I jam the Pintoid camera into the sand. Bracing the metal tin, either into or against more stationery objects has become my forté. It more often that not makes for a low-to-the-ground vantage point but it helps to stabilize my pinhole camera. The exposures are long and I rarely bother to carry a tripod. Peeling back the slight strip of black masking tape that functions as a shutter I feel just a bit of a thrill, thinking about what the image might become. I picture the image inside the tin, projected upside-down and backward. I have a general idea of what I want from the scene in front of me but I’m often surprised by what I actually get. I sometimes inadvertently hold my breath while the film is exposing. When the tape is peeled, there’s a sense of a bit of an involuntary gasp.
[box] Sidebar: I make Pinhole cameras from empty Altoids tins and call them Pintoids. Pinhole photography is lens-less photography. It’s almost difficult to comprehend in its simplicity. A person can take any type of … anything. Like, you can take a box, and as long as you can make it lightproof, you can make it into a camera. It’s called a pinhole camera. I can’t remember the first time I took a pinhole photo. Something as monumentous as that, you’d think I would remember. I’ll tell you what though – I’m still amazed that photography actually works! Every time I pull the wet strips from the tank and there are images on those negs, I shake my head, like, “Well, I’ll be damned.” Anyway, if you make this box (or whatever) somewhat lightproof and put a hole in one side, it will project an image onto the other side. At this point, the container is considered a “camera obscura”. There are a few more steps to making the piece a picture-taking device, but that’s the general gist.[/box]
For years now, Pintoid cameras have been my absolute buddies. On road trip after road trip, these curiously strong friends have accompanied me. So many memorable adventures, I made a list. I’ve decided to include just 8 memories here. They’re mostly random, not in chronological order.
Memory #1: It began in 2001 with an idea for “The Great Pintoid Adventure”. I would travel across the northern plains, using only Pintoids to document the journey. I packed my dog into the Jeep Wagoneer and off we went.
That Wagoneer was notorious for breaking down big-time on each and every road trip it took – and there were many. Its inaugural trip was no exception. The rear main seal blew. I nursed it to Bismarck where it was 110° F in the shade.
From this first Great Adventure, many more adventures ensued.
Memory #2: Closer to home, I decided to take the bull by the horns and I curated a pinhole photography show in South Bend, WA. I applied for and received a grant from the Willapa Heritage Foundation for the arts which included funding to build a huge camera obscura in a local warehouse. The pinhole faced Highway 101 with the Willapa River beyond, projecting a typical local landscape onto the surrounding interior. You would walk inside, wait a minute for your eyes to adjust, and the scene surrounded and enrobed you. Schools brought field trip kids in for a demonstration of pinhole photography. I would show them how different hole sizes effected the projected image. At one point, I had a group of kindergarteners inside the “Silver Nitrate Queen’s Amazing Camera Obscura Tent Show”, as it was called. As I was demonstrating how you could achieve a telephoto effect by moving a mat board forward and back, I zoomed in on a seagull on a piling. Suddenly a logging truck rumbled past on 101, seemingly giant and upside-down and all over everyone inside the tent. All the children shreeked and laughed! Later, the bus drivers and some chaperones who had been outside smoking cigarettes and just generally milling around asked, “What was going on in there?”
Memory #3: Judith and I were heading down for a photo session on the beach. She was pregnant with her second child (this was a while ago because that kid is 21 now). I planned to use Pintoids and do some alternative photography. We had chosen a somewhat secluded beach as we weren’t sure about how much flesh would be exposed. Along the path were two women returning to their car. One said, “You just missed the show!” and proceeded to tell us, with disdain, that a couple who had been doing nude shots had just left. I commented, “Oh. Art, huh?” The women were, like, “No! No way! You should’ve seen the gear they were using!” Once we got down to the beach, we remarked on the irony of that statement.
Memory #4: Li Turner ( www.liturner.com ) organized an art exhibit with a Barbie theme. It was held during Bumbershoot at the Seattle Center. Judith Altruda’s ( www.judithaltruda.com ) work was featured and I had a few pieces in the show as well. Judith and I drove up and delivered our art together. We stayed in a bed and breakfast during the time of the exhibit’s reception. I remember we were excited to be able to watch a WWE professional wrestling show together, but the tv was broken at the motel.
