Pinhole Photographer Takes Photography Down To Basics

By Erika Janik | August 24, 2015


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Cameron Gillie worked as a photojournalist for many years before he decided to take photography down to its simplest form – a pinhole camera. The simplicity of the camera has changed the way he sees and what it means for him to make a photo.

“Pinhole cameras have never been popular or common,” says Gillie. “It’s always been more of a novelty item.”

Gillie made his first camera out of a cigar box he found in the closet. 

“Pinhole cameras are nothing more than a box with a tiny hole that projects an image onto film,” explains Gillie.

One of his cameras uses tape for a shutter. There is no lens or viewfinder. Gillie works through trial and error to find the exposure time.

“This is photography at its most simple,” says Gillie. “The image exists in my head before I make the photo.”

That simplicity is what drew Gillie to the form, and what keeps him experimenting with the possibilities of the pinhole camera. It’s forced him to slow down. Where once he might have taken thousands of photos in a day, Gillie might take three photos on a good day now. 

The resulting images have a dreamy quality. Nothing is sharp, and the edges often blur. 

Gillie says that people often don’t believe him when he says he took a photo with an oatmeal box. 

“We’ve lost tough with what photography really is,” says Gillie. “Technology doesn’t make us good photographers. It’s just a tool. The pinhole camera gets me back to the basics. Photography is light and composition.”



Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2018-01-19T17:52:35-06:00Tags: , , , |

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