Sunday, July 16, 2023

Reinforcing stereotypes

Most people who have only experienced pinhole photography in a junior high school science class, using re-purposed boxes with photo paper negatives, have a common perception of what pinhole photographs are like. Badly exposed, randomly composed, overwhelming motion blur, streaked with light leaks and covered with scratches and fingerprints. 

A common prejudice among pinholers is that good pinhole photographs can't be done with 35mm. A recurring theme here on Pinholica is advocacy of the creative potentional of 35mm pinhole photography. 

But I'm here today to reinforce those stereotypes and prejudices.

While loading another roll of my 40-year old Tri-X, the counter mechanism on the equally antique bulk loader kept pushing open the lid as it wound, exposing the film and probably the top layer of the bulk roll. After destroying about 4 feet of film, I decided to just leave the lid open and load it in the dark. After the cassette was filled with as much film as it would take, I discovered the inner gate wasn't open. This happened once with an earlier roll without visible effect so I just ignored it and eventually forgot about it. In my frustration with the loader I must have closed that gate particularly forcefully because this time it covered the entire roll with many wavy scratches.

Also, once again, after developing some 4x5 sheets a few days before, the little heater in my darkroom was still on and the red LEDs which display the temperature didn't do the film any good while I struggled to load what turned out to be more than 36 exposures.

In addition, I ended up pursuing a project which was somewhat unfamiliar for me - photographing people.

The whole purpose of the square format, 35mm Manic Expression Cube is to freely explore. I'm going to display these with the scratches and slightly fogged negatives. I recently watched an episode of the PBS science series Nova about the brain and perception. The basic theme was that your brain continuously creates a high definition model of your environment based on some pretty poor resolution input and extensively filters things that don't fit its preconceptions or ceases to worry about being a danger. Let's see what your brain does with these pictures.

No compelling project came to mind and the camera sat around for a few days. One afternoon a group of local photographers were getting together for coffee. As is typical of such occasions, cameras were occasionally pointed across the table without warning, including making a very high resolution image of my grizzled face. I might as well make an exposure of the group. As with a previous opportunity with two from this group at the Farmer's Market, they were of course in the dark in front of a brilliant background.

A few days after that was the Photo Walk in Kaukauna organized by PhotoOpp. After walking around taking pictures, everyone congregated on one street corner, occasionally taking pictures of each other. Not my usual thing, but I hadn't thought of anything else for this roll of film, so ought to give it a try with what were probably willing subjects. That thought occurred to me while showing my camera and explaining pinhole to David Hall.

Another photographer curious about pinhole.

John Adams, co-founder of Photo Opp and Giles La Rock from the Fox Valley Photography Group standing right in the street discussing analog photography. It looks like I had captured the great lens of Giles' Hasselblad, but it's just a merger with the car wheel behind him. 

Mark Ferrell, another Photo Opp founder pointing at me with the original Nikkormat he bought in 1968. That might be the other Photo Opp founder Graham Washatka trying to get a look at his digital screen in the sunlight.

 Scientific photographer Almon Benton looking cool with his shades and Leica.

Brandi Grahl flashing me big smile.

A group in conversation on the sidewalk.

With still no idea for a project, riding past the softball field during a game of the Wednesday morning slow pitch softball league, I wondered what that would look like with my little negatives. 

The view from behind home base.

The guy to the left told me "This is what old men do on Wednesday morning." I replied there are lots of odd things old men do on Wednesday mornings.

Contemplating my project dilemma, I realized I had been pursuing one all along - photographing people. Serendipitously there were two art fairs occurring in Oshkosh that weekend, a likely source for willing subjects. I had done something like that before for the Oshkosh Pleine Air Festival before the pandemic. One of the first jobs for this little camera, in which it gave me a lesson in the slings and arrows of analogue photography as well as the creative potential of those flaws. A picture from that roll was in a juried show in Portugal.

Saturday afternoon was the Alley Art Market behind the 400 block of Main Street, one of my favorite locations for architectural scenes, part of which has recently been covered with a mural.

