Pinhole photography is photography done without lenses. Basically you have a box with a tiny hole through which the light passes and an image is then formed inside the box, usually on photographic paper.
Pinhole cameras come in all shapes and sizes but the above principle is common to all.
The pinhole was well known in antiquity and Aristotle discussed it in his work Problems
. In Renaissance and post-Renaissance times artists used the pinhole principle (without photographic paper, you'll have to wait a few centuries for that!) or camera obscura
as an aid to drawing landscapes. A camera obscura
could be as large as a building, in the 19th century and also in the 20th century several such buildings were erected for educational and entertainment purposes e.g. Royal Mile, Edinburgh, or Clifton Observatory, Bristol and many more, spread around Europe. A very impressive camera obscura
was built in Trondheim, Norway, in 2006.
The first pinhole camera was invented by Sir David Brewster, in Scotland, in the 1850s.
With the influence of Impressionism on photography in the late 1880s pinhole cameras became popular among the so-called 'pictorialist' photographers. Pinhole photography produces soft images, with an infinite depth of field and long exposures. In the 1890s over 4000 'photomnibuses' (pinhole cameras) were sold, something that parallels the use of disposable cameras a century later.
Slowly pinhole cameras went out of fashion as sharp images were in greater demand - the development of better lenses contributed to the shift in taste.
The revival of pinhole photography began in the 1960s. It was a revival that occurred in many different places, globally and simultaneously, with artists being totally unaware of each other. In the US Eric Renner was particularly influential in putting pinhole photography once again on the map, so to speak.
Several commercial cameras are available, but one of the pleasures of pinhole photography is derived from building one's own camera. There are various instruction manuals that give details on how to do this.
Jon Grepstad, author of one of the very best histories of pinhole photography to be found on the web [link]
(and incidentally, the reference source for this piece) says, very pointedly:
"Photographers photograph in varying degree for (a) the experience or for (b) the images. When you photograph for the experience, the emphasis is on the process itself – the pleasure of making a pinhole camera, the pleasure of planning pictures, and the pleasure of making pictures with a simple device. When you photograph for the images, the emphasis is mainly on the result. The pinhole camera is basically an imaging device with potentials which other cameras or techniques do not possess, e.g. softness of definition, infinite depth of field, rectilinearity."
Something we definitely need to bear in mind.
Here at #fineart-photography
the team of moderators holds different views on pinhole photography. Some of us are intrigued, some do not care for it, some are actively involved. As a group we accept good photographs, regardless of how they were achieved, so we definitely do not say no in principle to pinhole photography.
On dA there are groups which bring together aficionados
of the genre, the largest of them is #Pinhole-Camera
Most of the thumbs below are in the gallery of this group
Thanks to *JakezDaniel
for suggesting some of the thumbs