Nikon is now taking pre-orders for their new retro-styled full frame DSLR, the Nikon Df. The rugged good looks look back to an era that began with Disco and the Brady Bunch, and came to close somewhere in the 90’s when plastic construction became the norm. The body looks more F3 than D3. A look that I am sure many shooters such as myself who were active during that time will relate to. Nikon promises the new full frame sensor coupled with their new generation ExSpeed processor will yield amazing, low-noise images at ultra-high ISO’s in very low light. Nikon asked one of our fine art clients Lynn Goldsmith to offer her insights. Have a look at what Lynn has to say:
Photographer/curator /artist and probable wearer of many other hats, Mark Sink has been as integral to the Denver art community as a certain quarterback has been to the Denver sports scene. An artist who, despite his many successes, has remained as easily approachable and true to his art as he was as a kid studying painting and printmaking at Metro State College in the seventies. Sink is a strong proponent of the ‘less is more’ school of photography; capturing stunningly beautiful images with low-tech tools like the Diana toy camera and the age-old Wet Plate Collodian process. As he made a point of telling us: “My career is very non-photo serious, I’ve used toy cameras much of my career. I’m a ‘reverse technology-o-phile’— going the other direction, you know? The Big Picture comes from that.”
Amongst his many achievements, Sink is responsible for Denver’s Month of Photography (MoP), one of many “Month of Photography” events around the world that bring together an eclectic mix of local artists, galleries and creatives for a month long celebration of the art of photography.
Reed Art & Imaging sat down with Mark in the kitchen of his home in the old Highlands neighborhood of Denver to talk primarily about MoP, but it was hard to limit the conversation to just one facet of a thirty five-plus year artistic journey. The life of Mark Sink has been anything but uneventful…
First of all, Reed Art & Imaging would like to offer our congratulations for your recent selection as the inaugural recipient of the 2013 “Hal Gould ViP Award” (Vision in Photography) for your many contributions to the local art community. Can you talk about what it means to you?
Well, it’s a great honor. Hal is one of the biggest figures Colorado has had in photography. He was forwarding photography before it was considered an art form. The Director of the Denver Art Museum, at the time, Otto Bach said, [affects an overly-officious voice] “Photography will never be shown as art in our museum.” So Hal parked his Camera Obscura Gallery right across the street— and not by accident! He was a photographer himself and was one of the co-founders of the Colorado Center for Photography [CPAC}. He championed Ansel Adams and sold his prints at his gallery for $150 a piece. His real estate stories themselves were something!
How did the award come about?
The Colorado Center for Photography felt that there ought to be an annual award to recognize people who have been forwarding photography throughout the years, so they put it together just to do that.
For those who might be unfamiliar, can you fill us in on your background? Give us, if you will, a quick Mark Sink Time Line to the present, or as far back as you care to go.
As far back as I want to go? Well, it gets pretty hairy if you go back within my family, if we’re going to bring that on [smiles]. Well, starting with Samuel Finley Breese Morse, he took the first photograph in America; the first photographic portrait ever taken. He’s my great uncle. He was a portrait painter who invented the Morse Code. He also used the camera obscura in his paintings to help with architectural alignment.
My great grandfather, James L. Breese, was a portrait photographer in New York City in the late 1800’s. I currently use his cameras. Here– I can walk you around. [Sink proceeds to give us “The Tour” of his home, a veritable treasure trove of historical artifacts, photos, art, and camera equipment, etc.]. He was the founder of “Camera Notes” that was put out by the Camera Club of New York with Alfred Stieglitz. It opens on the first page saying [Sink reads from an old hardcover copy of Camera Notes] “James L. Breese, primary inspiration of the Camera Club of New York…”.
Here’s an example of some of his work with Cosmopolitan Magazine, in one of these from 1892, there’s a fantastic article where he describes “The relationship of photography to art”. That was pretty early on.
James Breese started the Carbon Studio where they had a wild party for his best friend, [architect] Stanford White, [reading from article] “…when the pie was breeched, out of the crust, a flock of canaries accompanied by [a naked] sixteen year old Suzy Johnson…” . That was the first girl popping out of a cake – well, a pie at first – that’s where that all started,
From the nursery rhyme? (Sing a Song of Sixpence: four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie…)
Right! So, of course, it basically credits James L. Breese here: [reading dramatically from article] “Soon the studio and his Carbonites came under fire as the secret place of lascivious intrigue, and was used by a number of well known photographers. Breese was the ultimate ‘social register’…”. So, basically, they’re saying James L. Breese was the reason for his [Stanford White’s] downfall.
Yeah, he ran around with a pretty fast crew. [laughs] Got in a lot of trouble. There was this gigantic scandal that happened with Stanford White, who was going with the super-model of the time Evelyn Nesbitt (the original “Gibson Girl” in popular advertising of the era) and was later murdered by her husband, who walked up to him at Madison Square Garden and shot him dead. It was called the “Crime of The Century”.
But all that is a book someday…his life. Anyway, it’s exciting to use his equipment.
Then in here, of course, are cameras that I use regularly. The Diana I used for a large part of my career. I use these 19th century box cameras, they work fantastic for the collodion wet plate process. And this plastic Ansco panoramic that you can still get for $6.95, it’s the “Diana” of wide angle photography. There’s also the Lensbaby on an SLR; it shifts the plane of focus, like what you can do with 4×5 view cameras, so you can make your eye focus on one thing and make everything else drop away. It became a super-sought after advertising tool. I can show you examples in print and TV, it’s become very common for food photography where it will show you one thing in focus and everything else drops way, w-a-y out of hard focus. Some portrait photographers have adopted it to give a sort of dreamy, pinhole effect. Well, you all saw my toy camera workshop, lots of tips– tiny little tips like that.
