Week 3: Pinhole Visions
Basic Black and White Photography with Matthew Swarts
“AS GREGOR SAMSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” — Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”
For Next Week
READ: Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”
DOWNLOAD AND REVIEW: arts1810 pinhole visions slides
Using the work you saw in class as a point of departure [among others: Adam Fuss’ beautifully rendered 8×10 pinhole images of sculpture, Nancy Rexroth’s magical Iowa (plastic camera pictures of her childhood home in Ohio), Ruth Thorne-Thompson’s mythic 4×5 pinhole constructions, and Nancy Burson’s plastic camera “document” about young cranio-facial patients] make 6-8 positive images from pinhole negatives.
Things to consider:
1. Your pinhole cameras are by nature imprecise machines, and they often make wonderfully haphazard and strangely distorted images, seeing the world from what we’d like to imagine is an insect’s eye view. Think of Gregor Samsa. Can you take advantage of the built-in strangeness of this new vision and how it sees the world you once thought familiar? How can you benefit from the idiosyncratic ‘problems’ of your particular camera(s), using them to actually contribute meaning to your photographs? Sometimes even after several tries the images from your camera might not represent the ideas you want to convey—if this is the case, can you create a new type of camera that will do it better?
2. Look carefully at the space around you when you photograph. Have you thought about how this space contributes to the meaning of your images? What does it mean to put yourself in a particular place inside a picture? How do the shapes and the light that surrounds you contribute to your images and what you want them to say? Can you combine them in different ways to make images that speak to different ideas?
3. Pinhole exposures are often very long. Think about how you might use this extra dimensional element of time in the “still” photographs made by your camera. Are there certain places you could photograph or movements you could make that would extend the effect of your images?
4. Everybody sticks their face in front of the camera—and it’s fun–but can you create images that are self-referential without directly representing your face, your body, or your reflection?
5. If you do chose to explore your body in your images, how are you using the space created by light and gesture? If you chose to concentrate on the figure in a traditional sense, consider carefully how the camera’s relationship to the body contributes to an images’ meaning. How are the photographs you make distinct from, say, your reflection in a mirror? Can you use the camera to see yourself in a radically new way—one that might otherwise be impossible? Thinking of people like Cindy Sherman or Kahn and Selesnick, how about creating a new or a different body with the camera? Have you considered creating an exquisite corpse from composite images or parts of your own flesh seen from many different points of view?
6. What you make with any camera is most often a negative. In this special case of using paper as film, are there some instances where the negative you have made is actually more beautiful or more telling than any positive you can create with it?
FOR NEXT WEEK’S CLASS: Please have your 6-8 positive images ready for critique, and be prepared with your fully functional 35mm SLR camera with 50mm lens and several rolls of 35mm Kodak Tri-X film.
Artist Spotlight: ADAM FUSS
I like forms in my work to raise questions. Is there a spiritual element to being alive? Is there a spiritual element to my past experiences?
I feel that I explore my themes, essentially in the dark. The dark room is the shadow place. So when in that place, you know that’s where you make discoveries, where you’re creator, it’s more in there than in the light.
I feel a photogram, which has much less information, has much more intimacy and feeling than a normal photograph.
The way I discovered the photogram was through accidentally finding within the pinhole camera process that it would be possible to make pictures without needing the outside world as a subject.
Metaphorically I stepped into the camera…and I’m still there.
I came to snakes and ladders recently because I was interested in how the snake was depicted as a negative phenomenon, and the work I’d been doing with snakes and ladders has allowed me to explore that paradox around the snake as being something very energetic, powerful, positive. And at the same time being something that is corrupting, repulsive, to be avoided.
Bringing images, manifesting images, that bringing out and externalising has been therapeutic for me. Healing.
You don’t create, you die. You know, you’re not creative, you die. It’s just about survival really.