uncertain frame: landscape & pinhole camera

journey through an analogue process

exploration – returning to unease: for the last few weeks i have been getting ready to start exploring again – not that i had stopped but more that i had not done anything really unknown. starting this type of exploration seems necessary to keep me pushing at the questions i’m asking, even as these questions seem to shift. not knowing how or what exactly brings a sense of unease – what lies ahead or where to start. as it happens, a start began without me even noticing and already the unease began to settle.

pinhole camera – returning to the beginning: not knowing has its advantages. without really knowing why, i had stocked up on b & w analogue chemicals for developing photographs in the dark room – a non-existing dark room i had not even set up yet. over the christmas, i found myself making a simple pinhole camera using an old box and some photo paper i have had since the 1990s! i thought i would just give the day over to it and get it out of my system. turns out the process is exciting on many levels, primarily because it seems so relevant to the questions i’m asking about how the landscape is framed according to gender and how the camera is part of an embodied practice.

pinhole camera assembly

dark room development

pinhole photographs

reflection: so many thoughts from engaging in this process –

framing with absence of viewfinder: firstly, the pinhole camera doesn’t have a viewfinder so makes the framing of the landscape vague and somewhat left to chance. yes i can point the aperture in a direction but i have no idea what the parameters of the image will be or its edges. this goes for the length of time for exposure – i gave these images 40 seconds which seemed to work well enough (more exploration needed). it also goes for the shape of the image, as the pinhole is not perfectly geometrically round and the position of the paper in relation to the pinhole also effects the image shape – as seen from the arc of black framing these images. the inability to decide the frame and edges of the image really resonates with those questions i have been asking in relation to gendered framing of the landscape – perhaps the pinhole camera offers a way to negate or challenge the rational patriarchal rectilinear frame which may be something i tease out in my contextual study.

framing with absence of lens: this also goes for the absence of a lens, without which there is no depth of field of far and near perspective – again all tied up with the male and female gaze and gendered landscape imagery.

image making without film: although a pinhole camera can be made with film and some way to roll the film frames forward, there is something so immediate about creating the image there and then on paper. it seems to create a moment of image making rather than gathering for image making at another time. i am reminded of a quote by photographer Mann – ‘the making is more important than the taking’ when discussing her work against the ‘drive by shooting’ of digital cameras. making and taking also have gendered implications with binary divisions between the male taker of rational fact and the female maker using manipulation and wet messy physical processes of image making (see Harriet Riches (2004 – Picture Taking and Picture Making). making the image at point of taking seems to resonate with my thinking on the lens as an embodied practice. without lens – it is now the camera as an embodied practice. importantly, it also suggests landscape image as an embodied practice for the pinhole camera is maneuvered by the body and as the body shakes with the wind, so too the image, as evident in the second image i developed.

image making as negative: although a negative rather than positive image – i have previously explored the potency of negative images as an active image, involving the viewer to translate and read the image by the eye.

all and all, a productive process and in need of more ….




still starting from scratch?: i decided to continue my pinhole camera work, this time heading to the sand dunes of sandymount. while these images are dark and somewhat vague (overexposure – 40 seconds too long) there is something that really draws me into the image because the subtle traces of elements in the landscape need to be worked out and translated into something recognisable. i am reminded of something Deleuze said about needing to draw on subjective resources to complete images in your mind (1986, in Marks, 2000). technically, i am beginning to get a better sense of what works best in pinhole camera work – choosing areas of stark contrast between dark and light, reducing the exposure time. i also read somewhere that the width of the paper should decide the distance of the paper to the aperture which is the next thing i will change and then wait for another bright sunny day to come along. the high gloss paper i have been using also has technical issues in that it is impossible to take an image of it without shiny reflection (something i guess i could work with on some level), so i feel these images do not show the subtly of the images and the ghostly apparitions or traces of the landscape as they seem to emerge from the darkness. one of my photos has a subtle line between two different blacks which i figure is where i pointed the camera towards the horizon of sea and sky.