Currently, I’m very excited, my wife and I are working with this rare Japanese tissue doing a platinum and Cyanotype mix using UV exposure. We’re having fun gardening outside and exposing the prints for about ten minutes while we pull weeds and stuff . When they’re ready we just wash the prints out with water.
We have to ask. Andy Warhol?
Oh Andy. Just today, Christie’s is auctioning off a picture of ‘Me and Andy’. I was there. I didn’t even know it was happening, It showed up on Facebook. There’s a gazillion interviews and stuff that you can find on my blog.
Okay, we’ll check them out, but is there anything that you haven’t talked about much?
Well, you know, it was a super, super lucky chance to be able to introduce myself to him and connect with him in Fort Collins where they were having an exhibition in his honor. He put me on staff with Interview magazine that day. I was an aspiring photographer in school and Interview magazine was like god to me. I told him that and he said, “Oh well, you can represent us in Colorado!” I was on the masthead the next month. I was going down to the Metro State College and it was a funny two worlds you know. I would go and hang out with Warhol and [have] dinner with Mick Jagger and come back and develop my film in the film lab. You know, it was just so strange. People would go, “That looks like Mick Jagger!”
So it was back and forth between two polar opposite worlds?
Back to struggling, starving, putting myself through school at Metro-world, developing my own film in the darkroom. So, after about a year I figured I should pack up the car and head out to New York. New York went great guns except that the commercial studio world was not quite what it was cracked up to be in art school, shooting catalogue work and editorial things, and zero artistically speaking. So I was really kind of wilting – making great money – but wilting. So I started a little darkroom and started printing my Diana work again and got a little show and I started photographing work for other artists.
About what time was this?
Mid-eighties. So I came alive again because I was immersed in the art community instead of doing catalogs of clothing. I was doing catalogs of artwork; shot a lot of Warhols. Shot a young artist that has just gone beyond the stratosphere, Jean-Michel Basquiat whose canvases are going for $50, $60 million. I shot his work for about six years. Most of the work you see online or anything, I photographed for him. We were friends. I didn’t have a very high opinion of him at the time, he was pretty drugged-up. I was part of the…well, I was the worker guy. I was the guy that came in to photograph stuff – ‘the help’. So, in the eighties, from the outside looking in, it was the Haves and the Have-nots, all the multi-millionaires and then all this talent and struggling artists and high rents, just like it is today. It’s this gigantic divide where you’ve either made it and you’re a gazillionaire, or you’re struggling – what I call ‘running up the down escalator’ [laughs] – one of my favorite sayings! I don’t seem to see as much of that anymore, people are super-lazy these days…kids are.
To what do you attribute that to? Is it the Digital Age?
That’s a lot of what I’m exploring with the show, ‘The Reality of Fiction’ [http://redlineart.org/art/events/exhibitions/reality-of-fiction.html/] over this disentachment from reality. We’ve sort of separated ourselves from reality; everyone has credit and has cars that are bigger than what they can afford to drive. They live in these fake over-extended houses and friendships on social media. You know, we’ve sort of just quietly stepped off into a process of, you know…don’t get me wrong, digital is genius and I use it constantly, but theres a crossover when people are trying to replicate a platinum print, you know, that gets into the Instagram thing. As long as it looks like the real thing, what does it matter? This sort of Disney fantasy effect is starting to take over and I think its embedded into kids getting lost in Facebook and video games; a sort of separation from reality. Even, for instance, wilderness photography that is shot on “nature farms”.
Oh yeah. The show ‘Nature’ owns a gazillion square miles up in Wyoming where they string out all the wires [with cameras] to follow the birds in flight. They have there little sectional studios for the beavers.
I had no idea they went to that extent.
It’s all staged. That’s what I’m saying, it’s putting real nature into a controlled environment. It’s like “How did they get into that den?”. You have to watch carefully. It’s like that series ‘Surviver Man’. You get the feeling that he’s out there barely existing but if you read the credits at the end it says something like, “Some scenes were re-created to give…”. Again, they’ll shoot some of the scenes in more of a controlled environment and cut them into the show later. So we’ve become more and more and more aware of this disentachment. You start to get this on your brain and you start watching out for whether things are being true to the medium or not and whether things are [built] honest with honest building materials. This house over here [points to the neighboring home across the alley], this rock, Italian villa we have over here – styrofoam. You can knock on it, it’s hollow “rock” [knocks on kitchen counter]. The strips that go around the window that look like solid concrete? The Mexican guys were putting these things on in the wind, they slap it on and bam, bam bam, they got it on and they stood back and you could see them go: “E-h e-h…it’s OK-ay” [laughs].
Probably not feeling much like real craftsmen?
No, but they [the owners] sold the place for $1.6 million.
Okay, so how does art bridge artiface? Is making an illusion of an illusion a valid art form?
Well, you can get into that philosophically, but it’s all illusion in photography, there’s no truth. If anyone tells you photography is fact – it’s not fact.
I read just recently that all photography is an opinion.
