Pinhole photography: the everyman’s camera. The pinhole process (and camera obscura technique from which the art is derived) has been around for hundreds of years, and is still prevalent today in the world of photography.
The beauty of a pinhole camera is that it can be fashioned from almost anything (my own first pinhole was made using an oatmeal box), and I’ve always found it interesting to explore the unique oddities that people construct. That being said, here are a few of the coolest pinhole cameras that I’ve stumbled upon lately.
Wayne Martin Belger’s “Heart” camera
This guy is the ultimate pinhole photographer. Wayne Belger has created some of the most intricate and exotic pinhole cameras that I’ve ever seen, and each device’s design is tailored to the respective subject matter that it shoots. From an elaborate camera made from a 500-year-old Tibetan skull to document the region’s scattered refugees, to a steel apparatus that substitutes HIV-positive blood for a No. 25 red filter, Belger’s bizarre cameras are one-of-a-kind.
Photo © Wayne Belger
But the one that first caught my eye is a lensless mechanism that Belger built to document Eight-month-pregnant women. The fascinating (and perhaps disturbing) part of this camera is that it contains a real infant’s heart preserved in what looks to be formaldehyde.
Photo © Wayne Belger
On his site, Belger explains the philosophy behind his creations and their connection with his early religious experiences. “As the Priest has made his tools of gold and silver and Blood and Body to be in direct relationship with the subject Jesus, I create my tools of Aluminum and Titanium and Blood and Body to be in direct relationship with the subjects they are created for.”
Donald Lawrence’s underwater pinhole camera
Ever think about taking pinhole photos underwater? Donald Lawrence has, and it sure ain’t easy. It’s a project he’s been chugging away at since ’97, and there’s no end in sight for this diehard creative.
The cameras that Lawrence has created for the project are strange and innovative. The waterproof, light-tight vessels are built from various stainless steel components and industrial fittings; clearly designed to take a beating.
Since the camera is bound for the ocean floor, there were a number of technical obstacles to overcome. It’s designed to serve as its own processing tank as the tubes emerging from the top and bottom funnel development chemicals through the inner chamber.
Lawrence has completed several similar constructions, including an aquatic Polaroid pinhole camera and various accessories for mobile image development.
The Legacy Project’s largest camera ever
As far as sheer scale (and deviation from convention) is concerned, this camera takes the cake. It’s not only the largest pinhole camera ever made, but holds the world record for the largest camera ever made.
Image from gizmodo.com
The thing is, it’s only a “camera” by technical standards. The three-story-high aircraft hangar was transformed into a pinhole camera by six dedicated artists after two long months of diligent, light-tightening design.
The behemoth camera was used to create the world’s largest photograph. After a 35-minute exposure through a .25 inch hole, thousands of gallons of chemicals (undoubtedly a very expensive endeavor) and water were used to develop the image under an array of safelights. The resulting image dwarfs onlookers, exhibiting an ominous and truly larger-than-life view of a west coast landscape.
Justin Quinnell’s “Smileycam”
Departing from large scale pinhole cameras, a quirky photographer from across the pond has produced a tiny device that squeezes into people’s mouths.
Image © Justin Quinnell
Mr. Quinnell’s “Smileycam” is a creation fashioned from a 110 film canister and a precision pinhole plate. It’s just small enough to fit in a big mouth, and makes for quick exposures with the use of dual flash units fired on either side of the user’s jaw (one to illuminate the subject, and the other to catch the teeth in the foreground).
The tongue’s-eye-view results are bizarre and mesmerizing.
Images © Justin Quinnell
Quinnell offers his custom Smileycams for a price on his website, presenting instructions on optimum use of the little cameras in challenging conditions. Of course, the process is a little messy and far from comfortable. He recommends using plenty of tape around the reusable pinhole plate to avoid drool on your exposures.
German garbage men’s “Trashcams”
Here’s a fantastic example of clever improvisation and making the best of a seemingly dull job.
Image from Petapixel
In the city of Hamburg, industrious garbage men with an interest in photography have created pinhole cameras from dumpsters. It’s a genius idea for large format pinhole images on the go, and an excellent way to capture the urban sprawl incognito.
The garbage-can-cameras are relatively simple pinholes, with small holes drilled into the sides for exposures made on photo paper taped to the inside walls.
Rough vignettes are a product of the crude construction, the irregular projections complementing the metropolitan aesthetic.
Images from Petapixel
As much as digital photography becomes all-encompassing, there’ll never be a shortage of talented pinhole photographers. The ability to make a photograph using an everyday object lends itself to the creative promise of the masses, and that’s exactly what turns out such incredible cameras.