pinhole photography

26 Weeks Camera Challenge #21: Readymade by Simeon Smith

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I don’t know what photography is.

I mean, I know what a camera is. I know how it makes images. But photography as a whole? I’m not sure.

Is it, and if so when is it, art? Chemistry? Documentation? Media? Self-indulgence?

There’s more to it triggering a shutter and capturing some light, and at the same time, surely that’s all there is to it?

In my opinion, art reached it’s most self-referential point with Dadaism and Duchamp’s ready-mades. A urinal, on it’s back, in a gallery, with Duchamp’s signature on it was the most relevant “what is art?” moment.

In a similar way, Daido Moriyama’s photos of glossy magazine photographs and garish billboards in my opinion ask some of the most important contemporary questions about photography, authorship, creativity and media. By capturing an image of an image we end up with a feedback loop where one type of media shines light on another.

Richard Prince took this one step further by blowing up and selling (for tens of thousands of dollars!) large screenshots of other people’s Instagram posts, without the original instagrammer’s permission.

This week, explore ownership, appropriation and the visual public space by taking pictures of other people’s pictures. Ads in bus stops, stock images in books, things you find on the screen of your phone, whatever.

Questions:

1.       When is appropriation in art good?

2.       Where is the line between inspiration and theft?

3.       Are images in the public domain fair game?

26 Weeks Camera Challenge #13: Lines and lines and lines. by Simeon Smith

I know, I know, I skipped a week, we're half-way through the project, and momentum has slowed down for me. I'll get there. We'll get there. Together. I promise. 

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One of the things I love most about art is how much of it we can understand through science. From colour to viewpoints, to what makes our heart race, perception is a weird mix of our senses and the way our brain processes this information, cross referencing it with our previous experiences. I'm not that knowledgeable on why we find some things fascinating and others not so much, but I sure like to capitalise on these ways. 

A great way of drawing a viewer in is to use leading lines, framing your subject or that provide movement or depth to your photography. 

This week, try shooting pictures with clear leading lines. 

Questions: 

1. What other things seem to be hardwired into our psyche as "visually pleasing"? 

2. What things seem universally unappealing?

3. Are there any techniques that are the "marmite" of photography, either you love them or you hate them? Why might we have these reactions?

26 WEEKS is a camera challenge I’m putting together to help someone through their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. You can follow along here on the the blog, but it’s best to start at the beginning. Here’s what we’ve already covered: 

Week 1: Do You. 

Week 2: Find Your Masters.

Week 3: Study Your Masters.

Week 4: Kill Your Masters. 

Week 5: The One Thing.

Week 6: Depth of Field. 

Week 7: Blur.

Week 8: We Were Made In The Dark.

Week 9: Forget Everything.

Week 10: Shoot a Stranger. 

Week 11: Pick a Colour

Week 12: You're only as good...

26 Weeks Photo Challenge #6: Depth of Field by Simeon Smith

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Now we’ve discussed the only thing that you can affect outside the camera (light!!) we’ll move through the things you can affect inside the camera. 

I’m trying to keep the series beginner-friendly, but there’s a lot of jargon this week. I’ve tried to explain things as I go, but google stuff if you get lost, or tweet at me if you can’t find the answer. If this is all old news to you, try out the challenges anyway - it’s important as more-experienced photographers to keep breaking our technique down to remind ourselves of why we do things the way we do. 

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” ― André Gide

If you’re using a camera with conventional design (i.e. 99% of cameras on the market), you’ll be able to control aperture (how much light you let in) , shutter speed (for how you let light in), ISO (sensitivity to light). These, along with focus and focal length (kind of like zoom… well not really… google it), are the tools you have at your fingertips to control your images. 

Some cameras may not have direct control over all of these parameters, but over the next few weeks we’ll learn how to control these on a camera that allows manual control, or how to force a camera that doesn’t have manual control. 

Let’s start with aperture: 

Your “aperture" is the size hole behind the lens that light travels through. We measure this in "f stops”, and depending on your camera and lens you’ll be able to select between a low number, for example f1.2 to a high number, like f22. The lower the number, the wider the hole, the more light you’re getting.