Well, theres a fantastic show at the Metropolitan Museum called Faking It [http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/faking-it] showing how photography’s been faked since Daguerreotypes. It’s a long, long history of this sort of fantasized reality that photography’s been doing, which, in some ways, is why I’m struggling a little bit with going backwards. That’s why I love Polaroids, why I like Collodian Wet Plate. The light strikes the plate; what’s captured on that plate – that’s it. That’s BOOM, that’s it! There’s something really honest about that. And I like that…there’s something…anytime someone starts to f*ck with it, digitize it, or whatever you want to do with your photography, I don’t know. When it starts to get f*cked with; dabbing up those highlights, making those eyes a little brighter, da-da-da, cleaning out all the complexity, dabble, dabble, dabble…. You know, you can just feel it!
…stop being art?
Anything is art, I don’t think anything can stop it from being art. Art is what you say it is…anything can be art.
Is there a definition of art?
My definition of art is, uh-m-m…I forgot my definition of art! [laughs]No, it’s craft, craftsmanship. Creating and having a personal voice. Woodworkers are artists. A laborer who does a beautiful concrete job, I feel is beautiful art. But, if you don’t have that craft, everything drops off. But then there’s Damien Hirst who does the splosh, spin art. [laughs]
I left off with him during his bisected cow phase.
He’s a piece of work. He is a piece of work…
Can we quote you on that?
On that note – it’s on to MoP! The Month of Photography project is international, Denver has gained a lot of recognition and respect thanks to your efforts. What is the MoP story? When and where did it originate?
Well, I’ve always sort of naturally curated even before I knew what the word meant. I like getting groups of people together. I used to do it on the Internet, at least what I thought was the Internet with America Online in the early nineties. I was actually on America Online in the Kodak Photography Forum. I would gather a group of people and ask questions and then answer the questions just to start a conversation [laughs] within the fine art photography forum.
Just to get the ball rolling?
And it got rolling. People, well known photographers like Jock Sturges and a lot of very interesting people got aboard, so see, here I go off on these tangents…I’m so sorry, you’re going to have to do a lot of fast-forwarding to get…
That’s okay Mark, digital paper is cheap.
Okay, so I should say I’ve curated, I’ve done it on the Internet and curated art shows at school and, you know, that led to curating galleries. It’s kind of this power in numbers, gathering people to get together to put on events. I formed a group called The Denver Salon to show people’s artwork that I admired and brought them together. Once we had a group I would submit that to galleries in New York and museums in Aspen and the Denver Art Museum, and we got the shows. If I had submitted my work by myself, I never would have gotten a show. That’s what I meant by power in numbers.
So, we submitted together with our Internet group. We called it FAPB, Fine Art Photography Board, and a book was published on it, actually the history of it. We got the front page of the Arts Section of The Wall Street Journal. We were the first Internet art Show – it was called “Off The Highway” – where I got everyone together that was in this group. When it first started everyone was like BIG talkers. I would come and say, “I use a little toy camera!” and they’d be all, “What the f*ck?!” [laughs] I was like, “It doesn’t matter, it’s CONCEPT that matters.” And it was all [in deep, pretentious voice],“Naw, I use a Hassleblah, blah, blah…”You know, a lot of BIG TALKERS. And so I was like, okay, “Put your images where your mouth is…”.
So, in the Kodak forum was the Kodak Image Library where you could upload work, but there was no way to put it together in a folder, so it had to be organized by title. The title [file name prefix] had to have the name ‘Bob’. Bob Landscape, Bob whatever; so all the B’s – all the Bob [files] – would all come together. So it was the Bob Show. And that’s when I saw this work from people from all over the country and I was amazed. So I offered to do the Rule Gallery, a show for Robin Rule. We did the show and it got written up as: “HIGHWAY SHOW TAKES WRONG TURN” [laughs] Yeah, the critic didn’t like it. But we got wrote up in The Wall Street Journal.
How did that morph into MoP in Denver?
So, MoP again, is coordinating a group of people within photography. The inspiration comes from the Houston FotoFest which I started going to as a photographer to show and have my work reviewed at the Meeting Place [FotoFest’s portfolio review event]. Then I would go throughout the city to all the events at the FotoFest. The founders, Fred [Baldwin] and Wendy [Watriss] were inspired by a Month of Photography in Arles, France. That was the earliest, earliest one. So the Houston FotoFest is the monster, it’s huge. I became friends with them and started bringing their shows to Denver.
That was the inspiration for Denver?
Yeah, that’s where I got the inspiration that I could do this in Denver. I should do this in Denver. The Houston directors, Fred and Wendy, came out and they were very supportive. Their concept of having a portfolio review where everyone can show work with different themes and where galleries can become a part of that theme. Every year they’ll have a different one like Russia or China. This year is The Middle East. One year it was War, one year it was Mexican photography, another time it was Czech and Slovak photography. So, they’ve been doing it for a long, long time. They started in 1992. I have all their catalogs here. [Shows us beautifully printed Houston FotoFest catalogs from years past.] So, my mission is to eventually have a catalog like these for MoP Denver. We actually did a mini version of this for the Le Journal de la Photographie.
You were recently interviewed by them, correct?
Yeah. What’s neat is that you can get on their website and type in “MoP Denver” in the search box and all three pages will come up with everything we did for MoP Denver; The Big Picture and all the other stuff.
So, it almost sounds as if MoP is, I don’t want to say franchised, but people are picking it up in other cities.
There’s a lot of interest, yeah.
I came across a piece online in which Art News referred to the Denver art world very condescendingly. While the writer was very complimentary of the level of work coming from the local contributors to the MoP project, he/she seemed somewhat surprised that it was happening here— to use their phrase, “…they have emerged with great fortitude from a most unlikely place, Denver, Colorado.”
