A day of pinhole photography

February 17, 2008

Yesterday 11.30pm: returned from a family day out under clear starry skies and the temperature plummeting to well below zero. It was cold enough to feel exceptional and definitely freezing to a level cold enough to embark on a project/experiment I have been planning for several months now. I part filled some developing trays with water and retired to the warmth of the house to drink tea and wait for the frost to skin the surface with ice. Next, in each tray I placed a selection of natural objects, skeletal magnolia leaves, ash tree seed pods, contorted poppy heads, two mummified frogs and left them overnight to become encased in ice.

Today 8.30am: I started work as soon as I woke, fearing rising temperatures and the destruction of my iced objects. I need not have worried as the temperature remained below zero all day despite the crystal clear skies and blazing sun.

Poppy heads encased in ice

I began by creating a makeshift still life table using a workmate and a white sheet. Having extracted the ice from the trays (one got broken) I made some test shots using a digital camera. The disappointing result showed the ice as a grey blur rather than the gorgeous bubble-flecked, translucent sheet which was visible when holding it up to the sky. How to get the sky behind the ice in a position suitable for it to be photographed? Eventually, I hit on the idea of using an angled mirror which served the double purpose of supporting the ice sheet and reflecting the sky as a backlight to show the textures which had been formed.

Angled mirror to reflect the sky

Once the illumination was fixed I then spent the rest of the day making paper negatives using two 5×4 pinhole cameras. The 45mm proved just too wide an angle as I was having to position it some 2-3 inches from the subject and the mirror was reflecting it too obviously. The 90mm though gave a perfect perspective with just a small degree of tilt to eliminate the reflection of itself. Exposure times on the pre-flashed paper ran at between 8½ and 10 minutes in the soft, open North light in the lee of the house.

5.00pm: In the fading light I made some final exposures using HP5+ on a Populist and now have more films to develop and some 18-20 paper negatives to scan. I have high hopes for the prints.

It is some time since I spent a whole day pinholing and I think the first time ever I have dedicated a continuous eight hours to making still lifes. The process was equally inspiring and exhausting. I will post some results in the next few days.

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