Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Give Me Long Exposure

What I knew about pinhole cameras could fit on the head of a pin. Corny, but true.

So when the Science Museum offered a lunchtime lecture called "A Peek into Pinhole Photography," I invited a photographer friend to join me for a little midday education.

Speaking was James Draper, a local pinhole enthusiast who took up the art back in the 70s.

Once he explained to us pinhole morons that it was as simple as using a pinhole instead of a lens, I began to think that I could understand the lecture.

Draper talked about why pinhole photography spoke to him: that it offers soft focus or amazing depth of field, that it's a return to the past in a digital age and that it arouses people's curiosity.

Rarely, he said, is he out with one of his many, many cameras that people don't approach him, inquisitive about what he's using and doing.

In fact, that's how he ended up doing the lecture; a Science Museum employee noticed him out by the kugel with a box for hours on end (an exposure runs thirty seconds to ten minutes) and went out to see what was up.

His enthusiasm for shooting pictures was charmingly enthusiastic. "For me," he said, "All of Richmond is a studio. There's always something to shoot."

For visual aids, he'd brought a half dozen cameras he'd made of various sizes for different format films and of an array of materials, including a paper camera.

I was surprised to learn that oatmeal boxes make excellent pinhole cameras, as do any containers with a tight-fitting lid. Shoe boxes, not so much.

He'd made one out of an artist's wooden supply box, told of a colleague who'd made one from a briefcase and even mentioned one made of a Volkswagen van.

Later my friend told me that there's a VW pinhole right here in Richmond. Now I need to see it.

The official largest pinhole camera, Draper said, is constructed out of an old jet hanger, two stories high and four wide.

Even with my new-found pinhole knowledge, I couldn't get my head around that one.

But I don't need to, either. For a supremely non-scientific type like me, it's enough that I now know that I could make a pinhole camera from one of my old oatmeal boxes.

It's not likely to happen, but it could be terrific conversational fodder with someone someday.

And if science isn't all about someone, someday, what the hell is it about?

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