Yeah, that was an Art News quote on our Denver Salon group when we showed in New York City in the mid 90’s, ’98 maybe. It still hasn’t changed. LA, New Yorkers; we all do it, it’s human nature, like someone might say “Artwork in Austin?! Are there contemporary galleries in Austin?!” I have very educated, worldly, well known people who go, “You have a contemporary gallery in Denver?”. Honestly, I’m not saying that to be mean; they really think we’re still running cattle down the wooden sidewalks. You know, there’s just nothing really there between New York and LA, or Paris or Berlin.
Still, with the Internet it hasn’t faded at all?
Sure, we get some attention when a new wing goes up on the Denver Art Museum. There’s a newer generation out there that are a little hipper. We’re looked on as a close comparison to places like Seattle or Portland.
Not a bad way to be looked at.
It’s not bad at all, but we’re still not up there with the big boys. We’re still looked on as upstarts.
In recent years, we’ve seen a big jump in the popularity of wheat paste art. In its turn of the century heyday, it was used primarily as a carrier of advertising and political messages. Now we’re seeing the medium used almost exclusively for artistic purposes, from serious to whimsical themes and everything in between. How much, if any, has wheat pasting become the message as opposed to being the bearer of the message, as it relates to the artistic community? Is it simply another avenue for artists to exhibit, or do you think it inspires them to get out and shoot just for the purpose of wheat pasting?
Well, with the Internet, artists are more and more desperate than ever to be shown in a gallery. The idea of a gallery is even more exciting. You can post and post and post but to actually get your work in a gallery is even more intense than it was before. Your art is physically up on the wall. But the galleries are very hard to get into.
The validation factor of having one’s art in a gallery is even bigger post-Internet?
Yeah, probably, more so than in pre-Internet times. That’s a tough question.
This is probably a touchy thing to say around your company [Reed Art & Imaging], but I like the wheat paste thing because it’s free, you know? There’s no galleries, no money being exchanged. It’s back to that thing that I’m really attracted to; things that are really pure and honest. It’s a really pure form of inspiration and showing your work. There’s n-o-o money to be made, no galleries jacking prices up and paying artists. I get a big kick out of it and people really respond to it. There’s something there that really touches people when there’s no ads and stuff. That’s why when I push really hard for no big logos, people are like, [in manic, desperate voice] “WELL, HOW WILL PEOPLE FIND OUT WHERE I AM?!”. You have to be pretty lame not to be able to find information on it [MoP]. But that’s where I need to get better, we do need to have some way where people can go very easily and directly to the artist. In the future, we’ll probably do the whatchamacallit, the thing where you point your phone…
A QR code?
Right, but on the MoP sign, not on the artwork itself. I’d like to keep that sort of subtleness. Pretty soon, after awhile, people will start figuring it out and liking it, and knowing it – “Oh, that’s The Big Picture!”. You know, even now you type it in and it comes right to the top of Google.
You’re talking about building a brand, then?
Right. People will start figuring it out and liking it and seeing it.
Is ‘The BIG Picture’ a stand alone project, or is it an official part of MoP?
It’s stand alone and also married to MoP because I do it every MoP. It was conceived during and for the Month of Photography. We did a Big Picture book that didn’t have anything to do with MoP.
You own The BIG Picture and MoP; there’s no conflicting legalities between the two?
I’m MoP and I’m Big Picture [laughs]. I can sue myself .
How does all of this extend internationally?
The original concept that I wanted to do many years ago…I was going to get Epson or another sponsor to make big printouts and it was going to be a “mile long walk of photography” that would end up at some big center of photography like Red Line or whatever. It would be people submitting work from all over the world. And then I saw that a group had done something like this in subways where people would submit work. They’d send a digital file and it gets printed out and posted. So, that was floating in my head. Then an artist came and wheat-pasted the bathroom door in my gallery. She was doing wheat pastings as interior decorations. So I thought, “That’s c-o-o-o-l — I like that!”. So the idea of The Mile Walk came together with wheatpasting and that’s about the time JR, a French street artist– the guy that does the big faces all over the world – won the  TED Prize. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JR_(artist)] So, all this was coming together all at once. So, I said, “Okay, we’re going to do an ‘out the door – out of the gallery – in the alley– down the street, thing.” So, we did a call for submissions to people all over the world.
It always gets a little touchy, the selection process. There were never any stated rules or judges listed or anything. The selection of work was basically at my discretion, I think that’s what people sort of accept. It’s been amazing the last few times we’ve done this – I don’t even like talking about it – I hope it kind of stays like this, but there aren’t contracts of release and re-use and publishing. You know you’re sending me this fairly high resolution file, we’re printing it in a book and doing this and that with it. So far, no one has questioned it and I really like that. I feel there’s a trust there. I’m sending out files, my favorite pieces of other artist’s work, to other cities, for them to put up in those cities. And much of it is heavily Denver-centric.
Everything has stayed at a friendly level?
So far, so good.
Are there any up and coming “Mark Sinks” in Denver, you know – artist/curator/patron…?
There’s a lot of people, a whole new Generation that’s springing up…but, let’s see… Adam Gildar, he did a great job with The Big Picture. He’s real go-go; takes on multiple projects. He started a group called Art Plant that gets studio spaces for artists. If he stays in Denver, he’ll be a major institution; he already is, actually. And there’s several others.
Do you think photography’s future is in good hands here in Denver?
Well, something that’s been rumbling around for awhile is that we need a photography center. A big one that could house the Colorado Center for Photography, that could house The Denver Darkroom. And I’m fearful of even using the word “photography”; “new media” is the best I can describe it at this point.
