110 Specters

Near the end of the last school year I made simple pinhole cameras with a few of my students to coincide with our studies of the Civil War. I had missed the opportunity to share my love of pinhole when I taught Optics so I wasn't going to lose out again. The incredible challenges that Mathew Brady's field photographers faced to secure their images served as a brief introduction to photographic science. 

Soldiers in the trenches before battle, Petersburg, VA. 1865
Courtesy of the National Archives, photo no. 111-B-157

We then constructed simple black boxes with a copper pinhole to adhere over the rather diminutive film plane of a roll of 110 film. 110 film has become an antique itself, originating in 1972, it eliminated the need to rewind the film roll and was one of many Kodak products aimed at ease-of-use. Only one store in Portland still carried it: the decidedly old-school Blue Moon Camera in St. John's. Apparently, the frame numbers and edge bands are pre-exposed on each roll of 110 film, which explains the black line that's evident in two of the three examples posted here.

One of the things I prize about pinhole is its unpredictability, but whether or not my students will look upon these results with the same exhilaration remains to be seen. It has been my experience that most new photographers prize pictorial exactitude over atmospheric color burns. Nevertheless, I think that these images display a spiritual energy that would be difficult to preconceive and harder still to execute. Here is the play of light in time creating momentary specters on a physical form— not all that different from the faces of the long-dead staring back at us before entering the battlefield.

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