Memory #5: Meandering home to the west coast from Boston (in my updated ride, a Honda Element complete with an Ecamper on top), avoiding interstate expressways, a sign out in Nowhereville, Illinois (I made that up) pointed the way to “The Birthplace of Ronald Reagan”. My immediate thought? THAT gift shop’s gonna have jelly beans! So I took the exit for Tampico. As it turns out, Ronald Reagan was born in a small apartment above a small bank in a small town in rural Illinois. Who knew? Actually I think I knew because I’d read Frank McCourt’s DUTCH. (Honestly, I don’t remember anything about the book other than I read it.) My tour partner that day was a Japanese guy who apparently didn’t speak any English. He was very polite as he got hornswaggled into taking a trip down memory lane with Ronnie’s most adoring fan, a docent in her 70s who gushed and gushed as she ushered us through each room. “Oh my gosh! Ronald Reagan might have touched this very table!” The Japanese guy couldn’t understand a word and our gusher took no hints from my prolific use of the hairy eyeball which revealed how I really felt. She was accommodating though and allowed for my long Pintoid exposures. I left with my Jelly Beans, a postcard and some exposed tins.
Memory #6: The RV and Motorhome Hall of Fame in Elkhorn, Indiana. I was most interested in the vintage Airstream exhibit and asked a docent (a very short man in at least his mid 70s) about a sales catalog for a certain Land Yacht model. He began to explain something, then stumbled over his words, then said, “I’m sorry. You’re just so beautiful…” his sentence trailed off. Hit on? At the RV Museum?
Memory #7: I was contacted by a production company that was producing a documentary with the working title, ‘Nazi UFO Conspiracy’, for the Discovery channel. They wanted to use an image I had taken at the International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. When I contacted the museum itself for permission, the director was friendly and willing to work with me, but had been snake bit in the past. An excerpt from the body of his email; ” Being a serious facility we want to make sure that our integrity is maintained. A number of years ago a gentleman or group used the “alien” from the Museum and produced the Alien Autopsy film. This past summer it was revealed by the main person involved that the whole film was a fake.” In the end they allowed me to sell the image to the production company. They very clearly stated we were not to associate the word “autopsy” with the image. The production company & I had different ideas regarding a price. In the end they wrote, “Still, we’re quite keen to have it.” and they offered me an amount that led me to believe my Pintoid was going to be featured in a major way. The night the documentary was scheduled to air, we sat in front of the set, waiting with popcorn breath for my television debut. I was envisioning something along the lines of X Files. The documentary began. We waited through nearly the entire thing – which was a totally lame “documentary”. Lot’s of canned footage of boots stomping down hallways and such. About halfway through, my photo flashed briefly across the screen. We cheered! Then it was gone. More marching boots. Toward the end, there was my photo again – for about ten seconds this time. Then, never again. But they gave me mention in the credits:
Memory #8: I got wind of an Altoids Tin Million Uses contest. The idea was to challenge people to come up with the most innovative way to reuse the ubiquitous tins. I made a little book of Pintoids, shipped it off to the contest’s address, and ended up winning first place. (Some other [lame] entrant won the grand prize by turning a tin into an electronic musical instrument.) I received a cash prize via check from Kraft Foods, Inc, at the time the new owners of the Altoids name. (I was kidding about the grand prize winner being lame. Ha.)
I can’t remember how it all went down but a timeline isn’t necessary.
[box] My original Great Pintoid Adventure intro: “Pintoids are pinhole cameras made from Altoids® containers. A piece of pop culture transformed into something useful. An instrument to view the world with a dry, distorted sense of humor. They tend to create curiously strong images. The Pintoid Project is a continuing journey. This series represents a trip I took with my dog across the northern plains to the north shore of Lake Superior. Imperfections in the negative come from loading film at a campsite each night using a dark bag. Both hands in a dark bag, loading cameras … and it was mosquito season.”[/box]
And now for an absolutely random pile of Pintoid images:
Please don’t save your Altoids tins for me, ok? Even though I have given up the Altoids habit, I have a shit-ton of the empties in storage. Need one? Or fourteen?
Update 4-5-2023: The Pintoids have finally been taken on an international adventure (beyond Canada, which doesn’t really count as international). Here they are, soaking up Paris.
My last night in Paris, I took the steps up to Sacré Coeur Basilica around midnight. It was raining. Raining directly into the pinholes of my Pintoids. I didn’t expect much from them because of it, but I didn’t have anything to lose. I hung around for about an hour, waiting for the long exposures to finish. Just a few funny, mostly drunken, young tourists around that hour.
The Pintoids wide angle-ness turned the basilica into kind of a lump, but I got more than I’d hoped for. I knew I’d get flare in the one, from the street light, etc. Here they are. All three. Anomalies included.