Jan 272008




On the way to Image Box Studios for the pinhole camera making class, Janna swept away some of the cobwebs in her mind, stepped over some discarded drug needles littering her memory, and recounted a time in fourth grade when her class got to make their own pinhole cameras.

"And then Melissa Urbanek got really pissed off at me because my foot ended up being in her picture, so the teacher had to give her a new piece of film."

Why did this story not shock me?

We were the first people to arrive at the gallery, another thing that did not shock me. I have an inherent need to be early. While photographer Brian Krummel, his wife, and the gallery owner pushed tables together and slapped a CD in the stereo, I made idle conversation with the guy who arrived shortly after us. His name was Luis, he appeared to be in his twenties, and was eager to get started. Eager, but not over-the-top. I liked him.

Janna stood in the corner blowing her nose.

The gallery owner told us to sign in, pay and take a name tag. When I took a seat next to Luis, I noticed that there was a glaring absence of a sticky name-informant on his sweater. I asked him, Aren’t we supposed to wear a name tag, or is this to put on our camera? He shrugged so I tore my tag off my shirt and let it hang pathetically off my finger tip. Name tags are gay if you’re the only one wearing it. Janna put hers on, but that did about as much to temper my insecurities as seating me next to a spot light and airing my discomfort in HD.

More people arrived after we had signed in and paid. Basically, the rest of the class consisted of a group of older yuppie-ish types who were all friends and spoke loudly of people who weren’t there ("Martin is the funniest guy ever") and essentially dominated the room’s energy. A quiet couple sat across from Janna. I liked them because they had inoffensive personalities, gentle voices, and basically didn’t do anything stupid to make me hate them. Across from me was Craig.

Oh, Craig. He was in his forties, had a bald head and rectangular-framed glasses. He wore a fitted black shirt and his name tag clung mischievously to his left shoulder. His left broad shoulder. His left masculine broad shoulder.

It was then that I confidently slapped the name tag back across my breast. Turning to Luis, I whispered that he better go back and get his name tag after all. And so he did. I took care of Luis. I had big plans to make him the Ricky to my Angela Chase. Being seated at the end of the table made it difficult for him to procure certain tools that we needed, like hammers, magnifying glasses, and the bowl of sugar for our complimentary coffee, served in tiny Styrofoam cups. The kind of cups they give you at car dealerships, like that’s supposed to make you feel better for forking over a down payment of five grand, a down payment that involved cashing in a CD that you’ve been hoarding for years at the bank. Oh thanks! Thanks for giving me a cup that I can’t even keep as a souvenir. Thanks!

I like Styrofoam cups better than Dixie Cups though. I don’t know why. Maybe because I associate Dixie Cups with urine samples.

There was a brief moment when my world stopped spinning and I thought that I had fucked up my tin. I showed it to Brian, fully anxious and expecting him to kick me out. Brian soothed my panic by slapping a piece of electrical tape over a tiny hole I had accidentally made in one side of my tin. "So, I don’t fail?" I asked, and Craig laughed heartily across the table. Then he held out his roll of electrical tape for me to cut for him, a service I was happy to fulfill. I started to forget about Luis, because I’m a fickle woman.

In the darkroom — really just the tiny gallery bathroom with a red light and a shut door — Brian had groups of four come in to load the b&w photo paper into their newly transformed red tins. In the darkroom, Craig laughed at one of my quips and touched my arm. He said "Nice." A lot. Like it was his catch phrase. I could have stood there all day, in that tiny bathroom darkroom, having him touch my arm and saying Nice! Maybe a generous handful of jelly beans would be nice, too.

Every one got to take two photos with their pinholes. Janna and I nearly came to blows over rights to photograph a wooden cow propped up in someone’s front yard, a short walk down the block from the gallery. I won, so Janna settled for a different angle of the house. An old black man ambled past. He looked at our tins. He stopped. He looked at me expectantly.

I explained what we were doing.

"That? THAT is a CAMERA?" He shook his head as though to say, "What they won’t think of." Instead of being a smarty pants and reminding him that pinholes are like, ancient, I laughed and said, "Oh I know, right?" He wished us both blessed days, and I was kind of mad, because Janna didn’t even bother to say hello to him, so why would he wish that she has a blessed day? Janna is clearly too good to speak to old black men. Just wait until the day she decides she wants one of them to play the harmonica at her wedding. She’ll get hers.

Everyone’s first attempts were drastically under-exposed so we set off to re-take the shots. While I was waiting for Luis to finish (because we were clearly born to be each other’s besties, we had both chosen the same spot to photograph, unbeknownst to each other), I stumbled upon Craig’s name tag, slightly curled and orphaned on the sidewalk. I somberly took a picture of it with my phone. Janna didn’t seem to give a shit. Maybe if it belonged to the love of HER life, she’d have fashioned a coffin for it out of a cigar box and given it a proper burial.

We were supposed to time our shot for one minute this time. I volunteered the services of my phone’s clock, but then quickly became distracted and immersed in an urgent texting storm with my friend Amelia. Three minutes later, I thought to myself, "Now, wasn’t I supposed to be doing something? Oh. Shit." But my flightiness was rewarded in this case, because when we entered the gallery, several people emerged from the darkroom and said, "A minute wasn’t long enough either."

My first shot came out pretty good.


Janna’s did not. Her entire block of photo paper was white except for a small triangular spot of image in the center. She seemed dismayed, but undeterred since we had a second shot to do. I chose a chain-link fence that had eerie parade of stuffed animals strung along it. The stuffed animals were gray and tattered and I imagined they reeked like mold on a homeless person’s flannel shirt and car exhaust.


Janna’s second attempt provided the same results. She was really upset so I did what any good friend should: I made fun of her mercilessly.

If all cameras were pinholes, what would the paparazzi do?

  14 Responses to “Pinhole (Im)Perfection”

  1. All I can think of is how long Britney would have had to sit with one leg out of the car so the paparazzi could get “that” picture with their pinhole cameras.

  2. Imagine THOSE pins and needles.

  3. I’ve never played with a pinhole camera but now I want to. I’ll have to wait until I get back in school though. I really want to finish my photography classes before I get done with my basics and go to a “real” school. The local community college has one of the best photo labs in the state so I’m really lucky that way.

    If you ever get the chance to shoot with a view camera take it! Those things are a blast! Plus you get to focus with your head under a black cloth just like it’s 1890.

    I like your photos too!

  4. So glad I could help! TXT U L8R

  5. I like Styrofoam cups better than Dixie Cups though. I don’t know why. Maybe because I associate Dixie Cups with urine samples.

    My favorite part.

    I’ve never heard of a pinhole camera, but I like how creepy your shots came out.

  6. a couple things:

    don’t you kinda wish you knew martin?

    and- dixie cups would SUCK for coffee anyway.

  7. Your pictures turned out so well! Jealous! I want to try to fix my camera and try again.

    I enjoyed this a lot even though I fucked up. That was to be expected, yes?

    I was going to comment on how “old fashioned” the photos look (especially your second one) and how cool that is- but duh- this is probably very close to what was used back in the day so they WOULD look old fashioned.

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