Saturday, 12 May 2012

Justin Quinnell - Pinhole Photographer Q+A!

So I walked in to my photography class knowing we would not have our usual teacher, due to exams being overseen, and expected to get a clueless substitute. How wrong I was. I was fortunate enough, to have the great pleasure of meeting, and being taught by Mr Quinnell, for the week!

Justin Quinnell is THE name in pinhole photography; He’s shot with digital cameras, Analogue cameras, black bins, cans, and has even taken photos from inside his own mouth! His solargraph of the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge went viral, and he was even the pinhole photography consultant in the hit film “The Brothers Bloom”, and now I’ve had the chance to get a fantastic Q + A session with the Master of Pinhole Photography himself! Here it is!

How did you get involved in pinhole photography? What was the first pinhole photo you remember seeing?
Not sure if this has much relevance but when I was 4 I had several operations on my eyes to sort out something. I remember having a patch on one eye with a small hole to see through. I also remember a fairly unsuccessful experiment when I was at school. It was well after my degree however that I got hooked. I was head of the photography department at a non-too affluent area of Bristol, the kids couldn’t afford cameras, (but could afford several cans of coke every day) so I got them to make cameras out of their drink cans and got hooked myself. It was all pre Internet, so apart from the pinhole journal and a few obscure magazines I didn’t know anyone else who was doing that kind of work.

What is it about pinhole photography that appeals to you?
There is no view finder, it clashes art and science after a 150 schism, a lot happens in pre-visualising the images, elements of time, astronomy, wonder etc, etc, etc, (This is what I go on about for hours in my lectures!)

It’s also cheap, and it is anti-commercial, I am involved with the Green Party and was getting disillusioned with photography and the amount of destruction it can cause pinholing gets around this.

What advantages does Pinhole have over lens-based photography?
Unlimited depth of field giving a ‘bugs eye view’ of the world, indestructible, you can fit them in your mouth, you have to make them yourself, no idea what the image will actually be, time exposures, loads and loads!

Do you practice other forms of photography other than Pinhole?
I like my small digital snappy camera but I otherwise only use pinhole (but several different approaches from 110 colour cartridge to wheelie bin!)

Who and What first influenced you to take up photography?
I was into birdwatching and wanted to take photos of birds, (I was 10 at the time). Also the caretaker at my school would let us use his dark room.

Where, who from, or how did you learn your skills?
Self-taught but several of my friends did photography so we learned from each other.

Do you have any tips for somebody beginning in the use of pinhole?
Break every photographic convention you find.

What makes a successful pinhole image?
Uncovering the unknown and unexpected.

The last few years have seen a revival of interest in pinhole photography. And you teach quite a few pinhole workshops each year. But as technology advances and the paper, chemicals and tools of traditional photography become harder to find, do you think this revival will continue or start to decline?
Some things will disappear, (I really miss 126 colour cartridges and positive colour photographic paper!) but as long as there is the ability to find wonder in light through a small hole forming an image, people will play with pinhole. I think all conventions can lead to stagnation, enabling a new way of seeing to be seen as a fresh insight on the world. Groups like Lomo have shown that there is a huge hunger for the experimental and the play of photography. It may be trickier for me to order rolls of photographic paper for my wheelie bin nowadays but someone somewhere will be making it!

Do you ever use digital photography for work? If yes why? Is there a situation where you feel film won't do the job any more?
Rarely can one use digital in pinhole, it’s something I’d like to be funded to research (almost got paid to go to Florida to do this but the credit thing happened) Film works so well with pinhole there’s no need to change it. I do take digi snaps of the kids though.

Have you ever experimented with digital pinhole at all?
Yes, but it’s not as good for many reasons, mainly because CCDs don’t like light hitting them at an angle.

What is it about analogue photography that keeps you coming back for more?
 I describe it as ‘Cows feet’ photography rather than using the word ‘analogue’ Traditional materials are wonderfully organic, Solagraphs can even show the gelatine being eaten by mould. Great stuff! There is also a link back 200 years to when Humphrey Davey and Thomas Wedgewood (who met originally in my home town of Bristol) were experimenting with a similar latent image process of photography. I love the madness of the pre-history of photography and its combination with digital image capture with solargraphs is wonderful.

A short time before I began my first set of images, my brother who loved astronomy died. Half way through the first set of images my father died. Being able to pinpoint the time events occurred on an image, births, marriages, deaths etc is special. (A friend recently suggested you could photograph both the wedding and the divorce settlement on the same photo!)

I think its is essential that we realise, not only how small we are in the solar system, but also how much we should appreciate our short time on this planet. Solargraphs have the ability to open this up for everyone.

And for the last one - If you were to describe the pinhole experience in 5 words, what words would you use? Play, falling, exploring, discovery and beercans

      This Q+A really opened up my eyes to the wonder of pinhole photography, and how the simplicity makes everything seem so much more abstract, and different! I’d like to thank Mr Quinnell for his time, and his great photography, check out more of his stuff at!

Hope you enjoyed this post everyone, because I enjoyed making it! If you’re interested in pinhole photography, sit tight, I’ll be posting a tutorial ASAP!

New post coming soon!


Great interview! Thanks for this :)

I'm not a fan of photography in general, but I have to admit: this Clifton Suspension Bridge looks stunning : )

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