Quench Your State Park Thirst with these Pinhole Photos

Oct 01, 2013 at 2pm

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Old Faithful, Yellowstone

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Ashley Somers is a San Francisco pinhole photographer. Her Kickstarter to fund her cross-country pinhole photo tour of America just so happens to be coming to an end as the government shutdown closed her favorite subjects: the national parks. I asked her some questions about her project and how she feels about the shutdown, beyond the very articulate sad face emoticon: : (

Ashley: I'm pretty sad that the final week of my Kickstarter is when the federal government shut down. While trying to not get too political about why lawmakers are doing this, I'd rather focus on the families and travelers who are going to miss out on vacations and memories because of it. This might have been the only time a family had to travel, or the end of a tourist's visit from somewhere far away. Taking away the parks are dollars and cents to politicians, but to families they're memories. Whether this shut down lasts days or weeks, I still plan on plotting my trip, and I'll just sit ready until they open again. National Parks are not a trendy club that you need to be famous or rich to get into. They're for everybody, and they should always be there for us. 

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The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Can you describe what a pinhole camera is, and how it works?

Pinhole cameras are very basic cameras with no lens. All you need is a light tight object, a light sensitive material, and a small piece of metal with a pinhole in it. There is no limit to what you can use to make a camera; I've seen matchboxes, old oatmeal containers, an entire room, even an old van. You don't even have to use film. There's a substance called Liquid Light you can paint on surfaces to make things photo-sensitive. 

Compared to a modern film camera, the difference is the lens. The lens focuses the light as it goes through it and fixes some of the aberrations and distortions. A pinhole is just that – a hole made with a pin. Sometimes I think of pinholes as the only cameras where the film is truly exposed to the place you're in. If the sun, wind, or rain can come through that hole, what other elements of a place get to that film? If there's a special feeling about a place, you want that on your film. 

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Point Reyes Lighthouse

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Pincrest Lake, CA

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What’s the most difficult part of this kind of photography?

One of the hardest parts about pinhole photography is the adjustments. Shooting with an oatmeal can means you only get one exposure. In order to know what you shot, you need to develop it.  

Taking out my 4x5 pinhole camera takes time. You need to find the best location, you need to set up, you need to wait. There is no point and shoot. It probably takes me three to four minutes to take one shot. I had so many people interested in what I was doing because of the difference in the look of the camera. I can understand the movement of people to strange cameras and doing weird stuff to film because it's the cool and hipster thing to do. But I'm embracing the old way because it was what I was taught to love first. I wanted to be Ansel Adams standing on top of my car with my huge camera waiting for that perfect shot. 

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Point Reyes Lighthouse

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Ashley's  Kickstarter ends this Saturday October 5th.

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