

The transition with just the branch tips lit up is as interesting as the full blown color display.

I couldn’t pass up this little sumac in the middle of a yard brilliantly floating in front of the green background.

Incidentally these are all the entire uncropped negative. I don’t think this one is exactly what I thought I was pointing at but symmetry isn’t always the goal.

Except for the brown hosta, the front of our house isn’t really classically autumnal.

The little tree across the street is probably the most successful abstraction of the lot.

The 200mm front for the 6x9cm Variable Cuboid has a .54mm pinhole.

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