Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pinholey self-portraits while reading books on photography

There was a problem with a light leak in the 4x5 Pinhole Lab Camera. I had fixed it but I loaded the camera and left it out in the sun for three days to make sure. It didn’t seem right to mix some developer for just one sheet so I had to come up with a project for this camera.

It’s also still very cold, so it had to be something that could be done indoors. The light leak hadn’t shown itself under less bright light. It would probably be OK. (The camera did turn out to be light-tight.)

I’ve been following the discussions lately in the Facebook group Photography Books and Theory but really haven’t had much to contribute. I worked my whole adult life in college libraries and read most of their TR classification, so I never had much incentive to buy photography books on my own. I do have a modest collection which I haven’t looked at for some time. The idea came to me to do a series of self-portraits while reading them.

I am still interested in experimenting with ultra-wide angle so I decided to use the 36mm setting. I also wanted to make sure I could reach the shutter from where I was sitting.

I’ve been getting a little sick of all the discussions about how to get the sharpest image with a pinhole camera and I’m starting to wonder if a lot of these people wouldn’t be better off just using a lens. In order to be as pinholey as possible I used the .55mm pinhole despite it’s being much larger than optimal at 36mm from the image plane. Since this was going to be inside, I also didn’t want to make hours long exposures. This set-up at ultra-fast f64 would help accomplish this.

The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot. Facsimile edition by Da Capo Press, 1969. Originally published in 1844. During the exposure I chose to start reading with Plate VI, The Open Door, which contains a quote which has always inspired me:

We have sufficient authority in the Dutch school of art, for taking as representation scenes of daily and familiar ocurrence. A painter’s eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual gleam of sunshine or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings.

The scene is the dining room table and is very underexposed except for the book and the window. That may be appropriate since Talbot’s first negative was a silhouette of a window at Lacock Abbey.  

Photography: adapted from the Life Library of Photography. Barbara London Upton with John Upton. 3rd  Ed. Little, Brown and Company 1985.  Earlier editions of this book were the text book for the first photography class I took and for the class I taught in the art department at Knox College. I was reading from Section 3 on Lenses where they use pinhole images by Ansel Adams under the heading Why lenses are needed. Not very convincing in my opinion. This was at the kitchen table since much of it reads like a cookbook.

Photo-Secession: Photography as Fine Art, Robert Doty, The George Eastman House, 1960.  I was reading this at bedtime just before I got my Kindle a few years ago and it’s been sitting on my bedside table ever since. The photographs of the members of the Photo-Secession often resemble those made with a pinhole. In Chapter II: The Background, it gives a description of The Linked Ring Brotherhood with a quote describing their pictorialist principles by George Davison, whose photograph The Onion Field is probably the most famous pinhole photograph ever. There’s no mention of pinhole photography though.

Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer by Dorothy Norman, an Aperture Book, Random House,1960. The sun was streaming through the front windows in the living room which reminded me one of his early works which is Plate 1 of this book. The sun went behind a cloud just after I opened the shutter. Norman describes that for him photography “represented an entire way of life–a religion” That sounds like Pinholiness.

One Mind’s Eye: The Portraits and Other Photographs of Arnold Newman. David R. Godine, Publisher, 1974. Newman often portrays artists with their tools and works. The bedroom with my photographs on the wall, with a pinhole camera beside me, seemed like the appropriate place to read this.

Photographic Science, by Earl N. Mitchell, John Wiley and Sons. 1984.  I looked at the page with the only mention of pinhole photography in the book. With the diagram on the left page, he shows that if the image plane is further from the pinhole, the light is spread over a greater area and must be compensated for with a longer exposure, which explains why I chose the shortest setting on the camera for this project. He then states that “The image formed by a modern camera using a lens has the same characteristics as those attributed to the pinhole camera” and offers several equations which show how adjustable lens diameters complicate that.

Victorian Photographs of Famous Men & Fair Women, by Julia Margaret Cameron. A&W Visual Library, originally published in 1926. Cameron was the first to unapologetically use soft focus, high contrast and the occasional acceptance of motion blur as tools of expression. To emulate her style I wanted to keep my head up so the book was set on a precarious stand. I didn’t dare to touch it. During the exposure, it was opened to her portrait of Sir John Herschel, who coined the word photography, invented cyanotype and came up with using Sodium Hyposulfate to fix photographs.

Annie Leibovitz: Photographs, A Pantheon/Rolling Stone Press Book,1983.  Looking through the book I noticed numerous full length and often partially dressed portraits with the camera at a relative low position. I took my shirt off and read it standing in the hallway.

Masters of Photography, edited and with an introduction by Beaumont and Nancy Newhall. Castle Books, 1958. I chose to read this book in the living room with Spenser on the chair next to me because he thinks he’s the master of the house. I read the section on Peter Henry Emerson. His manifesto Naturalistic Photography emphasized “fidelity to actual human vision...that the eye sees sharply only in the center.” The extreme vignetting of this ultra-wide angle pinhole camera possibly illustrates that idea. I also read about Steichen, who comes from Wisconsin.

Nude Theory, Lustrum Press, 1979.  I picked the section by Duane Michals who has always inspired me by his serial approach, use of window light and because it was the only section with a man as the subject of the illustrations. He mentions that for most of the images he uses one second exposures at f16 which often leads to motion blur.

Edward Weston Nudes. An Aperture Book, 1977. In 1980 during the Winter Olympics I kept hearing commentators describe skating moves based on the athlete’s name who had originated them, such as Triple Lutz and Triple Salchow. I thought that would be a funny idea for an art competition. With two friends in classic Weston poses, with myself in the role of Nude, 1936, I did a piece titled Triple Weston. I have to confess that I didn’t do any reading during the exposure. Four decades on, I could barely fold myself this far and had to take my glasses off to lean my head against my knee.

