Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fascinating Sequoya Library exhibit of pinhole photographs kids made with coffee cans

Photography Uncanned

As a kid with I started taking photos with a simple, fixed-focus box camera. Eventually I developed my own film and made my own contact prints, absorbing a hands-on understanding on how negative and positive related to each other. In high school I moved on to smaller negatives and an enlarger. Watching images emerge in the developer under the dim red glow of the safelight never stopped seeming magical. And I loved the perfect yin and yang relationship between a negative and the positive image that emerged from it. The process heightened the act of making a photo; since you had to wait for the result, you concentrated more on the act of shooting, because there was no way to reshoot it if it didn't turn out.

Kids rarely have a chance to experience this now.  See a picture, point, shoot and share -- not much mystique to that. But one group of 7th-grade students at Cherokee Heights Middle School did have a chance recently to experience the analog roots of photography. They made pinhole cameras out of coffee cans donated by Trader Joe's and processed their images in a wet darkroom. The result is "Photography Uncanned," an exhibit at the Madison Public Library's Sequoya branch (through June 23).  From the exhibit notes:

From this rudimentary camera, they experienced the long exposures typical of the early daguerrotypes, the distortion created by a curved plane and the mysteries of a wet darkroom. The long exposures allowed them to make ghosted image and strange scenes.

Forty-five of the results are on display in the library. In each case, the original paper negative is mounted directly above the final positive print, and the pairing draws the viewer into the relationship between the two, which is at the heart of analog's magic.

It's a fascinating show -- stop by if you get a chance. Who knows? Maybe you'll feel like picking up a film camera again. Or you might even start looking for a coffee can.

(Click here for a larger view of the text and photos on the right.)

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