Cougar Mountain (Holga Pinholes)

Old railroad tracks and river at Cougar Mountain

Pinhole photograhy always fascinated me. To strip down all he bells and whistles and simply be left with a container that is otherwise light tight, apart from the light that enters through a hole that was made with a pin, and to be able to make images from such a primitive apparatus, is pretty effing cool. We don’t need lenses to make a photography, we just need patience.

See, because the hole a light must pass through in a pinhole camera is so small, patience is a must when shooting. Exposures in bright light can take 4-7 seconds, low light can take up to 20-60 seconds, ad night photography? Well, that’s whole other ball game. If you are lucky, your pinhole might be comparable to an f-stop of 64 (you can generally achieve this by using a beading needle if you are making your own pinhole camera) and you could use a light meter to get a estimate on your exposure time. Sadly, that’s not often the case and exposure times can be a bit of a guessing game.

Perhaps later we shall discuss the mechanics of making a pinhole camera, but today I simply wanted to share my latest adventure. I finally took the plunge and started shooting color in my Holga pinhole. Don’t ask me why I’ve only been shooting black and white film all these years, I really have no answer… but when the first really nice day of late spring hit the Pacific northwest, my wife and I went out to Cougar Mountain to hike the old railroad, which has long since fallen back into natures clutches, and is barely discernible. We hiked for 3 hours, and went less than a mile. That’s patience.

Waterfall at Cougar Mountain. The orange is from the iron in the area left over from the railroad work.

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Treasure Trove

When I left for Virginia 6 years ago, I left about 6 boxes in my mother’s garage. Now, after spending so many weeks going through my grandmother’s belongings, I am starting to go through my storage boxes; sorting and purging. Here’s some of the recent items I have found:

Kodak Brownie Holiday. This was my mother's camera, and since I just found a few rolls of 127 film, I've loaded it up and am ready to shoot!

My very first SLR, which I got when I was 14.

My first fully manual SLR. I got when i was 17. I also found my telephoto lens that goes with it.

Polaroid Super Shooter Plus. Unfortunately, it no longer works, but that's ok, as I plan to hack it and make it into a Holga back

Film to go with my "holgaroid" once it's done. No idea if it will work, but we shall see...

Many rolls of colour, B&W and slide film.

I also found an old Polaroid Joycam (which I promptly disposed of), and a ton of slides and pictures from 2000-2003. Fun stuff. But mostly, I’m excited to hack the Polaroid, see what comes out of the Kodak brownie, and use up some film. It’s supposed to be a gorgeous day in the Pacific Northwest today (It’s foggy now, but hopefully that fog will burn off), and I’m looking forward to a little hike at Cougar Mountain, and you know I’ll be taking a few cameras and some film with me.

The Year I Discovered the Holga

Self Portrait

2000 was the year I graduated from high school. It was also the year I packed my bags and left my small island home in the Pacific Northwest, waved good-bye to the Space Needle and moved across the USA to Savannah, Georgia to go to art school. It was here I was introduced to my very first Holga camera, back before they were sold at Urban Outfitters, were produced in bright colours, or had rotating colour flashes. Heck, in 2000, you could barely just find a Holga with a built-in flash. And they only had one shutter setting, so if one wanted to set their camera to “bulb“, one would have to break the thing, at which point there was no way to set it back to an automatic fast shutter speed. I fell in love instantly, and have since procured a collection of Holgas, including pin-holes, Holgawoods, and a 35mm BC. But the original Holga S holds a very special place in my heart. The sort focus procured by the cheap plastic lens, the process of throwing away the lens cap and the film masks the second the camera is pulled out of the box in hopes of catching a soft vignette on the final images, covering the insides of the camera with electrical tape to help block out light, and folding up small pieces of cardboard and shoving them between the edge of the spool of film and the camera case to hold the film tight are all just part of the process that make the Holga so rudimentary and magical.

A trust develops between the one that holds the camera and the equipment. When the fancy settings and expensive equipment and complete sense of control fly out the window, all we are left with is ourselves, our eyes and ideas. And we have to trust in chance, roll the dice, and see what comes out when film is developed. Sometimes the results are complete shit. Sometimes an award winner pops up. But it’s always worth the chance.

One of the first excursions the Holga and I had was with a group of friends and a box of costume clothes at Fort Pulaski, near Tybee Island. The air soaked us with it’s humidity, and the heat oppressed us, but we spent hours running around the fortress and the surrounding hills. At one point, I laid down in the grass, looked up at the sky, and decided I needed to burn the image onto film. With the help of a friend, I set up and took the shot. Later, in the darkroom, when I developed my film and set about printing the photo, I knew I would be shooting with Holgas for years to come. The self-portrait was not only my first best Holga picture, but twelve years later, it remains one of my favorite photographs I have ever shot.