Can it get any bigger without you overworking yourself, and do you even want it to get bigger?
Well, that’s it, that’s what I’m struggling the most with in my own life. That’s what happened when I started my gallery. I thought I could do the gallery and put up a beautiful show and do my photography and be an artist. To do a successful gallery takes all of your time. My photography went into the toilet. Again, I was wilting like the New York thing, you know? Things would go good financially when I ran up the down escalator – crank up the media machine, the light bulb goes on, the critics come and everything happens – but as soon you slack off, [makes dying engine noise] whir-r-r-r-r, people stop coming in.
What do you do then, hire on more help?
Well you hire on salespeople and you have this, like, used car salesman person, that I just don’t like. You know they can sell, but that whole thing of them standing there [shudders]. I mean, they could sell, but I just couldn’t stand listening to them making contact calls, you know? It would just make my skin crawl. Going on and on; I’d end up taking the phone away from them [in overly-apologetic cartoon voice] “Sorry, I have this obnoxious salesman working here…”. If I left him on the phone he would probably make sale. So, I struggled with all that. If I did it again it would probably be non-profit, like The Center for Photography where you get corporate support. I have a lot better time of it when I’m pitching something I’m really passionate about. Every corporation in Denver has to dump money for tax write offs at the end of the year, so if you can spark an interest, you’re in.
So, to wind it up, how do you see Mark Sink and MoP in the future?
MoP? I like it the way it is, [laughs] I know how much I can do. I know what the saturation point, the workload is, and I know that more galleries want to join in, so I feel comfortable with that, and there will be fine tuning. I need to form a board with it, it needs to go 5013c. Right now, it’s sheltered by RedLine. But I am struggling with that growth, I like it where it is right now [laughs] it’s big enough!
“Who would believe that so small a space could contain the image of all the universe?”
Thus spoke Leonardo Da Vinci as he waxed poetic on the mysteries and wonders of the human eye. He could have just as easily, though, been describing the mysteries and wonders of the camera obscura and its successor, the Pinhole Camera.
The methodology of pinhole optics was first recorded back in the 5th century B.C. when the Chinese philosopher Mo Tsu noticed that images appeared inverted when projected through a small hole or ‘pinhole’ in a darkened room. He later referred to this as a “collecting plate” or “locked treasure room”.
A century later, Aristotle noted that “sunlight traveling through small openings between the leaves of a tree, the holes of a sieve, the openings of wickerwork, and even interlaced fingers, will create circular patches of light on the ground.” (It is not known whether the great philosopher pursued the idea much beyond this observation.)
It was during Leonardo’s study of perspective in the 16th century, that the first technical description of pinhole projection appeared in his collection of notebooks, the Codex Atlanticus:
“When the images of illuminated objects pass through a small round hole into a very dark room…you will see on paper all those objects in their natural shapes and colors…Here the figures, here the colors, here all the images of every part of the universe are contracted to a point. O what a point is so marvelous!”
Translated from its original latin, camera for “room”, obscura for “dark”; the camera obscura can be any sealed, lightfast enclosure with a hole to admit ambient light, and an opposing inner surface to reflect and view the projected image. To a more or less degree, every illuminated object reflects light. The pinhole allows this reflected light to pass through the small opening (relative to the enclosure’s size) and project a perfectly linear, distortion free, albeit inverted, reflection of the subject.
Later refinements saw the addition of lenses and mirrors within the enclosure to ‘right’ the upside-down image—photographic principles that are still in use today.
A pinhole camera can be almost any size and constructed out of virtually anything in which you can place emulsion in and poke a [pin]hole. Egg shells, peanut shells, hollowed out peanuts, soup cans, spam cans, oatmeal boxes, old Macs, old cameras; the list goes on…
Justin Quinnell, a photographer in Great Britain, has devised a pinhole camera for your mouth. He’s dubbed it the “Smileycam”. And then there’s also the garbageman from Germany who’s turning dumpsters into pinhole cameras. What does he call it? The “Trashcam”, of course.
A popular small-form pinhole is this 35mm film canister method.
The largest camera obscura in the world—the Camera Obscura in Aberystwyth, Wales, boasts a fourteen inch lens and reflects a 360 degree sweep of the surrounding sea and landscape. Yes, you can literally stand inside the camera/building!
Aside from the mere entertainment value of the camera obscura, some of the Renaissance and Dutch masters were reputed to have used this device in the creation of some of their most celebrated works, allowing them to achieve near photo-realistic, distortion-free perspective in the layout and composition of their paintings.
The transformation of the camera obscura from a viewing and drawing tool, to a true recording device, happened in 1850 when Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster took the first known pinhole photograph. He is also believed to have coined the term “pin-hole” in his 1856 book, The Stereoscope.
With the addition of the film component, the pinhole camera was born.
Today, pinhole art is considered a legitimate sub-genré of photography. In addition to its place in art, pinhole cameras have proven their value to the hard sciences through their use in space flight and for high energy photography in the nuclear industry’s laser plasma research.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of the pinhole is the absence of a “proper” lens. With only the atmosphere separating emulsion and subject, the camera’s depth of field is nearly infinite, wide angle images appear almost distortion-free.
Sounds simple enough, but the Pinhole is hardly without its quirks. Since the device operates without a viewfinder, framing ones subject can be a hit or miss proposition. Once, however, the photographer gains familiarity with his/her chosen camera, they will gain a feel for position and placement.
