Life through a very small hole

Steven Pippin, Self-Portrait Made Using a House Converted into a Pinhole Camera, 1986

There are quicker and easier ways to take pictures. It’s not as though cameras aren’t readily available in shops. For Steven Pippin though, the process of making a picture usually starts with the process of making a camera. In itself that’s not so unusual. There are probably countless art teachers out there who have encouraged students to make pinhole cameras. Usually such undertakings begin with a box of some sort, often a biscuit tin. But that would be way too easy for Pippin.

Among the many everyday objects Pippin has turned into cameras – bath, train toilet, wardrobe etc – the most ambitious in scale is probably the prefab bungalow in Clerkenwell used to make the picture shown above. As self-portraits go, it’s not the most detailed around but that’s hardly surprising given the eight hour exposure and the fact that it’s in negative (it was made directly onto sheets of photographic paper pinned up inside the building rather than on film, which doesn’t come in bungalow size).

Steven Pippin, Self-Portrait with Photo Booth, 1987

The following year, perhaps recognising the convenience of photo booths as a means to photograph oneself, Pippin tried again. But once again his approach was to make a pinhole camera and stand in the street for a considerable period of time to make the picture (this time presumably on film though as the print is positive).

Pippin has also explored the way photography can help us understand movement, revisiting the work of Eadweard Muybridge. To create his row of cameras, Pippin decided to use the washing machines in a New Jersey laundromat. Pinhole cameras were made and trip wires were attached. Pippin walked both forwards and backwards through the space, both in a suit and trouserless.

Steven Pippin, Laundromat-Locomotion (Walking in Suit), 1997

It apparently took Pippin several years to find a suitable laundromat with an owner who would allow him access (and in fairness, it’s easy to understand why the proprietors of suitable places might refuse on the grounds of the, lets be polite, confusing and unusual nature of the request). One key factor for Pippin, quite apart from the difficulty of getting permission for such an unusual undertaking, was finding a laundromat large enough.

And it needed to be large. To accommodate the horse.

Steven Pippin, Laundromat-Locomotion (Rider & Horse), 1997

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