Pinholio at Good Citizen

[uds-billboard name=”pinholio”]There is a real allure in going back to the basics, even in the short-lived medium of photography. With Pinholio, a juried group exhibition of pinhole photography at Good Citizen Gallery, curators/jurors Alison Ouellette-Kirby and Mark A Fisher present a wide array of artists longing for something technologically ‘pure’ but artistically more progressive. The artists here refuse romanticized wistful retreat into the past and instead have conceived innovative new ways of working with the age-old technique.

The juried portion of the exhibition, consisting of nineteen smaller photographs by local and national artists, are arranged together, salon-style, on the left wall and include bluish cyanotypes, eerie houses and neighborhood blocks, pop-art relics, and even the Jewel Box. Ryan Duffy’s Toss and Turn (12am-8am) of a messy bed next to a window reflects the process of a pinhole photograph that involves an often very long exposure time through the evidence of an uncomfortable night’s sleep in the form of spiraling light over the covers left by the sleeper over time. The grand prize of the juried section went to Matthew Harting’s slightly macabre La Belle’s Baron Steed, a black and white shot looking up at an old carousel horse hanging from a wooden plank attached to a chain link fence. Harting’s photograph will be exhibited on the billboard space above the gallery for the next few months.

Typically, pinhole photographs are created using simple materials that include some sort of light-tight box, a tiny hole (where the name ‘pinhole’ comes from), photo-sensitive paper or film, and light. There is no lens, so the smaller the hole, the sharper – and dimmer- the image, necessitating exposure times from a few seconds up to several hours. As the light passes through the hole, an inverted image of whatever the camera is directed at develops on the opposite side of the box, onto photographic paper. A mathematical formula – or trial and error – can be used to determine how much distance should be left between the object and the camera. There are also pinhole lenses that can be made or bought and attached to digital cameras for the same effect, but with auto exposure.

On the rear wall are pinhole advocates Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner’s zone plate photographs, using a technique that can enhance pinhole photography by allowing in twice the light. A zone plate has symmetric rings that alternate between opaque and transparent bands, and light diffracts around the opaque areas. The effect is an extremely soft, airy, edgeless forms, all of the colors and shapes slowly and lightly flowing into each other, but in the most drawn-out way. Spencer and Renner’s choice of images include gaping mouths of stone statues and colored, ghost-like faces creating a calming, yet strange and mystical feel.

The strongest photographs, in terms of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and theme are the large, black and white silver gelatin prints by Pinky/MM Bass on the right wall. A veteran of pinhole photography, Bass has included the cameras used to take the three photographs – a dainty woman’s vanity case, a bra, and a Bible – as part of the exhibition because they are so crucial to the shape and composition of the resulting image. For example, Bass’ Banana Baby from Limens of Language, a nude, tightly holding her knees to her chest hangs behind the corresponding camera, The Bible with Two Points of View. In Bass’ photograph, the body is literally seen from the point of view of the Bible – and is a misshapen, perplexing thing, hiding itself from the camera, speaking to the difficulty of understanding the body, and all its humanness, from a holy perspective. The Bible camera’s presence, displayed on a pedestal as a work of art itself, allows for a unique dialogue between the tool and the product and recalls a kind of art about art, medium integrity that is most fascinating in photography.

The concept of Pinholio – a celebration of a classic tradition used in various degrees hundreds of years before a modern day camera was even invented – speaks to a kind of nostalgic desire to truly understand artistic process and to see that reflected in the composition and thematics of the work itself. The choice of the artists to take on the multifaceted challenge of pinhole’s implicit romanticism, chance, and strict optics attests to the fact that the art of process – and its gratifying, well-earned results – is not dead.

Pinholio continues at Good Citizen Gallery located at 2247 Gravois Ave, St. Louis, MO through December 17, 2011. Good Citizen is open Fridays and Saturdays, 12-5 and by appointment. See for more information.

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