Pictures in Motion Slowing Time with Pinhole Photography

A photograph typically represents a single moment in time. Exposures are measured in fractions of a second and can freeze in place a fleeting smile or a speeding car.

When I moved from making films to making photographs, my mental process also shifted. In many ways I found it more of a challenge to capture what I was seeing. With video, I could move the camera around inside the three dimensional scene. It was easy for the viewer to get a feeling of scale and depth. Sound helped convey the environment and a sense of being there. Scenes played out in real time, just like the seconds and minutes in our daily lives.

Not so with a photograph. I had to condense all of that sensory experience into a single silent moment. For the most part, however, I didn't miss video except for one thing: the ability to record the passing of time.

I've always been fascinated by long exposure photographs. They live in their own world, free from the shackles of split-second shutter speeds. They are like time machines, allowing us to study the cumulative rhythms of waves or the morphing of clouds. They can create a three-dimensional silence like no other medium.

Nine-second exposure using a regular lens. Wallowa Lake in Joseph, Oregon

It was through my own dabbling with long exposure methods that I became interested in pinhole photography. The left side of my brain was most curious about capturing an image without a lens. The right side was seduced by the emotion, mood and atmosphere felt in pinhole photography.

I've never been completely satisfied shooting images of beautiful scenery. I don't feel like these kinds of photographs belong to me because they lack any kind of expression or personality. They are also predictable; I see a tree, I capture a tree. I see beautiful light and, assuming I have the skills necessary, it's captured faithfully.

Ferry House Ghost

Pinhole photography unleashes my creative side. It's a unique collaboration between human and machine. The ethereal atmosphere and the long exposures excite my mind into imagining new worlds. I think about what I can do inside five seconds or maybe thirty seconds and produce surreal images that I could never have conjured up by myself. It's like a genre unto itself; somewhere between photography and video.

The results of my recent efforts have been haunting, at least to me. The movement in each picture puts them in a completely different realm than my lovely generic landscape photography. These are uniquely mine and I won't find anything like them elsewhere.

I'll continue to capture the beauty I see around me in a conventional way, of course, but pinhole photography will stay a little closer to my heart as I continue on down the road.

Distorted Realities
Still from a Dream

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Created By
Steven Dempsey

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