This placement, along with timing and exposure, relies heavily on the artist’s intuition and expertise. “Shutter” operation is a manual proposition, to say the least. Methods run the gamut, from electricians tape to, in the case of photographer Jody Aker’s modified Speed Graphic—a velcroed-on Grateful Dead patch.
Despite what some would call “limitations”, many accomplished fine art photographers revere this simplistic approach to their craft for the stripping away of technology that, may or may not, help in the creation of photographic art.
Twenty years ago, noted Colorado lensman, David Sharpe, felt “boxed in” by the sometimes tedious nature of traditional photography. He liked the way the Pinhole allowed for a more poetic interpretation of his subject matter—without the often cloying technology that had come to define modern photography. Hooked for good, Sharpe embraced the pinhole aesthetic and never looked back.
Although he agrees that the pinhole leaves a lot to chance, Sharpe actually likes not having to look through the viewfinder, relying instead on the intuitive feel that the pinhole requires of its adherents. “I love the alternative approach; the softer, not as ‘dead-on’ nature of this medium.”, David observes.
Sharpe’s platform of choice is the “small-form” film canister pinhole. Typically, he will bring 16 to 19 of these set-ups on photo excursions. Experimenting with different focal lengths and short exposure times, David has achieved amazing results with what he calls his “pinhole instamatics”.
Often, an artist will, at some point in their career, decide if they are photographing for the image or for the process. Many artists will agree that the process IS the art, or at least as important as the final image itself. The beauty of the pinhole camera, is that it lends itself so well to this creative process by almost forcing one to engage the subconscious creative power that technology often subverts.
The pinhole camera doesn’t overwhelm or try to ‘lead’ the artist with endless technology-driven choices. It is a collaborator that, by way of an almost misleading simplicity, works with the artist to reveal the art within.
You don’t have to be a professional artist-type to enjoy the existential rewards of Pinhole Photography
Fifty years ago, no one could have predicted that a novelty item, given away as consolation prizes at raffles and sold in the back of comic books, would blossom into a bona fide art movement. Although there are many makes and models, the rediscovery of Toy Camera photography can probably be traced to the now legendary Diana camera.
Introduced in the early sixties; the 120 format Diana was sold as a cut-rate, novelty item manufactured in Hong Kong and wholesaled across the US by the Power Sales Company of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.
The Diana set the template for the low tech photography aesthetic. Characterized by its rudimentary spring-loaded shutter, manual film advance and most notably, a plastic lens, the camera performed about as well as its cheap, light-leaking plastic body suggested.
Not really a toy and certainly not a serious camera in any sense of the word, the Toy Camera was destined to become a temporary glitch in the already cluttered toy and novelty landscape. It was to photography what the Easy Bake Oven was to the world of household kitchen appliances—a TOY.
Something, however, derailed the Toy’s path to cultural obscurity—it took really cool pictures!
Though it’s always hard to pinpoint exactly how or when these things get started, I like to imagine that around the late seventies or early eighties, some anonymous soul remembered the visual thrills that this unassuming little box produced in their childhood photo excursions. In search of something without really knowing what, and perhaps weary of modern photography’s soul-deadening technology, he or she dusted off the old Diana and the Toy Camera Revival was born.
Professionals, amateurs and art lovers everywhere are fascinated by the equalizing nature of this little plastic box. No complicated accessories, no thousand dollar lenses, and no megapixels, help to strip bare the art and science of serious photography.
It comes down to the basics: your skill with the plastic box and your God-given EYE.
Yet, with that said, what many find so endearing about Toy photography is the way it lends itself so readily to the Happy Accident. It’s a little like handling nitroglycerine—or herding cats—you never quite know what’s going to happen. Many seasoned photographers wax poetic over the liberation from technology, the sheer sense of the unknown that this primitive tool allows them.
Aside from strict photo journalism, few other branches of photography are as distinctly purist in approach to their art. Though Toy Camera effects can easily be mimicked with apps like Instagram, Pixlromatic and Hipstamatic; and professional-grade programs like Photoshop and Painter, loyal adherents eschew these tricks in favor of recording, warts and all, that true moment in time.
The textured, sometimes haunting imagery that can be achieved with the Toy Camera so completely captures the ephemeral nature of life, that some professionals feel this pictorial offshoot captures the essence of what serious photography is and should be about.
With the addition of manufacturers and distributers like Holga, LOMO and Lomographische AG to feed the obsession, Toy Camera photography has evolved into a viable, worldwide, creative form.
Highly regarded exhibits at the Soho Photo Gallery in Tribeca, New York, and serious books like The Diana Show: Pictures Through a Plastic Lens by David Featherstone and the now classic, IOWA by Nancy Rexroth, also helped to legitimize and further the movement.
So what does Toy Photography have to do with Colorado? You might have noticed Reed Art & Imaging’s building at the corner of 9th and Federal, plastered with a melange of images—a few of which are great examples of what the Toy Camera can do.
This was part of Reed’s sponsorship of this year’s Month of Photography (MoP). We also partnered with Mark Sink who founded The BIG PICTURE Colorado project here in Denver and who is a driving force in the local photography and creative scene.
Mark’s work and past association with people like Andy Warhol are well documented. What people may not know is that he has been a Toy Camera photographer and advocate since he was a boy. It was through his love for this process that he recently offered his Toy Camera Workshop to dozens of local enthusiasts. Reed Art & Imaging was fortunate enough to help out with film processing services for this worthy event.
Did I say film? Yes—Film is not dead!
