Camera Obscura Experiments & Pin-Hole Cameras

by Beauchamp Art

Given my recent investigation into experimental photography, I have naturally progressed onto looking into the Camera Obscura, Pin-Hole Cameras, and Photosensitive paper.

This had led me to discussions with a number of peers, photographers with a background in film and knowledge of traditional techniques.

Such as Beth Morton, a friend on photography who as established her own dark room for developing film (shown below), and Keana Garnett, who has a fair 2 years of experience using pin-hole cameras, who has been especially informative, recommending further lines of inquiry and suggested materials, as well as suggested talking to local camera shop owners (the owner of the ‘Red Light Gallery’, formerly the ‘Soup Lab’ may be especially of use, given their attempts to establish a public darkroom for film developing in Norwich), and possibly some of the university technicians – though which ones may be hard to find; those in the Media Resource Centre and Media have been especially helpful thus far (particularly Phil Archer, James Jellings, and Dan Tombs)

Moreover, an investigative documentary on the invention and use of the Camera Obscura by David Hockney that was aired some time ago (in association with his recent book…) on the history of the camera, from the first use of the pin-hole, to the invention and application of lenses, and the development of the use of film in conjunction with the camera, as well as the progression to digital, touching on Polaroid photography and so forth (the photographic film camera is essentially three parts; the camera, which is the hole and the framework, the lens, with which to focus, and the film [or light sensor, in the case of digital photography] onto which the image is put upon).

So far, my various experiments have included:

  • Affixing tracing paper to one end of a Pringles tube, and piercing a hole in the other to form a basic hand-held obscura, that requires a strongly contrasting light, and a dark cover over the tracing papered end in order to see the image – a relatively successful first attempt, though the only image that came through clearly was a light bulb – when combined with a magnifying glass, I was able to see some sharper images (tough without a DSLR, I was unable to gather any photographic evidence as yet)
  • Boarded up room + pin-hole
  • Cereal box + tracing paper

All with the same contrast & low light problems I have encountered with in digital photography when illuminating surfaces with faint light whilst taking pictures with the lenses held in place reversed.)

Future experiments include:

  • Metal biscuit tin + film
  • Photosensitive paper + objects/Computer screen
  • Digital camera without lens + pinhole

I could attempt to use a Camera Obscura to project an image/photograph from my computer screen onto a surface, which could then be re-photographed.

Moreover, something I have begun to try, which was transforming a room into a Camera Obscura – or possibly divide a room into two parts, with the obscura projecting one room into another, sharing the image from the other side (like sending someone a photograph, or having a video conversation via Skype, but done literally; physically sending the image of one person to another room, and vice versa). Whether this would or could be documented with photography effectively remains to be seen, however, it may work as a form of interactive instillation, if its assemblage is possible.

(The camera is a non-place and non-objective, it is neither the scene being documented, nor the image produced, or even the viewer, but rather the embodiment of the process of perception; beginning with the object, then the seeing, the remembering, the cognition, interpretation, and ultimately understanding

It is like the mind slipping into a dream; REM, a waking hallucination, Dorathy caught in the hurricane, halfway to Oz, halfway from home; the string between two tin cans, the message on the airwaves)

Discussion with Beth Morton [1st/2nd year Photography student]

Benjamin: It has come to my attention that you have constructed yourself your own film developing studio […] and I was just wondering, as you seem to know your stuff, whether it would possible to get raw film, expose it to a light source without a camera and develop it [I’m thinking of putting film onto my computer screen and seeing if I can get some images from that, even if they’re abstract] – if you have any suggestions or words on whether its even possible, please let me know – and if you’d be able to help develop them, that’d be even better […] if not, I don’t suppose you’d be able to point me in the right direction.

Beth: […] That is a tricky one as soon as you take anything that is light sensitive out of complete darkness it will fog so I guess I’d have to ask how you are planning to expose it to the light your computer screen will emit? Would you be removing your light sensitive material in complete darkness, holding it close to your computer screen and then flashing your screen on for a split second? The problem with film is, the higher ISO the film has, the faster the film is which means it is more light sensitive. In some cases even a second of being exposed to light is too much and the image will come out black.

As for processing, I can process 35mm c-41 film […]

Benjamin: Ah, thank you for the information; I thought it might be problematic. I might look to find some larger photosensitive sheets and make a sort of pinhole camera that feeds directly onto the monitor instead then, if that will work any better. Though then that poses more problems for development. I might try my dab hand at some more basic film-photography experiments just playing around with lenses and use standard film. I may contact you after your summer sojourn if I need some or advice, if that would be all right. Thanks again.

Beth: Pinhole sounds like it would be much more effective You can make pin hole cameras out of Pringles tubes or shoe boxes or anything too. I do not know if the Soup Lab is still up and running but if it is, you wouldd be able to developed your light sensitive paper in their darkroom. […]

Benjamin: Thanks, I was trying to disassemble a Pringles tube earlier for the purpose of camera modification, but just resulted in damaged the tube beyond use […]. And I think SL is reopening soon under another name [as ‘Red Light Gallery’] […]