With the New Year looming, I have been looking forward to getting the obscura out again. The time is right to try something I’ve fancied doing for a while – something that will add to the project and take it a step further.. whilst adding even more weight to those poor bike trailers!
At the moment, the images you see from the project captured with the camera obscura are digital photographs of the projections of light. I now want to try and capture the projections more directly using REAL photographic paper. This way every detail captured by the super sharp lens will be captured directly, at the original size. To this you basically need to build a photographic darkroom (remember those!?) within the camera – the light tight (ish!) space would double nicely as a darkroom, so you’d be able to process immediately and re-shoot if necessary. Obviously, this hands on, larger than life approach will be a little experimental and tricky to use initially but I can see it producing some very special images.
There are a few technical challenges that I am working through in my head at the moment, but I hope to have got a system in place and working early in the new year. Key things will be finding a good way to measure the light and work out exposure times for photographic paper (not normally used like this). This will be crucial to getting a good print, as it is when taking any picture. The results should be super sharp, black and white images with one crucial difference – not only will left become right and up become down (as it is in the obscura), but light will become dark and dark will become light, although there is a way of reversing this later on. I will keep you updated on how progress is going. It will be exciting to get working more directly with the light and getting the darkroom set up. The last time I was in a darkroom was back at university – I’m eager the see the magic of an appearing image once again… and the mildly addictive (if strangely eggy) smell of fixer.
PS – If anyone has any darkroom equipment they are selling, get in touch!
The Pinhole Pedallers returned to Castle Drogo on the 31st March, 2012 for an exciting exhibition to celebrate the Dartmoor stretch of our summer tour. The date was set to coincide with Active Dartmoor, a National Park event aimed at celebrating Dartmoor’s outdoor pursuits. The exhibition is generously supported by South West Colour Laboratories.
On show were photographs taken during the tour, and people were once again invited inside the obscura to see the magical projections of the landscape and offered interactive portraits. The exhibition concentrated on the Dartmoor section of the wider journey through the South West. An exciting new addition involved light-sensitive paper – which allowed us to capture the light of the obscura in exciting new ways – there and then! We were using SunPrint – light sensitive paper that can be processed in water, without the need for any damaging chemicals. When pinned to the focussing screen it recorded the details over time, something I’d been keen to try for a long time.
Although the sky was a little grey, the obscura was working well and we were able to invite a good number to step inside before offering portraits with a difference! Here are a few from the day – big Thank You to all of our participants!
Below is one of the pictures that was printed up and on show..
We also invited visitors to mark on the map their favourite views on Dartmoor. It was great to hear people sharing their personal stories of the landscape, and hear of the many sights people cherish.
I would like to say a big Thank You to all the organisations and individuals who supported The Pinhole Pedallers, espescially Castle Drogo, Dartmoor National Park and of course South West Colour Labs for the printing services. We are particularly grateful to all those who supported it first during the crowdfunding campaign – without this initial pledge of support it would never have happened! Keep watching the website to see where it’ll be heading in future..
The Pinhole Pedallers will once again be returning to Castle Drogo (and this time hoping for better weather!) for an exciting exhibition to celebrate the Dartmoor stretch of our summer tour. The date is set for the 31st of March to coincide with Active Dartmoor, an exciting day of activities across the National Park. The exhibition is generously supported by South West Colour Laboratories.
It is a great chance to see some of the photographs made during the project, which involved bicycle touring with a giant camera obscura. People were invited inside to see the magical projections of the landscape. The exhibition concentrates on the Dartmoor section of the journey through the South West and there will be opportunities for new audiences to see inside obscura, take pictures and revealing the magic of light in the stunning setting of Castle Drogo. An exciting new addition will be including light sensitive paper – allowing us to capture the light of the obscura in exciting new ways – there and then!
The first time I visited Lacock Abbey was with on a university trip. Being the photography geek that I am I’m still excited to see the place where the photographic negative was invented, and secretly keep an eye out of the views around the house, eager to spot something documented in his early experiments that still remains today – nearly 180 years later.