A button maker at work. I told him I did some pieces with classic Badge-a-Minit tools in the 70's and 80's. He had never heard of them. He got his on Amazon.

The band was rockin' but I wasn't sure what particular genre they represented

That was clarified by the t-shirt of the girl selling their merch.

The crowd was primarily young folk. I was the only one there north of thirty except for the parents of one of the people in the band.

Several were inquisitive about my little camera and, like this couple, readily agreed to let me photograph them.

The painter of these swirly compositions insisted on a dramatic pose. We exchanged business cards. He's doing the same pose on the card.

One of the artists concentrating on a sketch book.

A painter at her easel.

A very fashionable painter under a parasol.

I positioned this t-shirt vendor like this since my son works in Boston and might be interested how far this obscure social media meme had come. Another dramatic pose.

This young woman, who was one of the couple from an earlier photograph, was in a group of four in animated conversation. She watched me frame and adjust the tripod. One by one her companions got up and moved which required me to move and recompose. Eventually she was left alone and again graciously modeled. My only regret about the low resolution and grain is that I couldn't capture the tiny white polka dots on her black dress.

Sunday was The Paine Art Center's Faire on the Green on the street and open corner lot next to the museum. As you can tell by the extra "e," it's a different affair than the one downtown.

My first encounter was with a man playing the hand-made recorders he sells. He was playing along with a prerecorded track with an extraordinary amount of reverb. Gave a real new-agey feel to things.

 A large display of cool doll shoes. We agreed that my size was probably out of her range.

This man was selling carved frog figurines with a notched ridge on their back, which when rubbed with a hollow stick made a convincing "ribbit."

Tubular stuffed animals sewn out of shiny material.

I made a point to look for the photographers. This was the only one who was exclusively selling photography.

The last time I was at this event was sometime in the '90s. I remember it as full of framed canvases, prints and pottery with the artists often working on something while the crowd watched.  This woman with the sketchbook in her lap was the only one I saw working on anything.

Otherwise, it seemed more like a craft faire, although some of the offerings, such as these sugar-free confections were quite creative.

After visiting the Rodin exhibit at the Paine a few days ago with many of the dark bronze pieces silhouetted against a window, I was particularly taken by these little bronzes in the light reflected on the glass shelves. The artist hadn't been to see the Rodin sculptures yet.

Only one other exhibit included photography. She told me that she was aware that pinhole photography was having a popular resurgence. Under the tent, the exposure was twelve seconds. I told her to imagine she was posing for Van Dyke. That seems to have worked.

A jewelery maker who teaches K-8 Art in the Appleton School District who had done a pinhole unit in the past. Also understood my direction to act like she was posing for Van Dyke (although I was actually thinking of Holbein at the time).

Appropriately for a "Faire," the band was an traditional Celtic group. I could get right in front of them since no one was boogying in the street.

What I noticed walking by this vendor of fresh fruit popsicles was the composition made by the trailer, figure, umbrella and displays in front of him. Nailed the framing exactly as I'd hoped. Maybe there's a lesson in that.

Just outside the limits of the faire, two young entrepreneurs selling bottled water.

Since he was in the group that started this whole thing by taking that detailed picture of my vintage face, I'll end with famous aviation photographer Jim Koepnik showing his Sigma glass.

If this is the only pinhole photography you've seen lately, please take a look at some of my last few posts to get another conception of what pinhole can be.

I did learn a lot about what I can get away with in public photographing humans that I'll be able to put to use. The composition of most of these was a little off probably because people were waiting for me to make the exposure and I rushed it. Have to watch that. There's Art in the Park in Appleton and the Experimental Aircraft Association in the next few weeks that should be full of willing subjects.

Before loading the Manic Expression Cube again, I'm going to have a project already in mind. When loading more of the old Tri-X, I'm just going to pull it out of the loader, measuring it against my arm like one of Cinderella's seamstresses and roll it into the cassette with my bare hands.

The Manic Expression Cube has a .17mm hand-drilled pinhole on an adjustable rising front with 7mm of travel, 24mm from a 24x24mm frame. The venerable Tri-X was semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

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