Message from the curators

In 2005, we were invited to Krakow, Poland to exhibit our own pinhole images at the Museum of the History of Photography and Gallery ZPAF. We spent two weeks  attending exhibitions of our work, giving artist talks, and meeting photographers, curators, and critics who are deeply involved in pinhole photography.  Our experiences in Krakow and Warsaw, and especially our exposure to the extraordinary Polish photographic sensibility, inspired us to bring pinhole images and the artists who made them to Boston for cultural and artistic exchange.

Made in Poland  introduces the work of seven imaginative Polish artists who are updating the ancient pinhole phenomenon for their own purposes, using the simplest of means to create images that are complex, evocative, and elegant. Their work ranges in mood from poetic and mysterious to witty and subversive, and often includes narrative or performative aspects reminiscent of the work of contemporary Polish writers, theatre artists, and thinkers. The very simplicity of their means seems to engender an alchemy of ideas.

Like the Polish grandfather described in Pawel Huelle's novel Mercedes-Benz, Andrzej Bogacz uses his photographs to remember.  His images revisit a now absent grandmother, her presence evoked in his pinhole portraits of the everyday objects she once used: a telephone, a cane, a stool.  Tomasz Dobiszewsk 's multi-pinholed cameras photograph nude figures in repetitive sequence, like stills from a Muybridge series examining human motion.  His upside-down interiors echo the odd spaces described in the feverish novellas of Bruno Schulz.  Danuta Gibka's pinhole camera is a dream machine for her self-portraits, alone or with her intimate companion – an Adam and Eve for the twenty-first century.  With a pinhole camera hovering in front of his face (staring back at him like bizarrely extended eye-glasses), Jarosław Klupś, photographs himself close-up as he goes about his day.  His pinhole photographs record time and motion, functioning like two-dimensional movies. Transforming vintage flashlights into pinhole cameras, Georgia Krawiec  has made a series of night-time pinhole photographs of Warsaw's Palace of Culture, detested symbol of Soviet occupation.  Her toned portraits of "her palace" are witty and disarmingly delicate yet subtly subversive. Working sixty years after Germany's harshly punitive bombing of her home city of Warsaw, she has made a series of portraits of Germans who now live in PolandMarek Noniewicz has photographed himself with a lens camera, while huddling inside a large camera obscura, his nude body splashed over with the reversed and inverted projections from the world outside.  Edyta Wypierowska fabricates still life arrangements with mysterious objects that could well have been purchased in the dusty antique shops imagined by Bruno Schulz in The Street of Crocodiles (published in 1934 as Sklepy cynamonowe.)

The mysterious pinhole phenomenon - the inverted (and reversed, side-to-side) image that results when light passes through a small aperture and projects onto the opposite wall of a darkened room (camera obscura) - has been known for many centuries.  Pinhole images were observed and written about by Mo Ti, the fifth century BC Chinese writer and philosopher, as well as by Aristotle, in fourth century BC Greece.  In the tenth century AD, Yu Chao-Lung used model pagodas to project pinhole images onto a screen, and Arabian physicist and mathematician Alhazen viewed a solar eclipse using pinholes.  In Renaissance Europe, architect Fillippo Brunelleschi explored one-point perspective and vanishing points using pinhole devices.  As quoted in Maurice Pirenne's  Optics, Painting and  Photography ,  Leonardo da Vinci described the pinhole phenomenon in his late fifteenth century notebook (Codex Atlanticus), in this way:
"I say that if the front of a building, or any open piazza or field, which is illuminated by the sun has a dwelling opposite to it, and if, in the front (of the dwelling) which does not face the sun, you make a small round hole, all the illuminated objects will project their images through that hole, and be visible inside the dwelling on the opposite wall which should be made white; and there, in fact, they will be upside down, and if you make similar openings in several places in the same wall you will have the same results from each."

Long-time practicing pinhole photographers ourselves, we view these Polish artists in the larger context of pinhole photography, both as an historical and a contemporary phenomenon.  As mainstream photography becomes ever more high tech and digital, many photographers worldwide are turning to the lensless pinhole camera as an alternative. Contemporary photographers are especially drawn to, and capitalize upon, two key aspects of pinhole cameras: extremely long exposure times and the limitless potential for self-expression in the hand-made camera.  Because a pinhole is such a tiny aperture, exposures can take minutes, hours or even entire days (as with the experimental mail-art pinhole camera/packages used by Marek Noniewicz to record their own journeys).  Pinhole cameras can readily incorporate time and motion into their lengthy exposures; the resulting images often provoke associations with memory, duration, or recollected dreams.  Yet pinhole photography is more than simply a hand-made reaction to mainstream photographic technology.  The pinhole camera itself is highly democratic – even economically subversive! Anyone can make a pinhole camera from scratch, and can design and decorate it in uniquely personal ways, and the process can be very empowering.  Deceptively simple, a pinhole camera can be made from virtually any light-tight object, and can be as large as a room (see the camera obscura self-portraits of Marek Noniewicz) or as small as a blister-pack for pills ( see the "re-medium" series of images by Tomasz Dobiszewski).  The artist-made pinhole camera can be an integral part of the artist's statement or intention, as with Georgia Krawiec's conversion of Soviet-era flashlights into pinhole cameras used to make nocturnal portraits of Warsaw " Palace of Culture", a "gift" to the Poles from their Russian occupiers.  The beauty of these fairy tale images belies the irony of her intent.  Perhaps the ultimate example of the personalized pinhole camera is one designed by Jarosław Klupś to be worn in front of his face, a pinhole camera-as-mirror that silently records his changing facial expressions over time.

In our role as curators, we sought to answer the question: "Is there a distinctly Polish sensibility in pinhole photography today?"  We invite the viewer to approach this exhibition with this question in mind.  We believe there is something in the sheer inventiveness and imagination that unites the work of the seven artists shown here.  While looking at pinhole photographs in Poland, and while reviewing work submitted for this show, we were struck by the remarkable sensitivity and range of feelings in the images we saw.  We found highly imaginative work which combined the playfulness of the absurd with a dreamy poetic quality and are privileged to have been able to explore it in this exhibition.

This illustrated bi-lingual catalogue commemorates Made in Poland: Contemporary Pinhole Photography, and we hope to keep the show, the work, and the cultural exchange  traveling - to libraries, art schools, and pinhole photography devotees in the US and in Poland.

Walter Crump and Jesseca Ferguson