Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Crackerhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique

Last year I made a camera out of a cracker box for Andrew Bartram after he got emotional several times on the Lensless Podcast about Paolo Gioli and followers taking pictures with the holes in crackers. I even tried to opacify a soda cracker and made a separate mount for one of it's holes in case he wanted to recreate crackerhole photography. I never tried it and Andrew accidentally crushed it while unboxing. It had been in customs in East Anglia for a couple weeks so probably wasn't still too fresh.

Still inspired by that and by YouTube Chateau and Convent restorer Billy Petherick's tag line "Crack on," this spring I made The Crackon out of a box of Wheat Thins. I speculated at that time about the superiority for imaging of Wheat Thins and their holes versus soda crackers. Sturdier too. But I never did anything about it.

Our house was built in 1928. It's fairly original and is in pretty good shape but it had several festering problems that needed addressing by a competent carpenter. When the project began, realizing we were about to seriously crack on, fate deemed it should be documented with a Wheat Thin cracker hole in The Crackon.

I surveyed quite a few holes and discovered what to the naked eye looks round is usually an odd shape with very rough edges. This one, that although not very circular, was fairly smooth and came to almost a thin edge at the circumference of the hole. It measured .2mm by .3mm, close enough to the optimal .27mm for the 45mm distance to the film.

I wanted to use as original a cracker hole as possible. Wheat thins are darker than most crackers, but I thought some extra light proofing with a Sharpie was acceptable. Looking at it with the light on my phone behind it, my normal test of opacity, it's nowhere near opaque. It would only be exposed when the shutter was opened. I thought the differential exposure between the cracker and the hole would be sufficient and it wouldn't matter.

The negatives came out very dense.  Held against a light table you could just barely see there was any variation in density. I now realize that although the clear pinhole passed much more light than an equivalent area of cracker, there's a lot more cracker passing that light, fogging the entire frame.

Here's a scan of a whole negative, the best one of the lot, done with brightness almost bottomed out and some futzing with contrast. They are also very vignetted. At 45mm on a 6x6cm negative, normal exposure-gradient vignetting isn't that big a deal. Despite the crispy edge of the hole, the rest of the cracker is thick enough to get in the way. The vignetting is roughly the shape of the hole.

The hole's imaging itself is not bad. Like all sub-optimal pinholes it has a unique character and with the massive overexposure puffing up the grain, you might even call it a style. So here, severely cropped and restored from the brink with the best I could do with Photoshop's Levels, Burn/Dodge and Brightness/Contrast tools, a tale of cracking on with the restoration of Chateau Hanson/Dvoracek.

It's a little difficult to get contractors to work on what they consider small jobs. I sent out numerous emails but only got responses from two. One was a recognized restoration contractor, and the other an individual who bid about a fourth of the respected authority. After talking to the young entrepreneur, we thought he had a good enough understanding of the project, and maybe a little more willing to listen to what we wanted.

It began with restoration of the floor of the porch. Demolition always comes first.

This was complicated because the worst rotting was under the fluted columns, which hold up the Federalist style pediment. Turns out fluted columns like this just aren't available to be replaced. Happily, it was just the easily reproducible base that was rotten.

While they were accessible, the insides of the little brick side walls needed to be tuck pointed, the first time I've ever done that. The rest is completed now so I have to get the front done.

The sidewalk and a concrete step in front of the porch needed to be leveled which meant the stairs on top of it needed to be removed. You can replace a lot on a house, but if it fits in the category "structure," it triggers a building permit. The city will have to inspect the finished job and where an older house may have features that won't meet the current code, those will have to be corrected to pass the inspection. Stair stringers are structural. The three stringers I had made in about 1988 without knowing I needed a permit were perfectly fine, but they had to be removed to level the concrete, replaced by four new ones, slightly longer to meet the code for tread depth.

The project also included painting the entire house. From inside, noise-cancelling headphones do a pretty good job of eliminating the sound of scraping off loose paint.

In addition to the scaffolding, many ladders were involved.

In what's still turning out to be the biggest surprise, I removed the railings to sand off some rust and repaint them before the contractor arrived. When we went to check that they would still fit with the slightly longer stairs (they do), we learned that they also didn't come close to meeting code. For something that's part of almost every house in the country, they're frustratingly difficult to buy, particularly for a 5 step stairway - 6 since it has to go up the porch so there's no gap between it and the column. Currently, the existing railings are going to be modified by welding the required ballusters on, but that's about the fourth time we thought we had this solved in the last few days.

The side rails on the porch weren't as bad but I removed and painted them as well. They meet code just fine, but the repairs to the bases of the columns moved them just a hair, and the metal mounting plates on the columns need to be moved now. If you're doing a home restoration project and think you have to be helpful, just let the contractor take things apart.

There was scaffolding on the driveway right outside our bedroom window for a week, so the newer Mustang got to live near the street.

The most interesting part was replacing the crumbling concrete slabs that capped the low brick walls. Getting a concrete slab made to a custom size is almost impossible. The contractors that I spoke to about it told me they wouldn't do it with concrete. It had to be limestone and admitted it would be cheaper just to deal with the stone vendor ourselves. Sarah and I took a rented pickup to DePere to get them, learned a bit about Newton's laws when they shifted a little in the truck as we went for lunch at a restaurant we had enjoyed before but required a very curvy ride across the city. They look very classy with the restored porch and the freshly painted house.

The Crackon has a 6x6cm frame 45mm from the front of the camera. The film behind the cracker was Kentmere 100 semistand developed in Rodinal 1:100