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Alan’s pinhole camera gives world a new take
Seeing the light – Alan Hockett with reporter Hannah Marsh and a tin can transformed into a pinhole camera
TAKE one baked bean can, some foil tape, a scrap of photographic paper and a pin – and you’ve got almost everything you need to make a camera. Yes, really.
Of course, you’ll need the developer fluids and the patience to create a dark room by sealing up doors and windows with more foil tape. But the basics are there, which is the inspiration behind photographer Alan Hockett’s work.
Alan uses pinhole cameras to create his atmospheric photos. He has a collection of biscuit tins, cat food cans and other makeshift containers, each drilled through with little holes and covered in tape, piled up in his studio space.
“You can imagine how my wife feels about it when we go on holiday,” laughs Alan. “We’re walking around French harbours and I’ve got about ten baked bean cans with me.”
Alan worked for years as a fireman at Hadleigh fire station, before it was turned into the artist’s studios where he’s now based. He took an interest in photography as a youngster, picking it up again after doing a fine art degree as a mature student.
Working on a project for Focal Point gallery in Southend, Alan discovered pinhole photography after being involved in a project where he worked with disadvantaged youngsters.
He says: “We’d say to the kids, ‘You can make a camera out of anything’. We’d get them out on the estate to find rubbish. They came back with beer cans, kitchen drawers and empty cabinets, and we made them into cameras.”
Tomorrow will see him turn the Tudor porch at St Clement’s Church, in Leigh, into a camera obscura for the day as part of the Leigh Art Trail (See story, facing page, bottom right) .
But, first things first. How does this Midas-like transformation of the mundane occurs. Handing me an empty can, he’s already lined the lid with foil tape and drilled through with a little hole on the cylinder, I follow his instructions and cut a piece of foil tape and plaster it firmly over the hole.
“The reason this works is that light travels in straight lines,” says Alan. “It doesn’t go round corners. That’s the whole premise of how a camera works.”
Handing me a pin, Alan instructs me to push it through the tape, making the tiniest hole, which is where our unbending light will filter into the dark space of the tin.
“You go a bit mad finding pins,” admits Alan sheepishly. “Shirt collar pins are really nice – they’re really small. I had acupuncture the other day and I nicked the pins.”
We cut another piece of foil tape, folding an edge in on itself so there’s a flap to pull it up with, and stick it over the hole. Alan says: “That’s your shutter.”
It really is as simple as that. With the lid on, I’m holding a tiny space of utter darkness, and we take a trip down to Alan’s makeshift darkroom, a store cupboard.
He’s foil-taped any possible gap where light could sneak through and under the faint red glow of a bike light, I pop a piece of photographic paper inside the tin.
Once outside, Alan takes out a fancy device called a light reader, which gives him an idea of how long the shutter will need to be open for.
Having decided on a self-portrait, he advises me to rest my hand on a fence for stability as I rip the shutter off and beam excitedly at the camera for a carefully counted 30 seconds.
Shutter back on I can’t wait to see how my efforts turn out, but after a trip back to the dark room, and a dip in a developer, a fluid that stops it developing, and a fixer, the paper is looking a bit blurry. I’m not sure it’s been a success. Alan is encouraging, but even after we’ve washed the paper, dried it with a hairdryer and scanned it into the computer where we flip the colour back from the negative and turn it around I’m just a blur.
Vampire-like, I don’t seem to have reproduced very well.
Attempt number two sees Alan take care of the timing, and once he’s persuaded me I don’t need to peer into the pinhole from close range like a demented stork, I strike a more relaxed pose for an accurately-timed 30 seconds.
To my delight it comes out astonishingly crisp and clear under the developer fluid and I whoop with excitement – there I am! From out of a cat food can and a bit of foil, it’s me! Now I know how the first photographers felt and it slightly blows my mind.
Alan’s manipulation of the images is a real case of old-fashioned and modern.
Despite the basic design of the camera, he uses Photoshop to adjust the colours and flip the pictures around so he doesn’t have to destroy the negative as happens in the manual process of turning them into prints.
Summing up his fascination with the art form, he says: “I like the fact it’s fun. It’s about trying to look at something in a different way.”
He points out one of his own beautiful prints on the wall, which shows light filtering through the wooden shafts of Southend pier from beneath.
He explains: “Everyone walks under the pier as a kid and gets really muddy. But no one’s seen it that way.
“It’s about going to places people have been and showing them something different.”
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF
TODAY (JUNE 16)sees Alan transform the porch at St Clement’s Church into a camera obscura, where visitors will find themselves inside the dark space of the camera, while a tiny hole allows light to filter through and astonishingly project an upside down image of the outside into the space.
“The Ancient Egyptians knew all about camera obscura,” says Alan. “When they made the pyramids and had little holes of light coming through into the darkness.
“When you’re in somewhere really dark and you’ve got a small hole of light everything outside is reflected in on the wall.
“The Rennaissance painters used it for perspective as well.”
The event takes place as part of the Leigh Art Trail at St Clement’s Church, Leigh, from 10am to 1pm.
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