As we enter the high season for amateur photography, some shutterbugs may be feeling an urge to get back to the basics - to leave behind digital capture and automatic everything for something just one step above drawing the images yourself. Such is the world of the pinhole camera, and if you'd like an introduction to this most elemental form of photography (along with some tips in being a low-rent James Bond) the Pinhole Spy Camera website is looking for new agents.
Created as a combination of edu-tainment and self-promotion for the design studio Mod7, the Pinhole site puts the (tongue-in-cheek) emphasis on 'spy' in the delivery of its content. Launching into a custom-sized window, the site's Flash presentation seems like a cross between Alias and Get Smart as an animated map 'locates' its agent and displays images of the spy carrying his sub-miniature, easily concealed camera - in an aluminum-sided briefcase which exhibits all the stealth of a 747 in a flock of hummingbirds. After this confidence-building introduction, the visitor is then invited to join the shadow service, and upon accepting the challenge (by clicking on the "Proceed" prompt), is introduced to The Mission.
In this first of four main sections, The Mission takes recruits step-by-step through the construction of their own spy camera, which, when completed, will use commonly available 110 print film. (A downloadable PDF blueprint is provided for guidance, and the only other materials required are cardboard and tape, aluminium foil, and a small picture-hanging screw.) Operational instructions are also provided, and prepare the photographer for the less than tack-sharp nature of the final output with the warning to "expect surveillance quality images, not precise photos."
Having familiarized themselves with the camera's construction, visitors are next taken through the edu-component of the edutainment site with Inside the Camera – which provides a very basic introduction to the science of photography, and compares the Spy Camera with "Civilian Technology." (The latter category making use of such superfluous accessories as meters, lenses and camera bodies.)
Cameras reveals that the 110 film format isn't the only choice available to the pinhole photographer, suggesting such alternatives as an oatmeal tin and the somewhat bulkier option of a wood and bellows (or "View") camera. Finally, the Gallery holds a handful of shots taken with the 110 version of the camera, providing specific examples of those "surveillance quality images."
In keeping with the spy theme, the site broadcasts a continuous stream of radio chatter throughout the visit. This audio atmosphere is played at an unobtrusive volume – but those who take the trouble to listen will catch such espionage-related phrases as "The Maltese Falcon has landed," "Target approaching," and the cryptic but ominous, "I need some gum." Additional backstory can be found by clicking on the "Spy Group" link, which will open the files on a few established pinhole spies.
While not an exceptionally in-depth site, Pinhole Spy Camera does offer an entertaining introduction to the subject for its teen and pre-teen target audience, and does so through an inventive interface. And though the site may be aimed primarily at younger surfers, it could be of use to anyone interested in this low-tech photographic alternative - a group which spans age groups and geographic boundaries.
(Every April aficionados from around the globe take part in the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, while sites like The Pinhole Gallery and Pinhole Visions offer such features as forums and image galleries, as well as lists of exhibitions, contests and even international workshops.)
If you're interested in taking no frills photography to its practical limits, The Pinhole Spy Camera can be found at http://pinholespy.com/.