My name is Alberto Álvarez and I turned 49 years old in February, this year. I live in a small town in the province of Segovia in Spain.
In 1989 I suffered a serious car accident (I was only 20 years old), which took me a year to recover and left me in a wheelchair; a paraplegic. Since then my main goal has been to keep myself alive, literally. Not to succumb to grief, pain and situations that derive from being different in a society as difficult as ours.
The first thing I did when I left the hospital was buy a Nikon F-801; I did not really know what the reason was, I just had a huge need to save the places, landscapes and people I passed through. Where I enjoyed and who I knew before life left me.
In 2012, I started experimenting with pinhole cans looking for pictorial values in my shots, trying to emulate the pictorialist techniques of Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry Peach Robinson, Rejlander and the use of photography by French painters at the end of XIX and beginnings of the XX, and the “pre-raphaelites” English.
I think that the pinhole shots give very dreamlike results, like mirage images. They are without definition and millimeter details, like images created with spots, not with detailed strokes.
This is perfect for the topics that interest me most. Such as the landscape, the trees and their surroundings. Since ancient times, there is where I live a tradition of the trees that grow here (oaks and ash trees above all). It consists of pruning their branches every 20 or so years, which transforms the tree into a very thick trunk with a head of thin branches. Some take the appearance of supernatural beings. They are living sculptures in beautiful landscapes. This has always interested me, the tree; and the characteristics of the land where I live.
As I said before, I started with cans of canned fish that I used to make a pinhole; the exposure was done on photographic paper, but I found that the graycale of the paper was very limited and there was not much that could be done to improve it. So the first thing I did was to transform an old Zeiss-Ikon bellows camera into a pinhole camera that could be fitted with filters; I basically disassembled the lens and put in place a sheet with a pinhole, using the shutter and the thread of the lens.
[Below are shots taken on the Zeiss-Ikon bellows camera with Velvia 50 film]
The next thing I wanted to do was to obtain a panoramic camera, but at that time I only found an artisan company that made them on the internet in Poland, called VermeerCamera. It was a format of 6 x 17 with possibility of placing filters.
[Below are shots captured on Alberto’s Vermeer 6x17 Panoramic Camera]
Later, I built cameras based on old relics like Agfa Clack, for example. Now, on the internet, it is very easy to get pinhole cameras already built and even meet people who make pinhole cameras with very high quality - I own some models.
I always make my shots on film in black and white. Although sometimes, very rarely, I shoot with color too! The films that I shoot with I choose very carefully, I especially like the Rollei IR400, Rollei Retro400s, Ilford HP5 Plus, Rollei Ortho 25. As you see some films are quite difficult in their exposure and development but I’ve had experience with them for a long time now. In color, Velvia 50 seems insurmountable.
Only nature inspires me, landscapes; I am a very reserved and solitary guy that loves nature. Of men, I am only interested in the impact that he creates with his work. My dream project is an exhibition that takes my work and pinhole photography to the top of the artistic avant-garde, such as the Salon of the Impressionists of 1874 or the photo-secession group of Alfred Stieglitz.
What would we do without social media?! Instagram has become a necessity in the running of this little blog. The fact I can connect with a pinhole practitioner in France (or anywhere in the world) at the click of a button (or a double tap ‘like’), is astounding.
Recently, I got in contact with Marie as, after following the beginning of her artistic journey on Instagram, I needed to pick her brain on her thoughts and feelings of pinhole!
The way she talks about using a pinhole camera evokes a sense of optimism and delight - something that comes across in the exposures she uploads, and the ones she’s allowed me to feature here in the blog.
Do yourself a favour on this Worldwide Pinhole Photograph Day and have a read of our discussion below.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Marie…
My name is Marie, I’m 31 years old, and I’m from Colmar, a picturesque town in Alsace, North-East of France. Mostly I’m a landscape photographer, I find I’m more in the mood to take pictures as I travel. I try to capture a moment, just as I experienced it: to remember and share it. That’s probably why I’m not into heavy editing!
What is integral to your practice?
Experimenting, and sharing. What is interesting with a wooden camera, is that it attracts attention. So the “sharing” part is different than with a regular digital camera, it occurs even before the picture can be seen: when you are in the street capturing a picture, people are curious, puzzled, and almost every time they come and ask questions or share their memories of film cameras.
So, why pinhole?
Fun story: my boyfriend and I gifted each other pinhole cameras as Christmas presents - a total coincidence! We each thought the process was interesting, and that it would be perfect for the other one ;)
I received the 6x6 camera from Ondu, and now I also own the 6x12 Multiformat. What I love about pinhole, is that it is a basic, slow and think-before-you-shoot approach to photography. It’s quite the opposite of what I hate in digital photography - the “hardware race” with all those guys comparing the size of their lenses and the price of their 3 lb, 22MP cameras… I’m not interested!
Finally, the rendering of a pinhole photograph is so unique, with its very wide angle, slight distortion and vignetting. The pictures you want to take are completely different than those of another camera which means you start to think and see things differently. The result is always a travel back in time.
Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice?
