16 Aug

November 4 – Seeing in black, white, and gray: Inventing the Camera

History Lab takes a look through

The (New and Improved!) Pinhole Camera

Sunday, November 4th, 1PM to 4PM – FREE

If you’re a 21st century person, chances are good that you take pictures (and send them at the touch of a button) all of the time. More than 2 out of 3 American adults own a smartphone, nearly twice as many people as did 5 years ago. Ask yourself how many days it’s been since you last snapped a selfie, took a picture of what you ate for dinner, or took a candid shot of a kid doing something entirely adorable.

You didn’t do any of those things with a device that only functions as a camera. You didn’t have to wait to see what the picture would look like or pay someone to develop it for you. You may have never seen a photometer or a recipe for developer. It all happens inside a device that weighs about one quarter of a pound and responds to your touch. Mysterious, huh?

Here in the lab, we decided that it was time we went back and looked at where photography came from. Photography used to be a physical, chemical process involving some guess-work, some experience, and some (often clunky) specialized equipment. If you haven’t had to take a picture without being able to see the image or assess its quality beforehand, you haven’t taken a photograph like a 19th- or early 20th-century person. This month, we’ll help you recreate this experience–and show you that it’s easier than you think, too!

What is a pinhole camera?

Good quality photographs do not require lenses! (The three photographs above were all taken with pinhole cameras) Any light-tight vessel with a single tiny hole (.015″ – about the thickness of a kitchen trash bag) can capture an image on photographic paper. The hole works like a lens, focusing the light reflected by objects in front of the camera into a clear picture. It takes 2-30 minutes to capture a photograph this way, mostly because so little light can come in through the pinhole.

Will you help me (or my child) build one?

Yes! We supply all of the materials you need and will walk you through the process from assembling your camera through the finished printed image. Don’t have time to build a camera? We’ll have some cameras already assembled and ready to go!

Do I need to stay for the full 3 hours?

This is a drop-in event, but please allow up to 2 hours to complete this project. For those completing the workshop later in the afternoon, finished prints may be available by mail later in the week.

This workshop is open to all ages; children 12 & younger may require the assistance of an older child or adult.

What do I do while I wait?

Heritage games and our museum scavenger hunts make an excellent way to pass the time while your photograph is in the lab. Please note that our museum cafe will be closed this Sunday; bringing a picnic to set up on the grounds is especially welcome.

But is it really free?

Yes! Like all of our Sunday Funday programming, this workshop is free. All you need to bring is your curiosity (and a picnic if you like!) If you want to take your camera home, we ask that you leave us a donation of $10 to help keep the lab inventing new (old) ideas for you to explore.