Our ride to Lacock was an incredibly pretty, flat and relaxed one – following the first sustrans cycle track ever built between Bristol and Bath, and onwards through Bradford Upon Avon. It we’re honest, we hadn’t planned to travel much beyond Bath along the cycle track, but the miles flew by and we figured we’d rather do a few more miles on the canal tow paths than a shorter direct route involving hills and cars. It was a good decision. After a good splashing of muddy puddles and some rattled wrists (the road section seemed so so smooth afterwards!) we rolled into the village of Lacock. We were met by the lovely and welcoming staff, pitched our tents, and went to the pub for a meal – it was our last venue of the tour, after all!
Next morning, we breakfasted on cheese and bread along with some of the fallen damsons from the nearby tree. Lovely stuff! We were tempted to try to apples, but remembered they were cooking apples and so thought better of it. Once we got packed we retrieved the bikes from the barn when disaster struck – after more than 300 puncture free miles, one of the trailers wheels was deflated, with a suspect thorn later found. Just before I’d thought we’d been lucky to complete the tour without a single puncture..We wheeled our way to the front of Lacock Abbey – this is where in the 1830s William Henry Fox Talbot would have been experimenting with his ‘mousetrap’ cameras as his wife called them – simple cameras not to unlike our own (only much smaller!).
‘How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durable and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible?’
Why indeed! Talbot was determined to try to capture the image he could see in his model obscuras as if it were the ‘pencil of nature’. During the 1830s he cracked it by using paper coated with silver iodide, and the Pencil Of Nature became the title of the first photographic publication in 1844 which illustrated his process and included examples. The earliest surviving negative made by Talbot is of a window in the Abbey, called the Oriel window, and this was to be the our first subject of the day too.
Next we began to invite the visitors to step inside, and it was really great to have a mix of people eager to learn about Fox Talbot’s process, our obscura, and how they all link to today’s technology. It was interesting to hear about one chaps work that involved studying the eyes of animals – apparently, the first eyes were also pinhole like in structure – something I hadn’t really though about before. Anyway! Here are some of the pictures we took. The light was fantastic and the setting well suited.
After we’d packed up, I had just enough time to look around the photography museum and gallery (currently showing some of Bernard Shaw’s work). They had an impressive range of cameras, and I had to laugh to see the cameras I still use most regularly in a museum and confined to our past!
The exhibition does well to show Talbot’s contribution to the development of photography, and the setting of Lacock is the perfect backdrop to thinking back to those times. I’m glad our last visit on tour was so enjoyable, and thanks again to the staff for hosting us.
The ride into Bristol is a very pleasant one – I had vague memories of beautiful, quiet, flat roads from when I did the Lejog with Otesha last year, but looking at the route ahead I couldn’t remember any landmarks at all. As luck would happen, we soon stumbled across it and began to remember the way we took – running alongside the Mendips (another great AONB we’re saving for another tour!), criss crossing the M5 and bombing along the quiet, cycle lanes into Bristol.
We were lucky to be staying with a friend (cheers Lizzie!) in Stokes Croft, Bristol and were very warmly welcomed. We were just around the corner from The Bristol Bike Project, our venue for the next day. We have been offered a space as part of the excellent Bristol Bike Festival, coming up this month, and so it seemed the perfect place to get some bike related images just for that exhibition.
The Bristol Bike Project (recent winner of the Observer Ethical Winner awards) is an inspirational place to many people new to cycling and a great mixing place of many others who are mad about it. We set up the camera in the workshop, and began to build a makeshift studio that would form a backdrop to shoot portraits of the different users expected that day. Gathering enough light is always an issue when shooting inside, and just as in a normal photographic studio – we needed more light. Luckily, James had just the thing and fetched a super bright light to illuminate, and temporarily blind our subjects. Just the job. We used the bike stands to hold not only the bikes, but the lights (2 more were lent to use by the PRSC – cheers!) and backdrop too – it seemed to me a very fitting studio set up!
We began shooting..
Our recommended spot to set the camera up in the Quantock Hills AONB was at the northern tip, a place called Kilve. On the ride there, we stopped atop the Blackdowns and were able to see across and over Taunton and on to the Quantocks. Later we would go through Taunton, where Louise was rejoining the tour, and then right through the Quantocks. With Louise rejoined we pushed on North and it was good to have 3 Pinhole Pedallers – spreading the weight that little bit more!
