While professional and amateur photographers alike have widely gone digital, many still remember the pinhole camera -- that childhood craft project that proved that a light-tight shoe box and some carefully punctured tinfoil could capture a pretty cool image on your 35 mm film, all without a store-bought camera or even a lens.
But pinhole ingenuity and other sorts of lensless, historic and adaptive DIY photo-technology are more than a memory for some. And Tom Persinger claims that number, though small, is growing. Persinger, 37, is a North Hills software designer and ardent photographer who three years ago founded f295, an online community for shooters into alternative processes. Today, with photography magazines and even some universities paying more attention to such techniques, f295 boasts 1,100 members, he says.
Interest is high enough that Persinger has organized a four-day, city-wide series of talks, workshops and exhibits: the 2007 Symposium on Lensless, Alternative and Adaptive Photographic Processes, featuring speakers from overseas and around the country. Persinger expects up to 100 registrants, from as far away as California.
Persinger's first camera was a Kodak Instamatic his grandmother gave him for his First Communion; these days, all his cameras are either homemade or adapted. They include vintage models whose lenses he's replaced with pinhole prosthetics whose tiny apertures (hence "f295") allow exposure times up to 25 minutes. One long-exposure black-and-white image, part of a new f295 member show at Downtown's 709 Gallery, depicts three pine trees and long grass, artfully blurred. "You can really feel the wind in it," he says.
Some alternative-photography artists capture images on glass (as in the 19th century), then scan the results to create digital negatives; some who make digital negatives print using historic processes. And pinhole adaptors can even be used to modify digital cameras.
The symposium begins Thu., April 26, with a reception at The Daguerreian Society, in Dormont, for the exhibition Daguerreotypes Past and Present. Other shows include Picture This -- A Camera Made from a Coconut, at the Society for Contemporary Craft.
On April 27, a day-long series of talks and panel discussions at Carnegie Mellon University features seven visiting experts. Weekend workshops (a few of which were already filled at press time) include "Camera and Lens Making" and "Wet Plate Collodion"; workshop sessions take place at venues including the the Daguerreian Society, Society for Contemporary Craft and Pittsburgh Filmmakers. On April 28, Persinger himself conducts a day-long pinhole-camera workshop at the Mattress Factory; he'll also lead an April 29 walking tour, "Pittsburgh Without a Lens."
While materials for DIY cameras go beyond the standard shoebox, they're more common than you might think. "A lot of stuff you can buy at Home Depot," says Persinger. "If you figure out what your artistic vision is, then you can produce tools to achieve that vision."
f295 Symposium Lectures and round-tables (9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri., April 27, McConomy Auditorium, CMU campus, Oakland; $165/$70 students; 412-268-1125). Workshops (Sat., April 28-Sun., April 29, various locations; $35-350 each; www.f295.org). f295 Member Exhibition opening reception (7-10 p.m. Sat., April 28; 709 Penn gallery, Downtown; free). 412-512-4671 or firstname.lastname@example.org