Tag Archives: book review

Spring Wrap-up

After taking a months long hiatus, ƒ/D was roaring back this Spring with fresh pinhole imagery and artists. Here’s a quick recap of what we published:

Bronze Statue - Shikiko Endo - thumbInspiration posts – every week we seek to bring some fresh inspiration to help you see the world in a pinholy way. View all of them here.



Untitled, ©Jean-Christophe Denis

JC Denis’ Studies in Motion went in depth in how to look leverage pinhole with motion.



Martin Martinsson brought us into his Movements collection and showed his fantastic eye for space.Coloured Underpass - ©Martin Martinsson



Test-of-Time-11-thumbIn her Test of Time series, Corine Hörmann showed us how to take the long exposure to the extreme end, and the wonderful world we find there.



letting go of the cameraWe learned from Brooks Jensen‘s book: Letting Go of the Camera, and how to see more freely.



sd_pinhole_still_from_a_dream - thumbSteven Dempsey took us to a cinematic place in pinhole and showed us how to create tension in the imagery of transition.



The Southern Customs - thumb - Olle PursiainenFinally, Olle Pursiainen brought us to his native Finland and inspired us with his images of the rural landscape near his home.



We hope that you’ve enjoyed all of these wonderful works this Spring as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing them to you! And we look forward to bringing you much more in the months to come!

Book Review: Letting Go of the Camera

“Letting Go of the Camera” is the second Brooks Jensen book that I’ve read. Like the other book, Creative Life in Photography, this is a collection of essays and ruminations. But this time he’s turned his attention more towards the meta of creativity in photography.

He’s touching on a lot of concepts in creativity and photography that, honestly, are what led to my taking up pinhole in the first place. It’s been nearly a decade since I built my first pinhole camera (outside of a photo class) and fell in love with the process. Pinhole for me was a response to the rising trend in DSLR shooting and perfection. At the time, there was so much volume in my shooting. I was filling memory disks like mad. But there was rarely time that I was taking to see. Like a junky, I was voraciously consuming, and the DSLR gave me a fix.

So it is in that spirit that pinhole provided a very needed detox from this habit. Suddenly I wasn’t shooting bursts of photos but rather waiting seconds or minutes for a single exposure. I wasn’t obsessively composing but rather guesstimating based on angles. And I wasn’t filling memory cards but rather mindfully choosing compositions to use precious film on.

The result, for me at least, is that pinhole photography is a much more meditative process than any other form of photography. Several days ago I was at the West Side Market in Cleveland making an indoor exposure that, once corrected for reciprocity, took 18 minutes. That was 18 minutes of observance that I could do. Looking at what to shoot next. Watching the crowds. Observing how people shopped. Seeing. It was 18 minutes of the compassionate observance that David Foster Wallace described in “This is Water”. If I had shot that with a DSLR, I would have cranked up the ISO and opened the aperture enough to get me 1/60th exposure and just moved on.

So what the hell does watching people for 18 minutes have to do with “Letting Go”? Brooks Jensen is asking us to take this time, so that we may be better photographers. He’s not only a photographer, he’s also the publisher of Lens Work magazine, and the host of a number of workshops. In these workshops he’s seen tons of work, but “rarely see photographs that relate to [photographers’] lives, thoughts, feelings, or experiences.” Throughout the book, he’s practically begging us to take a little extra time and look at things differently.

Brooks argues for mastering the craft of photography so that we can let go as, “the true master is one who, indeed, has total control and then lets go and allows an accident to happen.” That’s practically a mantra for excellent pinhole photography. He challenges photographers to photograph what you feel, so that you “let go of yourself and let your subject speak directly to your audience.”

We all know that travel to an unfamiliar place can help spur the creative spirit, but Brooks challenges us to be better in this regard as well, noting that:

It seems that photography presents us with a choice unique in the field of art. We can work to find something new that has never been photographed before and claim it as our unique photographic turf or we can accept the challenge to use our tools as merely tools and realize that the real task of being a photographer is to develop ourselves as conduits for the inspiration that creates artwork. One path leads to tomorrow’s clichés. The other path leads to artwork that seems to endure. One eventually is easy; one is profound.

Brooks absolutely pulls no punches in this regard, also noting that “a great deal of what passes for fine art photography today is not based on vision, talent, or craft; it is based simply on access.” This is a notion that I identify with strongly, and am also toiled by. In our daily lives, hustling about with work and family duties, it can be extremely hard to develop a vision in the seemingly mundane.

However Brooks too understands this struggle, and provides guidance there. Noting examples such as Sudek and Wynn Bullock as great examples of photographers that have realized that “the key is to integrate our art into our life, not the other way around.” Even so, shooting over and over the same areas of our lives can be drivel, right? But no, says Brooks, noting that “Weston took 29 photos of peppers before he finally took his famous Pepper No. 30, and he may have taken many more afterwards.” Brooks expands to note that:

The paradox is simply this: repetition of what has already been done is a useful technical exercise but rarely produces artwork of merit. Repetition of your own creative vision however, leads to refinement, increased depth and sensitivity, and generally does produce better artwork.

