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My Journey Into The World Of Pinhole Photography – by Wendy Chapman

I was surprised and flattered when Ian and Andrew invited me to write an article for their Pinhole Photography website. Although I have been a photographer for many years I consider myself somewhat a beginner in the world of film. I am on a steep learning curve with all aspects of film photography and began this education when I discovered pinhole photography a couple of years ago. Like many people I dabbled with a brownie camera when I was a teen, but then did very little until I had children. At that time I bought a Pentax K1000 and a couple of lenses at a discount from Kmart, a store similar to Walmart but on a smaller scale. I enjoyed it and have some nice photos from those days including one hanging on the wall of my photo room. However, I never really immersed myself in the process and was content to send film out and get prints back.

Do any of you recall Kodak Easy Share cameras? They came with their own little printers. That camera began my introduction into digital and for many years I developed my skills, upgraded cameras and learned how to use editing programs. I did well in local competitions and have been shortlisted in a couple of major ones. I enjoy using my digital cameras and creating all genres of images with them.

However, a moment changed everything and caused me to think about creativity and photography in a whole new (well really old) light. I came upon an image by Paul Mitchell that I loved and when I read the information accompanying the photo I learned he had made it with a pinhole camera. Intrigued, I looked at some more of his photos and I thought they were beautiful. I did some research and learned a bit about pinhole cameras. I then found Ian Burton’s pinhole photos and was hooked. I loved the moody, dark, black and white softness of  some of his photos and felt it was akin to the type of images I loved making with my digital cameras.  I immediately bought a RealitySoSubtle 6×12 camera like the one Ian used in the photos I saw. And my descent into the world of pinhole began!

I like almost everything about this old/new to me world but I tend to learn the hard way. I am not the most technically minded person and when people begin to talk about pinhole sizes, angle of view, ratios and the like my brain fogs up. I am in awe of the knowledge so many of the “pinholers” have and appreciate their generosity in sharing what they know. I believe the people who are passionate about pinhole photography are some of the nicest photographers I have met. They are generous and encouraging. I need input and really value their support.

Choosing the RSS 6×12 as my first pinhole camera may not have been the smartest decision. It is wonderful and the 6×12 format is one of my favorites. However, it is tricky to load and it is not easy to see the film numbers through the red window. I have had frustrating moments that might have caused me to give up if I wasn’t  so stubborn. However, I have made some interesting images with this camera and I am glad I persevered. Like a naughty but charming child it is my favourite pinhole camera. The panoramic images in this article were made with this camera.

Making an image with the RSS 6×12 at Broadway Tower

One smart decision I did make was to join Andrew Atkinson and Ian Burton for a pinhole workshop in Whitby. They were patient, kind and encouraging tutors. They helped me to gain confidence in my ability to master this genre and helped me see that mistakes sometimes turn into gems. I suggest anyone who wants to get a great introduction into the world of pinhole photography sign up for one of their workshops.

Since that beginning I admit to PGAS (Pinhole Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Part of the fun is the great range of pinholes you can use. From a tin can to a lovely work of art wooden camera, from square, to large format, to 360° there is a vast array to choose from. I currently own a Zero 6×6, a RSS 6×6, RSS 6×12, a Natasha 6×9, and Mike Walker’s 4×5 (Ilford). I like them all and struggle with all of them do to user error and learning about how to embrace the imperfections that are part of the beauty of this genre. Even though at its purest form it is very simple there is also a lifetime of learning involved. This is part of what makes it captivating. Illustrating what I mean about embracing the “mistakes” are images I accidentally double exposed. They are two of my favorite photos:  

My favorite elements of pinhole photography are the peaceful nature of creating images and the unexpected results. Unlike digital you cannot chimp so you cannot see what your image will look like. You can make educated guesses, but you just never know what the final result will be. The experience becomes a more integral part of the process and it feels both enriching and exciting. My journey has really just begun and I expect it will be a life-long travel with new discoveries around every bend in the road.

Wendy Chapman has been living in the UK for almost 6 years having moved here from Wisconsin. She enjoys all forms of photography and has participated in many activities related to it including competitions, writing articles, giving presentations, and most recently joining other photographers for small exhibitions. She finds all of this fun but the pure joy is in making images and the experiences that are part of that process. Pinhole photography has added a new depth and richness to that joy.


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