The Pinhole of Nature, self-published by some guy on the internet, 2003. Since the book is as much about me as it is about pinhole photography, it seemed appropriate to include my reflection in the mirror while sitting on the bed.

Close to Home, Seven Documentary Photographers, edited by David Featherstone, Untitled 48, The Friends of Photography, 1989. For several years I was a member of the Friends of Photography. Their quarterly journal, Untitled, took the form of monographs on a single artist or concept. This one dealt with photographers who worked in the area where they lived. Since all the photographs in my project are already in my house, I thought the most appropriate place to read it was on my side of the couch, with Stewart on my lap.

New Landscapes, Untitled 24, The Friends of Photography, 1981. It didn’t seem right to do a book about Landscapes inside, so I went out in the cold and snow. Since it was about new landscapes, I tried to give it a contemporary flavor. It was quite bright out there so I switched to the .3mm pinhole. Can you tell?

All with semi-matte developed in caffenol.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Close-up Studio Project

It’s been very cold. The highs in the last few days have been in the low single digits Fahrenheit. I’ve been known to venture out in snow and cold for pinhole photography and even voluntarily gone to extremes. However, when it’s this cold, it’s hard to concentrate on what you’re doing and to wait around for pinhole length exposures. An indoor project seems in order.

I participated in an on-line forum with Nicole Small recently. While listening to her describe her initial ventures into pinhole while working within the limitations of her studio, I started thinking about studio methods.

It seems like we may be still living under some pandemic restrictions on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Last year there was lots of discussion about how one could do pinhole photography without leaving home. I did a series of the walls in my house as an inspirational example. Here is more inspiration in case you’re still in lockdown at the end of April.

I don’t have a studio or any lighting equipment. The best thing I could find to serve as a seamless backdrop was a tabloid sheet of paper (with a template for a Variable Cuboid front printed on the other side). The typical lighting for this kind of photography is a large source like an umbrella or a light box, but a nearby window provides a similar soft light. I used a white towel hung over the back of a chair for fill on the shadow side. 

A common problem in working with a seamless background is keeping the edges of the backdrop out of the picture. That’s easier to do with a narrow angle camera so I chose the 100mm front for the Variable Cuboid. It has a pinhole that’s smaller than the normal recommended optimum. The formulas for minimal diffraction include the distance to the subject as a variable and the on-line calculators assume a subject at infinity, so my set up would be near to the mathematical ideal working this close-up.

This arrangement was going to limit the size of my subject matter. Inspired by Steichen, Weston, Penn and The Mothers of Invention, I looked to the kitchen for my models.

I started with a Cosmic Crisp apple. The fronts for the Variable Cuboid have an adjustable rising front. Initially I forgot to be careful not to raise it when I opened the shutter so there was some unintended tight cropping at the bottom. One often hears about serendipitous compositional surprises with pinhole photography, so we’ll just embrace that.

I had started with a sheet of one inch thick foam padding for a backdrop, but it was almost impossible to get lighter vegetables to stand upright on it. I could tell I didn’t need anything that big so I switched to paper for this half eaten head of Boston lettuce.

Even with the more stable base, I had to use some other studio methods. There’s a clothes pin clamped to the back of this stalk of brocolli to help it stand upright.

No special studio method here. After struggling for some time with these brussel sprouts and having them roll all over the hallway, I finally got one to balance on top the others for the composition I wanted.

I minimized the amount of onions in the tomato sauce I made the night before so I could keep this one whole for my studio session the next day.

An individual head of garlic.

A tomato accompanied by two of its smaller cousins.

An acorn squash.

It’s impossible to make a composition with a single banana using a square format camera. I paired it with some peaches, also a common combination for a smoothie.

I’ve been baking sandwich bread for some time but have been trying to get a little more artisanal lately. No-knead crusty whole wheat on top, traditional French-style country bread on the bottom.

Roses dry nicely and can stay in a bouquet quite a while but eventually succumb to gravity.

An individual dried rose.

The prediction is for this weather pattern to continue for some time. This project may bear some additional investigation but I’ll have to go to the market first.

The 100mm front for the Variable Cuboid has a .35mm pinhole making a 6x6cm negative. Tmax 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Eight small bridges in winter

When riding my bicycle around town, I often cross little bridges over creeks and other minor waterways that might make interesting photographs. I thought of them when trying to come up with a project recently. It occurred to me that in winter, there might be more options for placing the camera since the ice might make getting to the middle of the stream possible. I was wrong about that and suffered a cold wet foot in learning that lesson. A bit unusual for me was using that most common photographic accessory, an automobile, in order to get to them. It also provided a warm and private place to swap the fronts of the 6x9 Variable Cuboid in the changing bag.

The trail in the Sheldon Nature Center over Honey Creek.

Honey Creek Road over Honey Creek.

The Sawyer Creek Trail over Sawyer Creek.

The trail connecting Ruschfield Drive and Newport Avenue through Rothschild Park over Sawyer Creek.

Pratt Trail over the lagoon in Menomonee Park.

The driveway to the Oshkosh Country Club over Weyerhorst Creek.

The Riverwalk Trail over a small inlet off the Fox River.

The former railroad trestle on the Wiowash Trail over Dagget’s Creek.

All with the 6x9 Variable Cuboid on Tmax 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100

The first four and the last with the 55mm front, .3mm hand drilled pinhole.

The fifth and sixth with the 135mm front, .43mm hand drilled pinhole.

The seventh with the 30mm front, .2mm Gilder Electron Microscope Aperture.