Pinhole's Feminine Mystique
Recently I decided the pinhole camera is a feminine device. It's very nature and character is woman-like. In case you missed my byline, I am a man. And I use pinhole cameras for 80% of my work. I hope you will read on without offense.
First there is the obvious. On a pinhole camera there is a hole through which things enter. On a lens camera there is a protruding (and dare I say hard) lens jutting out. The pinhole device is by its construction receptive; the lens camera tends to pursue (some say attack) its "victims".
Most pinhole photographers like to work intuitively. There is less of the masculine forcefulness of purpose that occurs with shooting with lenses. There are variables of time and light to work with, but not the logistics of selecting lenses and f-stops.
In Japan where I live, editorial and commercial photographers are called "cameraman" even when they are women. Even the ladies call themselves "cameraman".
Another unique Japanese expression for serious photographers is "proama", a combination of the words pro and amateur. This term is used to describe the technically and materially well endowed Japanese hobby photographer. Some of them know more technical stuff and have better equipment than "working pros" do.
And I love it when I get a few of them in my pinhole camera workshops mixed in with all the "amateur" girls who often don't know how to use a tripod or light meter, much less own one. These "proama" guys love to teach the girls what they know and inevitably the ladies get better and more interesting photos than the men. Often with pinhole, less knowledge is better. Being receptive sometimes requires unlearning.
© Edward Levinson
I admit I do get professional and "proama" ladies at my workshops too. They do know how to use their tripods and are anxious to learn how to use their light meters for pinhole exposure calculations. But somehow their feminine touch makes better pictures than your average guy does. At least it seems so.
Yet there are the intuitive guys in touch with their creative sides that come through too. One graphic designer taped his cardboard box camera way up a light pole. With it pointing straight down he could get a dynamic self-portrait of him and his girlfriend without the problem of a bright sky on a paper negative. Why didn't I think of that?
A college professor (the only guy in my last workshop) pointed his box at the outdoor sink drainpipe to catch a mini waterfall and slowly rolled a child's ball across the floor in front of his pinhole for another shot. By contrast a teenage girl slowly whirled an umbrella for effect, a female senior citizen used the top of her head to balance her pinhole camera to get those tall buildings to dance a bit.
Regardless of who uses pinhole cameras, man, woman, or child, we all start with a dark chamber (the womb) within which something grows. Slowly the image makes itself known on the light sensitive material and with the right exposure grows towards fullness. Like farmers, we cast the seed of our vision into the dark soil of the mother earth and wait for something to grow. The receptive box waits for the sun to penetrate it and awaken its dormant light. We open the pinhole door and let the feminine work her mystique.
I see the receptive heart as something that grows as it is filled with light. The world I see and feel is reflected into the camera by the mirror of my mind. A lot of good results come from simply being in the right place at the right time. How did I manage to be here at this moment? Is it luck or is it part of some inner "practice" or attunement?
I spent a lot of time on my last photo trip to Poland and Hungary walking and looking for the light. Often I ended up somewhere unexpected. Though I had a course planned, the light often led me in another direction. Some of my favorite images came at the end of a long day of wandering (or was it wondering), looking, and trying to keep the mind open. The pinhole camera, my receptive vessel was filled with memories new and old.
Receiving the image is so much more fun than forcing it to come.
This article has been requested 1,236 times as of June 15, 2002. Photos and Text Copyright Edward Levinson