Saturday, April 23, 2022

Lessons from a Camera Making Workshop


Last Saturday, four gracious, cheerful and enthusiastic members of the Fox Valley Photography Meetup Group participated in a camera-making, photograph-taking workshop with me. I really learned a lot.

The main take-away is that I still need to reduce the time it takes to make a finished camera. The shutter channels, shutter slider, tripod mounts and winders had already been made up with the help of my former colleague-in-the-office-next-door Brian Ledwell, Laser Cutter Artiste Extraordinaire. We're now going to make all the parts that are not visible on the outside of the camera with the adhesive already applied and fold lines scored. Participants will still make the outside boxes and the shutters i.e. the fun part. One advantage is that with the premade parts, a shutter is just about as easy to make as just a flap over the counter hole. I noticed people fussing with the jury-rigged counter shutters just held under the rubber bands. The second proper shutter does make a more finished looking product. Also, the shutters are exactly the same size as the negative so they can help with viewfinding if you have one on the back.

Another painful learning experience was discovering the need to make a jig to hold and guide the square punch for cutting the holes in the taking shutter. I smashed my fingertip with the mallet and bled all over my camera. It was on the inside of the shutter so you can't see it.

We just barely got the cameras made in four hours. The Kaukana Public Library, where we were meeting, closed at 1 pm so we had to be cleaned up and out by then. About noon I made the call that we didn't have time to make and measure pinholes and handed out ones I had drilled earlier in the week. I really want those kids this summer to drill their own pinhole.

Bobbi made a 30mm camera, Caroline chose 45mm, and Dave, Mike and I, 60mm. I decided to use the Zesta Saltine Cracker box because I read in a Facebook post the previous day that red was bold and daring.

Mike had to go play with his granddaughter after lunch (his phrasing). The rest of us decided to go back to the Libary with it's historic exterior, location on the rapids and locks of the Fox River, and proximity to the giant Thilmany Paper Mill. That might not have been the best choice. The library is located on an island in the river. It was 36° F with a 20 mile per hour sustained wind and no other places to go to warm up.

I've never participated in a group photo shoot before and didn't quite know what to do. I tried to stay close to give advice and help, but eventually we all drifted off to different parts of the island.

The most recognizable feature of downtown Kaukana is the Veterans Memorial Lift Bridge. The locks on the Fox River, built in the 1850s, have been restored for mostly pleasure-boat navigation between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay.  Restoring this bridge to operation was one of the last things done. I was wishing I had a rising front but the sky was pretty interesting so I just tilted up. The bridge itself isn't perfectly square anyway–the right bank is a little higher than the left.

The original library was built on the island in the river on land donated by the canal company in 1904. In 2016, it was moved into the restored Thilmany Eagle Mill, also on the island. Again in need of the rising front. There's a meter high barrier across the street overlooking the lock channel. I put the tripod on that, hooked over the railing and extended it as far as I could and still reach the shutter. Caroline was taking the same scene. Her camera appears at the bottom of the frame but she moved too much to be on the negative.

I worked in the basements of libraries my whole career so this entrance to the lower level caught my eye. (There's a normal public entrance a few yards to the left.)

The neat and shiny utility boxes divide my square negative into quadrants.

The renovations have been done very well. The history of the building is still visible.

The cloudy sky reflecting in the windows was an interesting feature. Again without a rising front. 
This time I just got the tripod up on it's tiptoes with the legs collapsed as much as they can and stay standng. I held it down with one hand so the wind didn't blow it over.

Trying to make a composition of this long dark rust-colored fish against the relatively bright sky wasn't the best choice with my square negative. The tight cropping does go with it's dour expression against the dramatic clouds. The Fox, a wild tumbling rapids at this point, is almost completely calmed by the 8 second exposure. The metal screening on the fence below the fish is pretty cool.

The last holdout against the frigid environment, Dave makes an exposure of those clouds reflected in the windows. He had made a classic oatmeal box camera in the nineties and attended my presentation at the Oshkosh Public Museum just before the pandemic.

I had given the participants a table of exposures. It was mounted on a black card they could use to wave away and back over the pinhole for short exposures, which you can see in use in the above photo.

I have to admit I cheated a bit and used Pinhole Assist to measure exposures, but it turned out they all agreed with what was on the card.

I finished the roll in Oshkosh. Without really intending to, I made photographs of four locations I had done before. For these I just used the exposure table without consulting my phone.

The little pumphouse in the north end of Menomonee Park was the inspiration for my Park Infrastructure piece several years ago. I chose to photograph it again just because I'm into corners lately.

The other side of this structure near the channel between the park and Monkey Island was the subject of the first frame in the camera I made to illustrate building the Populist. Two years ago, it was awarded honorable mention in the juried show at the museum where I'll be doing workshops this summer. Last year I had a picture in the show again but I just got the rejection notice for this year's show. The pattern of the waves splashing on the side facing the lake was what caught my eye this time.

The date was 4/20 so the address on the back of 420 Main Street caught my attention. The tripod was on top of a garbage recepticle so the camera didn't need to be tilted up. I photographed it before with a panoramic curved negative in the Pinhole Lab Camera. Until recently it was occupied by an aromatic waxes store. The Wisconsin Hemp Works is next door. I wonder if they ever wish they had this address, but then, it is a different kind of hemp.

The new parts are already in production and I may try to get another group of volunteers to try them out, hopefully on a nicer day.

The Zesty Populist has a .30mm pinhole 60mm from a 6x6mm frame. The film is TMax 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Happy Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, everyone!

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