Joie de Vivre

The Visionary Pinhole Birthday

On Saturday, I had one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. That of my daughter.

We spent the day at the American Visionary Art Museum learning about pinhole photography and camera obscura. The workshop was co-lead by Guillaume Pallat and Chris Peregoy, who were both generous with their experience and satisfyingly different in their approaches.

Christopher Peregoy and Guillaume Pallat
Our hosts, Chris and Guillaume

From Wikipedia: A pinhole camera is a very simple camera with no lens and a single very small aperture. Simply explained, it is a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through this single point and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box. Cameras using small apertures, and the human eye in bright light both act like a pinhole camera.

We spent the morning working in the studio constructing various cameras.  A pinhole camera can be made from just about anything – an oatmeal container, cigar box, old cans, paper bags, refrigerators – even books.  Here’s the birthday  girl working with Guillaume to transform an old  denim covered  pencil box into a camera (she’ll tell you how it worked on on her blog).


The book cameras  actually work really well.  Here, Ms. Felice is creating a chamber in the center of a book. The pages then get glued together, and the inside has to be painted with a matte black finish to prevent any light reflection inside the camera.

The wonderful Ms. Felice

A finished book camera.

Book Camera

Someone made a camera from a cooler:


A small cardboard film box, which worked really well because the inside is already black:

Kodak Box

Chis made a camera from a manky old soccer ball:



The Suitcase Camera

Suitcases make great cameras. Who knew?

Step one:  drill the crap out of it and paint the inside black.

Step one: drill the crap out of it.



Step two: Create an aperture from four razor blades.

Razor sharp hole

Step three: Take a picture.

Say cheese.

Coco, Chris and I sat outside AVAM and talked for about 13 minutes – that’s how long it took to get the exposure. Guillaume guessed that the  suitcase would be light tight once closed.  We should have taped the seam, though, as there was “light leak” which you can see in the photo below.  Lesson learned. Tape everything.

Relaxing for 13 minutes

The Tea Can Camera

My favorite is this Twinnings tea can, which was my first camera.  Step one was to make it dark (not shiny).

Can this work?

I used  a piece of pie tin for the aperture. Soda cans work well, too.


I placed my camera in the garden wall at AVAM.

Camera in the garden

We stood  still for 5 minutes, while other art viewers wandered casually in and out of our photo. Here’s the wonderful ghostly result –  a portrait of my 11 year old daughter and me on her birthday:

Jim and Coco

This was an amazing workshop and a wonderful day. Thanks to Coco for going with me, Felice at AVAM for being so cool to Coco and I, and to Chris & Guillaume for sharing so many ideas with us.

Happy birthday, Coco! I love you.