Last time I gave a brief introduction to the camera obscura, describing what it was and a tiny bit of the historical background. This time I’m going to cover my personal experience with these systems.
I started playing with cameras when I was about 9 years old. My first was a hand-me-down Brownie Box camera that I got from my sister, Glynda. Unfortunately, none of the photos I took from that era survive, but I still have that camera. That old camera wasn’t much different from a pinhole camera – just a basic light-tight box with an aperture and some sort of capture medium (ie, film.) As a teen I spent one summer making actual pinhole cameras with my brother, Houston. We experimented with various styles made from oatmeal boxes and brass shimming with different aperture pinholes. Again, none of those images survive.
While my father was principal of Gray Court Owings School, my brothers and I had the run of the place. We found an old unused closed that had been used as a changing room for basketball teams long, long ago. The room was under the stage, and had running water. It was the perfect place to commandeer for a dark room, so that’s where we set up our chemicals and enlarger. Stephen and Houston did more of actual dark room work, but I remembered that location, hidden away under the stage of the old auditorium under a trap door.
There was a long lull while music, college, rock climbing, and river running (somewhat in that order) took precedence over photography. 16 years after building my first pinhole camera, I found myself teaching a unit on light to class of gifted 7th graders at GCO, and I figured the best way to convey some of the concepts was through photography.