VISUAL ARTS | Saving time in a pinhole: League of Midwest Pinholers convenes at MPC


On November 1, the Bill Erickson Chapter of the League of Upper Midwest Pinholers met at the Minneapolis Photo Center (MPC) for a fascinating exploration of the art of pinhole photography. About 20 pinhole enthusiasts listened to guest speakers talk about the art form in MPC’s beautiful gallery tucked in a warehouse in North Minneapolis.

A pinhole camera can be anything—a box, a tin, or even a walk-in structure, as in the case of the Eye Pod at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Pinhole cameras don’t have a lens, and have a very small aperture. They have long exposure times, and can therefore create a sense of the passage of time.

“The photographer composes the image, but time creates the magic,” explained Iowa photographer Marv Thompson, one of the guest speakers at Sunday’s event. Thompson said he decided to explore pinhole photography when his basement flooded and had to re-do his dark room.

Thompson explained that where modern cameras capture “virtual time,” a pinhole camera captures “linear time.” Thus, a pinhole photograph can contain ghost images of moving objects or people, or can show the movement of light during a sunset. “There’s a transmutation of objects,” Thompson said.

Earl Johnson shared with the group his pinhole camera that he made out of a Boy Scout popcorn tin, with the inside painted black. He said he liked the cylindrical shape because of the distortions that it creates. The shutter for his camera is made out of refrigerator magnets.

Johnson said that when he first started making pinhole images at the age of 50, he was mostly concerned with creating images that he could share with people on the Internet, but now he favors creating a photograph that he can hold in his hands. He uses a meticulous carbon printing technique developed in the 1840s and commonly used until about World War I. He likes the technique, he said, because the image comes out in relief. “My current focus is on craft,” he said. “I like to end up with the ability to make beautiful physical objects.”

The Pinhole forum was one of numerous workshops and classes offered at MPC, which also has equipment that members can rent by the hour or overnight. The center also exhibits work by local artists, and had a show last spring entitled Pinhole: Photographing Through a Small Hole featuring Marv Thompson, Earl Johnson, and other members of the League of Midwest Pinholers. If you want tips about how to make your own pinhole images, Marv Thompson recommends going to F295, a forum that has everything you need to know about pinhole photography.