We followed an idyllic stream on its route through smaller villages and country pubs, before the road left it and climbed sharply under the cover of a rich and varied woodland. There was lots to look at as we weaved our way up, and after a short ride along the top of the hills we dropped into Nether Stowey, our place for the night.
In the morn we had a short ride to Kilve, sticking to the quiet lanes through some idyllic farms, stopping to take directions from some friendly horse riders.
Arriving at Kilve was so refreshing, plenty of sea air and staggering views. The waves rolling in crashed over the limestone of the beach – it felt wild and raw and I was eager to set up the camera. Where we were it was far too windy, and so we split up to scout out a location that was a little more sheltered but still retained some of the great views – it was to be our first coastal setting so it had to have the sea in it! Whilst scouting some locations, I took the chance to take some panoramic views to try and do the place some justice..
The gusty wind was hard to avoid, but we found what we thought was a sheltered spot. Half way through installing it, we spotted a very tall, dark and angry cloud looming over the horizon – the wind direction told us it was heading straight for us, and we could already feel the first spots of rain that were being blown ahead. We took cover under the camera as it was half installed.. and soon enough it was upon us.
More than a little soggy, we soon realised it was much too windy here, and decided to try heading around the headland for a more sheltered spot. In the mean time, Tim from the Quantock Hills AONB came to visit and we spent a while sitting out the weather in his pickup, thinking of our next move. Whilst we were thinking, Tim got a call from BBC Somerset Radio who wanted to give us some air time and tell Somerset all about our project. I arranged a time later that afternoon when I would have better reception, and in a quieter spot. With new enthusiasm we thought we’d try setting the camera up at half height – that way we could still make images, and we wouldn’t end up being blown into the Severn. Luckily we were able to take a couple of pictures before having to pack down as the wind picked up even more.
We retreated to the excellent Chantry Tea Rooms nearby for what I believe is our 4th cream tea of the tour and certainly one of the best – despite having left Devon a good few days ago!
We were looking to take a fair chunk out of ride to Bristol the next day, and so we rode on that afternoon with the winds helping rather than hindering us as we rolled east with it buffeting our backs. The calorific cream tea did the job and we made it into Bridgwater in time for our slot of air time on the radio, before heading on and finding a campsite. Next stop, Bristol!
Heading East out of Exeter we picked up an easy route to the Blackdown Hills, popular with cyclists. Some bemused folks on road bikes out for a speedy sunday ride rode alongside us for a while. Compared to their lightweight speed machines we looked and felt very cumbersome! Nevertheless we covered the distance quickly. We were staying in Dunkeswell, and once we’d climbed the hills we caught our breath whilst looking back over the landscape we’d just come over.
Now don’t those clouds look lovely. What a brilliant day to set the camera up! Sadly, the following day wasn’t so lovely. Instead of big fluffy clouds, we woke up to a dark grey blanket. With it absolutely bucketing down we decided to wait an hour and see if things improved… Luckily, they did a little, and we saddled up and rode out choosing (in true Pinhole Pedaller style) a route with the largest amount of steep climbs as possible. The ride was so so scenic though, quiet country lanes so tranquil they often had grass growing along the middle of them. Our venue today was the excellent Otter Valley Icecream, just outside Honiton. It appeared to be brightening up as we arrived – no doubt it would soon be sunny enough to sample some Ice cream! We started to set up.
Rain came and we retreated into the Ice Cream stall, and began to decide from the massive range which to try.. Soon it dried up again, and as it did we were visited by a Western Morning News reporter, who was keen to hear more about the project and take some pictures. We were also visited by the Blackdown Hills AONB and it was great to show them the project and hear about all the other things going on in the area. A little later a family came over and we showed them how it all works, and as we were just about to shoot their portrait when the rain came back, this time with its good friend the wind, and we had to abandon it for the day sadly!
Rebecca at Otter Valley Ice cream kindly let us shelter whilst the worst of the weather subsided, giving us a perfect opportunity to sample the flavours on offer. I went for Seabuckthorn (apparantly an invasive berry found on our coastline – doing my bit for conservation) and Popcorn. Both were excellent! We packed up at set off, the trailers seeming that bit heavier now the camera was pretty soggy! I was sad to be leaving the Blackdown Hills with so few images of this special place but there is always next tour, and I really enjoyed my day regardless.