Object-oriented (pinhole) photography

My decision to use digital pinhole was part historical, part philosophical and part aesthetic. Pinhole has a long history in imaging. Eric Renner traces it back long before the image could be ‘fixed’ photographically to naturally occurring apertures in nature through fourth Century BC reference in China to ‘Aristotle’s Problem’ the question he raises in Problems XV about light shining through a rectangular peephole appears circular{Aristotle 1936@333-35}{Renner 1999}.

On through the history of scopic apparatuses and discourses discussed by Jay, Crary, Friedberg et al, pinhole – the physics of light and aperture as an imag(in)ing technology has been an important scopic technology. It is important to note hoever that pinhole has never been a ‘pure’ form of imaging, somehow more basic, objective even neutral. Far from it. What it has always done is highlight the very enfolded and necessarily powerful nature of imaging and imaging technologies. As discussions of scopic apparatuses have shown, the pinhole process has not somehow been outside scopic power and the gaze. Right through to eBay listings for pinhole surveillance cameras, the simple action of light and aperture has never been outside power. Even when particular technologies, devices and brands are stripped away, leaving just a light and a hole, imaging is still scopic and therefore powerful. To imag(in)e with pinhole is to remain part of that historical enfolding, to foreground the connection to optics, optical toys, scopic problems.

To marry that history to contemporary digital technologies is to perhaps engage in the sort of ‘circuit bending’ that Jussi Parikka and Garnet Hertz talk about{%Hertz 2010}. For them literally deconstructing devices is to problematise the historical and the new, to engage in a practical media archaeology and enfold the old in the new. To remove the (very expensive) lens from my camera and replace it with a pinhole is to not simply to problematise the consumerist megapixel arms race and built in obsolescence of imaging technologies or even simply to bring historic techniques into the present but to connect the past and the present within an imaging-object.

I look to carry my object-oriented philosophy through not only the things I photograph but the way I photograph. Any photographic practice involves using an assemblage, an object apparatus (or hyperobject) including hardware, software (or chemical), human and unhuman objects. Digital pinhole imaging enabled me to acknowledge that by bracketing out some of the actant-objects and foregrounded others. By refusing to use the camera’s electronic/software meter and shutter, preferring instead to simply use my experience to assess the light and a lens cap to open and close the aperture, I bracketed all of the software in play aside from that dedicated to encoding light-as-data.  By handholding the camera and, because of the long exposures necessarily introducing camera shake, I brought the Photographer-object into full view. My breathing and so moving of the camera were written into the images as clearly as they are written into the assemblage.

Similarly by choosing to process and work with the ‘digital negatives’ within a software ‘darkroom’ (on my iPad as well my desktop computer), I looked to foreground my object-position but also that of the ‘darkroom’ software and hardware devices that are part of the digital imaging piepline and assemblage. To choose to upload unprocessed RAW files or in-camera software automatically processed JFIF files (possible via a WiFi camera memory card) would certainly have been to bracket some actant-objects but also have been to bracket out my position as imager from the taking through decisions about choosing images from the digital ‘contact sheet’ through to decisions about the look of the final image.

My final reason for working with digital pinhole is aesthetic. As I discuss in relation to other object-oriented photographers such as Sally Mann and Barbara Ess, I see ‘imperfections’, ‘ambiguity’ and ‘accident’ as not only visually pleasing but more in keeping with the themes of my work: objects, connections, enfoldings, memory and ecology. Again there is a series to get away form the hyper-sharp and mega-detailed imag(in)ings sold to us by some players in digital imaging. But this is not a negative reaction against so much as a positive move towards the potential of a more ambiguous, mysterious, dare I say ‘magical’, digital aesthetic – an exploration of the potential of ones and zeros to be less distinct.