We’ve been processing film for over 37 years and will continue to do so for as long as you need us. Of course, we do way more than simply process film. We encourage anyone who has not been into Reed Art & Imaging to come by and see for themselves the vast array of products and services that we can offer to creatives and non-creatives of all stripes.
We don’t just work here; we are working photographers, artists and enthusiasts. We live and breathe great images and great photography. Your creative vision is our priority. We are you.
Stop by and say hello. We’re here to answer questions, talk art and photography or anything else that you’re curious about—and that includes the light-leaking charm of the great Toy Camera!
The Month of Photography is upon us! One of the events in Denver, Colorado for 2013 is The Big Picture street art project. Led by local photo impresario Mark Sink and co-hosted by Art-Plant and Artwork Network, The Big Picture plans to paper the outside walls of buildings around Denver with large format prints of images from local, national and international photographers. The first Big Picture in 2011, exchanged images not only with cities around the United States, but cities in South America, Switzerland, England, China, Mexico, Canada, France and Germany. The 2013 Big Picture will be sending and receiving photos from across the U.S.A. and around the world!
“Street Art” is generally defined as: ‘art, often political or dealing with social themes, displayed on streets, sidewalks or walls of public spaces and often without permission of the property owner.’ There are quite a few types of media used in the creation of street art. The medium we normally associate with street art – paint, is actually fairly new on the scene. Bansky, building on the earlier paint-and-stencil work of John Fekner and Blek Le Rat has, over the past 15 years, become the most well known artist in that genre.
The medium of wheat-pasting paper on walls dates back to the nineteenth century and was used mostly for commercial purposes: advertising of products and events, especially circuses. Art and commerce began to merge in the 1890s when Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters for the Moulin Rouge, theaters and other events, papered the walls of buildings around Paris. Ernest Pignon-Ernest took wheat-pasting to a higher level and has been pasting amazing art projects on the walls of Naples,
Soweto, Brest, Ramallah and more since the 1960s. In the United States, Shepard Fairey gained notoriety as a sticker and wheat-paste artist with his “Obey Giant” series and achieved national recognition with the 2008 Obama “Hope” poster.
Computers and wheat paste have joined forces to bring photography to the streets. Photo files submitted to the Big Picture are being emailed around the world to sister cities in the project. The files are then printed and pasted locally. The Colossal Reed Art & Imaging Galactic Headquarters (CRAIGHQ) building at the corner of North Ninth Avenue and Federal Blvd., was the first Denver location to be pasted to kick off The Big Picture Project for 2013. Mark Sink, Peter Davies and others in the Big Picture pasting crew were joined by Gary Reed, Barb Pullin, Jody Akers, Bob Jewett, and Merhia Madsen (and her daughters Annabelle and Maggie) from Reed Art & Imaging to put the first batch of images up on the walls. The work at Reed isn’t complete! In addition to more Big Picture images to arrive, Reeds’ employees will be pasting the building with their own fine art images in the weeks to come. Also to be included will be several images from the winners of Reeds’ recent facebook contest held in honor of The Big Picture Project and the Month of Photography. Make sure you stop by to see what’s new!
The Big Picture website will be posting a map of the locations where images have been pasted locally and around the world. Look for it so you can take your own tour and see the amazing art prints posted on the walls about town! If you’d like to get in on the project, Big Picture is taking submissions through March 15. So hurry on over to the Big Picture website for all the details and get your photographs on the street!
Click to see the e-book of Big Picture Project images from 2011, and watch for the 2013 book due out later this year!
Fresh Art Photography will be taking part in the Big Picture project.
YouTube: Ernest PIGNON-ERNEST – Les peintures urbaines (4:42) A retrospective of Pignon-Ernests’ wheat paste installations in HD!
For this week I’ve decided to tell you about one of my new favorites, the 35mm Do-It-Yourself
camera or the Gakken Flex. This is a 35mm TLR (twin lens reflex) that you build yourself. The first thing that drew me to this camera was that it is a TLR, I have always wanted one, but they can be pricey. The second thing was that I got to put it together.
Gakken is produced by Otonanokagku, and each volume is a different science lesson. The kits have ranged from Theremins to Computers, Cameras, Phonographs and more. Each comes with a beautifully produced magazine that tells the history of the subject that you will be working on. Volume 25 has a great history of film and photography. Because of the popularity of these cameras they are being distributed by Recesky without the magazine, and can be found at Four Corner Store (Check to make sure they have them in stock.) I enjoyed putting it together, but really struggled because the instructions are in Japanese, and as I don’t speak or read Japanese I only had pictures to go from. The focus ranges from approximately 1ft. to infinty, there is only 1 appeture setting (best to use in bright sun), and there is only 1 shutter speed, approximately 1/60.
The great thing about these little darlings is that they use 35mm film, so you can get the film processed almost anywhere. The downside is that the frame is slightly larger than a regular 35mm so it will get cropped unless you have a special scan. But don’t fret, I have customized one of our scanners so you can get the whole frame, you just send your film to Reed Art & Imaging for the processing, proofing and scanning.
Here are some sample images that I have taken with mine. Note that you still get the blurred, vignette edges.
Let’s talk about a fun accessory available for your Holga, the Macro and Close Up lens sets. These do have to be purchased separately, and they can be found at my two recommended shops, Four Corner Store and Light Leaks. These lenses just slide onto the front of the Holga lens, it is a tight fit so make sure to get them on all the way as it will effect the distance.