(geeky bit: the “f stop” number relates to a division of a focal length. So on a lens with a focal length of 50mm, f1 would be an aperture, or hole, exactly 50mm wide. f2 would be 25mm wide, and so on right down to the narrowest apertures like f22, which would be 2.27mm wide)

So why is this important? Well, two things. 

Firstly, the wider the aperture the brighter your photos will be. If your camera is working out exposure (how bright a photo is) for you, then whoopdidoo… who cares? 

The second reason we use different apertures is “depth of field”. Depth of field is how much of a photo is in focus. We’ve all seen portraits with beautifully sharp faces, and beautifully blurry backgrounds. We’ve all seen photos where EVERYTHING is in focus, almost to an unnatural degree, after all the eye works like a camera we don’t usually see everything in focus. 

So your task this week is to be intentional with your depth of field. 

If you have a camera that allows it, set the camera to Aperture Priority (Av mode on most cameras). This will allow you to change the aperture, and the camera to work out everything else for you for a beautiful exposure. Shoot things with a wide aperture, with only a select few objects in focus. Shoot the same scene with a narrow aperture and notice how the background changes. 

On simpler cameras, or camera phones there are a couple of ways of “forcing” aperture. Usually “portrait” settings will use wide apertures, and “landscape” settings will use narrow apertures. 

You can also “force” a shallow depth of field by shooting in low light, shooting with a large distance between the foreground and background and shooting with things REALLY close to the lens. 

Questions: 

  1. Look back at your masters. How do they use depth of field in their work?
  2. What are the advantages of a shallow depth of field? What are the advantages of a deeper depth of field?
  3. How should depth of field affect your composition?

Fuck me, that was long.  I’ve bored myself this week. But playing with aperture is one of the most satisfying things you can do in photography. Give it a go! 

Videre: Build Review by Simeon Smith

EDIT: I'VE HAD A COUPLE OF ISSUES WITH THE KIT, SO HAVE EMAILED KELLY TO FIND HOW SHE'S LOOKING TO RESOLVE THINGS. I'LL PROVIDE AN UPDATE AS SOON AS I HAVE ONE.

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I’ve taken a few photos already on the camera, but have yet to develop any, so this is a quick review of the building process and materials. I’ll post a second part of the review when I’ve actually got photos from the thing. 

Videre is flat-pack, cardboard, pinhole camera. It comes as a kind of press-out and build kit with a few extra parts.

I started typing “the only bits that aren’t cardboard are…” and then realised there are actually quite a few bits that are metal (clips and the pinhole itself), or plastic (pretty much all the functioning parts of the camera). 

So this is a cardboard camera body.

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But that isn’t a bad thing. Kelly Angood has been making cardboard cameras for a while now, and this is a middle-ground she’s struck between all-cardboard glory, and actual real-world functionality. 

I found the build to be pretty simple, much simpler than the Wintercroft kits I’ve built before. The kit comes with glue dots and stickers that are easy to use to assemble the camera, and the parts fit together well. It’s a surprisingly tight and sturdy kit when complete, something I’m sure isn’t easy to design with cardboard. 

That said, it still is cardboard. It kind of bulges at the sides, regardless of how many times you crease the folds, and a lot of the pieces just slot together without glue or stickers, so I’d hesitate before throwing this into a bag with other gear. 

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The good: 

  • It’s a lot of fun to build, and is totally reusable. I’m sure it’ll last a good few trips. 
  • It’s beautiful. It’s as much a card sculpture as it is a camera.
  • It’s locally printed and sourced in a way that a lot of manufacturers just don’t care about. 

The bad: 

  • Other than the novelty and fun of building a card camera, I’m not sure why you’d choose this camera over other pinhole cameras, or a pinhole “lens” for a camera system.
  • A lot of the parts are annoyingly just cosmetic. It’d be nice if “hood” of the TLR-style body had a small square cut out of the middle to help compose shots. It’d be nice if the rings around the pinhole were functional as an exposure guide. Instead these parts are just there to look cool.

I loved making this kit, and have enjoyed using it so far. As someone who’s never had the patience for pinhole photography, the fun of building the camera was encouragement enough to actually go out and make some images with it.

We’ll see how they turn out.