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By Rosemary Cole on

Poetics of Light: Pinhole photography as fine art

National Science and Media Museum volunteer Rosemary Cole discovers the links between photography and paintings at our Poetics of Light exhibition.

I was delighted to discover from the Poetics of Light exhibition how creative pinhole photography can be in the hands of imaginative photographers. It ranges from the staged, colourful fantasies of Bethany de Forest to its scientific uses at Los Alamos or in space. The equipment is equally diverse, from a seashell or Campbell’s soup tin to the more conventional type of pinhole camera or those with mathematically calculated holes.

As someone with very little understanding of the science and techniques of photography and who reacts to photographs from the aesthetic point of view, I’ve looked at these images as pieces of art. There are some modern, brightly-coloured inventions that must push the boundaries of what is possible with this primitive technology, but I have picked out some photographs that have deliberate reference to paintings or are tributes to photographs from a previous age. The witty multi-print image produced with the Campbell’s soup tin camera, recalling Andy Warhol, amused me for a start.

D’après Juan Sanchez Cotan, Still Lives, 2005, Mieko Tadokoro
D’après Juan Sanchez Cotan, Still Lives, 2005, Mieko Tadokoro

Mieko Tadokoro’s still life d’après Juan Sanchez Cotan (above) and Pears Grapes and Pomegranates both recall 17th-century still life paintings. Juan Sánchez Cotán was a Spanish baroque painter whose Quince, cabbage, melon and cucumber (1602) these particular photographs seek to recreate: the quince and cabbage hang by a string and the cut melon and cucumber lay on a table or slab, a stark image far from the luscious products of the Dutch still life painters.

Fruits and Flowers – Homage to Roger Fenton, 1983, Willie Anne Wright
Fruits and Flowers—Homage to Roger Fenton, 1983, Willie Anne Wright

Still life also features in Willie Anne Wright’s Fruits and Flowers—Homage to Roger Fenton (above), which has a small black and white Roger Fenton still life photograph in among the coloured pineapple, squash, pears and grapes. Wright has arranged these in the manner of Fenton, which in turn has resonance with the older Dutch paintings.

2nd Manassas Women & Parasols, 1992, Willie Anne Wright
2nd Manassas Women & Parasols, 1992, Willie Anne Wright

Another Wright image comes from her Civil War Redux series; she followed re-enactments of the American Civil War over 13 years. This image, 2nd Manassas: Women & Parasols (above), mirrors vintage photographs in using sepia tones, but the composition also reminds me of Impressionist painters’ views of families enjoying the Normandy beaches. In this instance, though, the women are at the edge of the battlefield, so it is a sombre subject.

See these images and many others by visiting Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography at the National Science and Media Museum until 25 June 2017.

2 comments on “Poetics of Light: Pinhole photography as fine art

  1. Dear organizers,

    Is there a catalogue of the exibition that could be bought online?

    Thank you,

    Andréa . Scansani

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