Sandy McLennan compares pinhole photography to being like magic.
“You never really know what you’re going to get. When you take a picture, you’re seeing and imagining it. When you put photo paper in and develop in a darkroom, the image appears. It’s like a time travel experience. It might be what you thought, it might be better or it might be worse. It’s a fun and exciting experience.”
A pinhole camera is a light-proof box in which the only way light gets through is literally through a pinhole. Using a piece of photograph paper, tape is then taken off the pinhole and then a waiting time of one minute is required in order for an image to be exposed.
Last week, McLennan, a retired computer technician and film photography teacher, offered a special three-session course in pinhole photography to a group of Grade 12 media arts students.
I think this type of photography helps them understand taking a picture, exposure, aperture and the variables you need to make an image with light. Once they got a handle on it, they got into the art of it.”
Students were required to make a pinhole camera using shoeboxes or constructing one out of cardboard using a template he provided. Once the box was completed, they had to find something that appealed to them to photograph. Thanks to McLennan’s portable darkroom that he made himself, students were able to develop their images almost immediately.
“They got a kick out of it,” he said. “Like any class, some are more keen to wanted to do it again and others simply got the assignment done. I think this type of photography helps them understand taking a picture, exposure, aperture and the variables you need to make an image with light. Once they get a handle on it, they got into the art of it.”
It was originally McLennan’s love for black and white photography that led him to experiment with a pinhole camera. Back in the early 1980s, McLennan applied for and received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to offer courses on pinhole photography. He attended various local elementary schools, including V.K. Greer in Port Sydney, and taught students the how to make and use a pinhole camera. He still has some of the images he developed with students from the schools.
To be able to do it again three decades later with the high school was somewhat of a nostalgic experience.
“Starting with this simple camera forces you to understand variables. You really have to use head and hands to get your first picture. The photographs have a different look to them. If the kids get a handle on how to get good exposure, they love it. They hover over the drying rack.”
McLennan said it was after he retired from his job as a computer technician in 2014 that he rekindled his passion for pinhole photography. Using an old template and “other bits and pieces” he had saved, he built a pinhole camera and started shooting. Back in March he held an exhibit in Huntsville that featured some of his best work using a pinhole camera. Appropriately titled One Month, the exhibit displayed a collection of photos he snapped over a month-long period, which were all taken while he roamed around town with his handmade camera. He garnered quite a response.
“What was so neat was having people come to the show and look at a picture and say, ‘Hey, I know who that is.’ People would get a kick out of identifying who someone was in one of my photographs.”
He often collaborates with Beverley Hawksley and most recently joined forces for an interesting interpretation of art and photography at this year’s Nuit Blanche North.
He is hoping to offer courses on pinhole and film photography to local elementary schools and has already been in contact with the Haliburton School of the Arts. This week he is meeting with Simone Babineau, manager of Recreation and Leisure Services, at the Canada Summit Centre to propose the possibility of offering an eight-session program for adults based on pinhole and film photography.
If the kids get a handle on how to get good exposure, they love it. They hover over the drying rack.
“This would be for anyone who likes to make images, 12 years old and up, regardless of photography experience,” he said. “Anyone I’ve talked to, if they’ve ever done film developing, they remember. It’s a vivid experience.”
Anyone who is interested in getting in touch with Sandy McLennan regarding pinhole or film photography can do so by calling him at 705-788-4973 or visit his website www.sandymclennan.com.