There are 5 lenses, 3 in the Close Up set and 2 in the Macro set. The Close Up set contains a 500mm, 250mm and 120mm. The Macro set contains a 60mm and 30mm. The tricky thing with these is getting the distance. For me it is easier to think of them in centimeters, mainly because I don’t have a measuring device that has millimeters on it. I have experimented with them a couple times and this last time was when I finally got something decent. With the Macro set it has been suggested that a flat object is best, I am still on the fence about that one. When using these lenses it is important to remember that the focusing distance is from the front of the lens. My first attempt, was measuring from the front of the camera. The Holga should be set to infinity when using the close up & macro lenses. Remember when using the Macro lenses because of the short distance the camera could block the light on the subject causing it to be too dark.
If you like Macro and Close Up photography this is definitely something you should add to your collection. Below are samples of what I got over the weekend. Don’t forget to leave questions or comments. Later!
I have a fun story to share with you this week. I like to go out with a friend of mine and we both love take our Holgas. We always have fun and get some incredible shots. The thing I love most is how we will be at the same place, yet see and capture such diverse aspects. For one of our trips I wanted to journey back in my childhood, so we went to the elementary school I attended and a couple of the local parks I used to love going to. I went to photograph the old playground equipment that I used to play on everyday. I decided to invite my friend along to see how his shots might vary from my own, being that I had a emotional tie to the location and he didn’t.
We started the day at the elementary school and then headed over to the local park. The park is right next to a public swimming pool and a skate park. It was April so the pool was still closed for the winter, however, there was some water from melted snow. My friend decided he had to get a picture in the pool, so he jumped the fence to get the shot he wanted. While, I do not encourage or condone trespassing, a great photographer will do what is needed to get the shot. The park was busy with families out and about, it was one of the first nice days of the year, and I was concerned that he would get caught. Before he jumped the fence I told him I would play dumb and pretend I didn’t know him if he got caught, I also told him I wouldn’t pay bail . However, he managed to get in and out without any incident and ended up with a great shot (see left).
Below are a shot I took and a shot my friend took, as an example of how people photograph things differently. My shot is on left.
Have you taken any risks just to get the shot? Tell us your story. See you soon!
Thanks for joining me again in our journey of toy cameras. I am going to answer the question: What are the different options once you have a exposed roll from your toy camera? Due to the fact that these toy cameras use either 120 film or a different aspect ratio on 35mm film you need to find a lab that can process Diana or Holga films, as your neighborhood 1 hour photo lab usually can’t. Which is why I am going to encourage you all to send your film to Reed Art & Imaging, because, well, this is a blog for Reed Art & Imaging. There are several toy camera enthusiasts working here and we take great pride in giving you the best from your toy cameras.
There are 3 types of film you can use in a toy camera, E-6 slide film, C-41 color negative film, or B&W negative film. If you are using either C-41 or E-6 these can also be artistically enhanced through a technique called: cross-processing. To cross-process you would process your C-41 negative film thru E-6 chemistry to get a slide or vice verse, E-6 slide film thru C-41 chemistry to get a negative. It is the chemistry that determines if the final film is a negative or a slide – not the film. This is a fun experiment I would encourage you to try as it causes an increase in contrast as well as unnatural colors. Check out the samples at the end of this article.
Whether cross processing or using normal film developing services, once the film gets processed there are a few options you have to choose from: There are proof prints, scans or contacts. With E-6 film it is already a positive, so you can’t contact them, however you can proof or scan them. I personally like to do small scans, usually 6mb, so that I can post them on facebook, my website and use them for editing. Several people choose to get proof prints, either 5×5 or 4×6 depending on the format of the mask you use. If you choose proof prints there is also an option to get a CD as well.
You may be asking yourself, “How do I know which type of film to use?”. This can be a difficult decision, but I will try to make it a little easier for you. I usually do not recommend using E-6 film, unless you are planning to cross-process. E-6 film is very sensitive and if your exposures are not accurate the images will be too light or dark, because of the limited control in your toy camera it is difficult to get the perfect exposure. C-41 color negative film or B&W negative film have more range in their exposures. With either you can be over- or under-exposed by almost a stop and still get usable images. With most toy cameras it is best to use a 400 ISO speed film. However, I would recommend experimenting for yourself. Just go out and have fun!
Next week I’m going to lighten it up a bit and let you know about some of the adventures in shooting I have had. Leave any comments or questions for me below. See you soon!
Above images taken with Fuji E-6 film and cross processed in C-41 chemistry.
Last time we covered what a toy camera is and I know that you are dying to get your hands on one. Therefore, in this blog post I am going to let you know where to find these amazing little things. There are many places to find these little gems. However, my favorite places are Four Corner Store, Light Leaks and Lomography. These stores have a wide variety of toy cameras and accessories. I prefer these stores because they cater strictly to the toy camera enthusiast.
These stores stock most of the Holga models, as well as almost every accessory available for the Holga. Four Corner Store also offer Holga bundles, which usually includes the camera, a few accessories, and some film. Every time I order from them I receive my order much sooner than expected, and if you “like” them on facebook they put up discount codes pretty regularly. They also offer a wide selection of other toy cameras. You can also get some of the toy cameras from B&H Photo Video or Freestyle Photographic Supplies. If you are itching for an original Diana then Ebay is your best option. However, the original Diana is a very hot item and they can be expensive, usually ranging from $50-$100. I was planning to get an original Diana until I saw how much they were going for, so I opted for the new Diana F+. Amazon is also a very good resource for toy cameras and supplies.
Ok, so you know what a toy camera is and where to find one. However, I know some of you are wondering what some of these images look like, so below are some sample shots taken with a Holga.
Until then, remember to leave me your comments!