Landscape is always my theme of choice. But since I began using a pinhole camera, I’ve become very attracted to ‘cityscapes’ and street photography. I guess the very wide angle allows me to capture what I wasn’t capable of before. Although, being able to get the Strasbourg Cathedral in one shot was almost a challenge!
Has your practice change over time? If so, how?
I started taking pictures with a pinhole camera in January, only three months ago, so I’m still very new to all this…
However, I would say I am now less afraid to take pictures that *might* be a failure: I’m not thinking about “wasting” film anymore. The next step is allowing myself to take several pictures of the same place or the same subject, varying the angle and the exposure time. For now I’m still hoping to have 12 different perfectly framed and exposed pictures on a film, but it’s a risky bet considering my camera doesn’t even have a viewfinder!
Is there a specific piece you’re especially proud of? And why?
I think the picture I’m the proudest of is the very first picture I took with my brand new pinhole camera. I was very afraid of ruining the film, so I figured that if I waited until the sun began to set, the longer exposure time would be more forgiving.
I put the camera on a tripod in the living room, opened the shutter, ran to the armchair, tried to stay still while battling with my cat who wanted to be in the picture (but at the same time as being pet), waited until a calculated exposure time of 10 minutes, and ran back to the camera to close the shutter!
At the end, the picture looks so peaceful, you don’t notice anything. Magic.
From whom do you draw the most inspiration?
Since I’m very new to pinhole photography, I was delighted to find a small but strong community of pinhole photographers on Instagram. Their work amaze me, they are very supportive and keen to give advice. I love seeing their pictures, and wondering how they manage the final result. It motivates me to experiment with double exposures, portraits, composition… I still have so much to learn!
What is your dream project?
I would like to travel for a large amount of time, and be able to wait in a place until the conditions are optimal to take a picture. Taking pictures of the people I meet along the way would also be very fulfilling. Otherwise, building my own pinhole camera would be an awesome project!
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Best life advice ever, comes from my beloved boyfriend Adrien: ALWAYS USE A TRIPOD! :)
I have been following Will’s adventures since I myself became interested in pinhole photography. It was his sheer inventiveness that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of pinhole. When I started the Twitter handle to match this blog I obsessed over seeing all the behind-the-scenes posts he would upload (check his Twitter out here).
From Paddleboarding and Easter Eggs to Solargraphy, his work goes to show that through the simplicity of pinhole - anything is possible!
He was recently gracious enough to take the time to answer a few questions I had for him…
Will, what do you do?
Around being a Husband, Dad to three kids and painting cars 40+ hours a week, I find what time I can to get out with my cameras.
I’ve been photographing with digital for years (mostly Landscapes) without a care for film, until I had a load of computer problems in 2014. Not being able to do anything with my digital files, I dug out a pinhole kit I got for Christmas a few years earlier and headed out on August 2nd 2014 to take my first pinhole. I got home, developed the paper and was hooked - not just on pinhole, but film.
Why stick with pinhole?
I love the simplicity of pinhole cameras, the fact you can make a pinhole camera out of most things is something that really appealed to me.
When I started with pinhole I made a lot of cameras with beer cans, old VHS cases and even managed a pinhole camera with a chocolate Easter egg.
While loving the homemade cameras I also brought a Zero Image 4x5 and ONDU multiformat pinhole camera.
I also love doing Solargraphy projects! I’ve set up many cameras over the last few years, also completing a couple of year long exposures capturing 2016 in one exposure.
Has your practice change over time? If so, how?
I started out only using darkroom paper, which worked great for most things, but have since started exploring different films and, apart from sticking to the standard landscape stuff I had always done with my photography, starting to push it more into my daily life..
Is there a specific piece you’re especially proud of? And why?
There are several pieces I’m proud of for many different reasons, the Solargraphy work particularly because of the time you spend waiting, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year to see your work, if the camera even survives that is.
But apart from that, I think it’s my Easter project with the image of The Crucifix with an Easter egg. It was a challenging project, the fact it even worked surprised me. I had the egg held together with elastic bands, hoping it wouldn’t soften too much that they would crush it - the pinhole was held in place with tape and elastic bands! I drove to the other side of town to get the picture, rushed back to get it developed as soon as possible, and it came out just how I had hoped.
From what, or who, do you draw the most inspiration?
When I started out I spent many hours looking through Justin Quinnell’s work, and still find his work very inspirational, but I find a lot of inspiration from many photographers. Being able to browse through social medias such as Facebook, 500px and Flickr, nowadays you can find many inspiring images and projects that people are doing.
What’s your dream project?
I don’t really have one particular project. Just to get out more, photograph more, travel more, find different ways to photograph things.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve not ever really been given advice for photography, but something I’ve learnt is to do what you enjoy. It’s so easy to go out and photograph what gets the most “likes” to follow what everyone else is doing, becoming obsessed with sharpness, composition, pixels, gear, earning money from your work…
Just get out and photograph what you love, in the way you enjoy the most.
As long as you love what you are doing, that’s all that matters.
Some of Will’s imagery is below. Once you’re done here, head over to Will’s website via this link.