It’s that refinement of craft that he’s really driving at. It’s this level of dedication to a topic, and staying to what you know, that is so readily apparent in the wonderful collection that Andy Adams curated in “Looking at the Land”.

There’s so much more to this book then I could possibly cover here. Brooks has been through the ups and downs of a photographic career that has spanned just about every perspective in photography, and has done an excellent job of compiling the many perspectives that come with that career. This is a great read for any photographer – pinholer or not. I encourage you to give it a read – it’s an easy and accessible one – and pursue your photography with increased passion and mindfulness.

“Letting Go of the Camera” is available at Amazon ($5.95 Kindle edition/other formats available)


Book Review: The Creative Life in Photography

In photography, perhaps more than other visual arts, it can be very easy to slip away from what makes it an art. We spend so much time analyzing films, chemistry, physics, and gear (all the glorious gear!) that sometimes we don’t leave any time to think about why we may have gotten into this mess in the first place.

So today I wanted to take a moment to discuss a photography book that left all of that behind. Not only is there not a single paragraph detailing technology in Brooks Jensen’s The Creative Life in Photography, there’s not even a single photograph! In many ways, this is exactly the photography book that many of us need.

If you’re not familiar with Brooks, he’s the founder and editor of Lenswork magazine, a publication I’ve respected greatly over the years. He’s also a very accomplished photographer in his own right. Although he’s not a pinhole photographer (nobody’s perfect), his years as a professional photographer and curator of photography have given him some very valuable insights into how to be a better photographer and how to be a successful photographer (whatever that means for you).

In Creative Life in Photography, he’s collected for the reader a number of his editorial essays from Lenswork over the years. This makes the book exceptionally easy to read – 15 minutes gets you through an editorial to think about for a day or two before you return for the next one. What follows are some of my favorite excerpts from the book. Not to worry – I left plenty out for you to discover and explore yourself.

On making great artistic accomplishments:

Great art always works on multiple levels. It appeals to the sophisticated aficionado, the superbly trained and appreciative peer, and at the same time to the masses who have less appreciation of the intricacies, but nonetheless respond at a level appropriate to their training. I am reminded of the portrayal of Mozart in the fictionalized movie Amadeus. His work was appreciated (well, actually despised ) for its fine subtleties of genius by his peer Salieri, and at the same time enjoyed by the masses for its sheer enjoyability and accessibility.

On the importance of art teaching us to see that which we overlooked before:

Landscapes were just background until artists taught us to see them. Those monks who crossed the Alps in medieval times didn’t look to the hills as beautiful examples of nature. They thought those mountains were a burden and would have liked to flatten them out into nice rolling plains that would be easier to traverse. Now we look at the Alps and say they are beautiful precisely because the artists have taught us to see them as beautiful.

On discovery and seeing:

One of my favorite quotes is from Nobel Prize winner Albert SzentGyorgyi: “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

On finding great photographs within your own surroundings, and resisting the temptation to find greatness in unfamiliar lands:

Could it be that the great photographers make their great images because they spring from their life, whereas the majority of “amateurs” fail to make great photographs because they are too busy trying to photograph someone else’s life, someone else’s landscape, someone else’s experience? Perhaps instead of going out looking for subject matter, we should simply try to clearly see our life as it is and find the images of significance that surround us.

One passage I found particularly interesting was about his process when he does go to a new place. He found that, like myself and I’m sure many others, he would have a hard time seeing beyond the straightforward and obvious. For a time, this frustrated him. Eventually though he learned to cope with this tendency – he now sets about getting the obvious shots out of his system. He indulges the urge to get the first 10 or 20 obvious shots out of the way. This accomplishes two things.

First, it allows him to move past the obvious, rather than spend the mental energy to fight the urge. Second, he uses these shots to get more familiar with the place, so that by the time he’s done with these shots, he’s got a better understanding of what he’s seeing. Pinhole takes some time to do these photos, especially if you know you’re going to not like them later. So I adapted his process – I shoot these photos with my phone. This way I get to see the obvious, explore for the less than obvious, and get a quick check on my exposure settings.

Over the years, I’ve learned that such obvious compositions are an important part of the “loosening up” phase of my process, like limbering stiff joints after a long drive. I photograph with self- indulgent patience, but universally find these images of little use. They are too predictable.

The final piece of his book that really got me was his discussion of artist statements. He’s read a lot of artist statements in his day, and in a nutshell, detests most of them. If you’re a serious artist, his discussion on artist statements alone is worth the few bucks for the book.