towards the sea

reflection: one of the things that i like about these images is their subtilty and the quality of their dark tones. there certainly is a wet materiality to the images that seem to correspond with the landscape – moist sand and sea spray in the air. in reading the image, you really have to search the image for something to recognise – translating any sign of light into something recognisable. these images also capture something about the landscapes movement because the exposure time is far beyond any snap shot single moment. because it was windy, i held the pinhole camera down low against my legs to minimise its shaking and so this way of making resonates with my thinking on the embodied practice of camera work (no lens in pinhole camera) – a point of contact beween body and landscape. there is so much resonating with gender also in this type of image making process – the taking (male) versus making (female) comes closer together when the film is side-stepped yet the making is a slow and manual process rather than a snap shot and the making leaves little opportunity to manipulate as it develops straight onto the paper it was captured on. this process is about as analogue a process as you can get and ignores any digital intervention. the framing of the landscape through this process also raises questions about the image’s parameters – the landscape can only be framed vaguely using a pinhole camera and you have no idea where the edges will fall exactly ….. because of all the things this process seems to touch on in terms of landscape, its framing, the gendered gaze and the gendering of image making processes, i feel this process is something i will return to. i will need to equip myself with better darkroom facilities as at the moment i am blacking out my utility room because it has the smallest window and can only develop the image at night because it is not fully light safe. there are darkroom facilities i can go to and rent time (the darkroom in smithfield and the dublin photography club  – both of which i have used in the past). like screen printing facilities, i think it is important set up as much as i can on my own as this lends itself to better experimentation. this equiping might be something to work towards and mention in my PPP. having read a paper on the gendering of lens-based processes in relation to the work of Sally Mann (Riches, 2014) i have been looking into collodion photo-printing processes and have signed up to a weekend course (was cancelled due to covid). i am hoping to tease out some questions about the gendering of wet processes through this process and see how it might relate to my landscape image making.




manipulation as a form of challenge: over the past week, i have continued to look into ‘making versus taking’ in photography from a gendered perspective. in ‘A History of Women Photographers’ (2010) which i got my hands on recently, Rosenblum discusses the manipulation of image in women’s photography, particularly in the 80s and 90s. adding to established cutting, pasting, colouring and multiple printing manipulation, women photographers also explored new ways to manipulate images, using new techniques and formats to explore feminist themes of family, memory, identity and ecology etc. (p:276). since the postmodernism of the 1970s, manipulation of image was already well underway by male photographers as a rejection of modern values about beauty, harmony and balance etc. and disregarding the status of limited edition of single perfect prints. post modernists female photographers appropriated other artists’ images and created pastiches which included handwritten texts with feminist and political themes or created staged scenes and creating installations (p:277).

hand manipulation: Rosenblum discusses various hand manipulation processes used by female photographers – manipulating to various extents either subtly or obviously. one of the examples Rosenblum discusses in terms of non conventional and multiple formats is annette messager’s ‘My Vows’ (1990) which blurs divisions between the coherent and the ambiguous, 2d and 3d, chemical and graphically manipulated photographic images (p: 277). Rosenblum also discusses the return to outmoded techniques such as hand colouring images or adding crayon, paint or collage to the photographic printed image in the work of Judith Golden. she also discusses the return to the pinhole camera in the work of Ruth Thorne-Thomson as a method of unsettling classical landscapes with a sense of unease (p:277). other methods discussed include montage, xerography,  double exposure and the inclusion of ‘women’s crafts’ such as embroidery with the image. Rosenblum cites the work of Betty Hahn, Joan Lyons and Bea Nettles as examples of hand manipulation. with particular relevance to my work, Rosenblum discusses the montage work of Olivia Parker who combines negative and positive images and stencil cut outs to explore the world of reality, imaginary and dreams.

electronic manipulation:  female artists have also manipulated photographic images electronically, using computers to generate images of people and places that may not exists – adding complexity to the relationship between reality and the image. artists include Nancy Burson and Leah King-Smith’s double exposures. i think some if these ideas could also be applied to moving image and may well influence the narratives i have been working on.

further reading: there is plenty of further reading to be done in terms of the manipulation of the image by female artists. examples include – setting the scene and manipulation prior to taking, manipulating the size of the image – taking on large scale format of commercial images, using sequential imagery rather than the single decisive moment or ‘essence’, as Eva Sonneman says – no single view of reality should be considered more truthful than any other, multiple images as a rejection of the revered image.

to be continued in relation to still image and possibly moving image ……




Marks, L. U. (2000) The Skin of Film, Interculturalism, Embodiment and the Senses. Durham: Duke University Press.

Riches, H. (2014) Picture Taking and Picture Making – Gender Difference and the Historiography of Photography. At: https://www.academia.edu/14263288/_Picture_Taking_and_Picture_Making_Gender_Differe nce_and_the_Historiography_of_Photography (Accessed 04.01.20).

Rosenblum, N. (2010) A History of Women Photographers, 3rd Edition. New York: Abbeville Press.


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