Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Photography: Pinhole Cameras & My First Experience Back in the Darkroom since 2006!

This year, I have TWO sections of Photography, and each section has 10 students in it.  Sooooo exciting!  Also exciting, is that the students are pumped to use the darkroom!  Needless to say, it's been about 10 years since I've actually worked in a darkroom at college, so I'm a bit rusty and the chemical mixing, developing times, and in general, the entire process.  The nice thing, is that it's coming back to me slowly, but even nicer, is that I'm feeling like it makes my students feel a bit better about now getting it right the first time, if I'm showing them that learning dark room photography tends to be a lot of trial and error in the beginning.
Lesson #1: Make sure you rinse out the photo chemical storage jugs BEFORE mixing new chemicals.  Any dry developer junks up in the bottle and turns it dark brown.  Lesson learned!

This is also the first class that I am really using a textbook in.  My district purchased me 25 of Davis Productions "Focus on Photography" textbooks, and I'm really loving them!  If you want a quality textbook that you'll actually use, this is it!  Over the end of the last school year, I was starting to plan my curriculum for the school year, knowing that I wanted to start more with digital and move into film photography as students learned more about composition and their photos became less "snap shot-y" and more artistic so as not to waste the dark room materials.  I asked my Davis representative that I met at a NYSATA Conference to send me a copy of their textbook so I could check it out, and I realized that much of my anticipated curriculum, aligned with what was in the textbook, and in the same order it was in the textbook.
Just as a disclosure, I am not being paid by Davis to add this to my blog...this is free advertising for them because I really am loving this textbook!

The first chapter in the textbook gives a little history behind the camera and talks about how a camera works.  Naturally, pin hole cameras come to mind, and so I made my FIRST pin hole camera!  Yep.  I've NEVER made one before. In the textbook, they give you directions to making a pinhole camera using a shoe box that is just for viewing images on a screen inside the camera.  I altered mine, and had the students alter theirs, to have a shutter over the pin hole lens as well as a cover over the viewfinder, to make the camera light tight for putting photo paper inside.

The directions in the textbook have you make a lens with a paper punch.  What I (and my students) discovered through trial and error is that outside, this size lens lets in way too much light for longer exposure times (thus the dark image on the lower right corner).  Inside, this lens size works relatively well.

Next, I made a different size lens, using a larger safety pin to poke a hole through the black paper.  Outside, this size pin hole was perfect when taking a photo in indirect sunlight on a pretty bright day.  Inside, however, in the fluorescent lighting, this size pin hole was not good at all, no matter how long I kept the pin hole open for.
I took a shot of the bench that I had my pin hole camera sitting on so that you can see the view myself and many students used for their cameras.

The Davis textbook also gives you rubrics for their projects, so I used it for this project, but altered it a bit since we technically changed the format of the pin hole camera.  I asked students to turn in 3 developed photographs with their pin hole camera with a brief reflection on the back of each image, telling me how long they kept their shutter open for, the size of their pin hole, and if there was too much or too little light.

We also used these images as a way to talk about the dark room chemicals.  I am currently in the process of trying to figure out a better way to store the chemicals when not in use.  As our chemicals stayed out over time, they didn't work as well, and the students noticed that.  They also got some weird drips and sticky parts on their images, which meant they didn't fully submerge the image in the chemicals fast enough, or they didn't keep them in the stop bath / fixer long enough.  Some have marks because they got stuck together while wet.  Here are some of the cameras and the images students captured, as well as what their cameras look like:

She got the hang of it by her third photo (the middle one).

The bottom image was her last one and it's awesome! Not quite sure how the tape mark got on her image though...I had the students put a tape curl on the back of the photo paper and had them tape it to the screen inside their camera to hold the paper up.  I think she may have taped it behind the screen (which was made out of tracing paper), but I'm not sure.

This student bought a picture box from Walmart.  It made it really easy to make a shutter for her lens using the little metal label holder! Her images turned out awesome, as well, and she learned that she needs to properly rinse the photo in each chemical so as not to get the chemical drips and such.

This student had AMAZING images!  They are literally perfect!  I love how she made her shutter, too.  She attached a popsicle stick to the shutter so she could slide it horizontally instead of vertically.  She is the only student who did that!

Another great turn out of images!

She lost her third image, and even though I asked them to hand in three image, I accepted two as long as they could explain to me why their image was black, white, had drip marks, etc.

This was from one of my exchange students.  We have a bit of a language barrier but he is doing great and understanding things quickly!

All in all, this experience was a really awesome one for learning the dark room through trial and error.  Students really learned how important it was to have a light-tight box and how the tiniest bit of light getting in through a crack could screw up their image.  I assessed students on if their camera was light tight, had a viewfinder with a cover, lens with a cover, and a screen inside, as well as their three images and if they were able to develop at least one good, clear image.  I had students write on the back of their images how long they exposed the camera lens for and then reflect on whether there was too much light, not enough, too small of a pin hole, too big, bad chemicals, etc.

Because of this simple project and experimentation, we have come up with a routine for the darkroom, figuring that we will have to alternate who gets to use the darkroom each class (five in, and five either developing film, taking photographs, or working on digital images on the computer).  I only have three enlargers (two of which work, and one I have to look at and fix), and a shoddy set-up for developing, so not many people can work in there at once.

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