Hands off

I have become interested in a number of concepts that I am aiming to explore throughout this module. This has in part been inspired by some of the ‘documentary aesthetic’ research that I have been conducting, which had led me to explore the use of black and white film during this module.

Figure 1: Justine Quinell (2010) Solargraph of Clifton in Bristol showing the rise and fall of the sun.

I actually have been using a similar set-up during this lock-down period to expose a series of ‘solargraphs’ around my home using pin-hole cameras made from beer cans (Fig: 2), which then have photographic paper placed inside to expose over a long period of time. This was inspired by artist Justin Quinnell who creates these that have exposure times of 6 months or more (Fig: 1). My idea was to record the period of time inside the home (Fig: 3).

Figure 3: Phil Hill (March – June, 2020) Solargraph of bedroom exposed during lock down.

The image is built up over time so that you can start to see how the light changes and the rise and fall of the sun tracing over the sky, for example. As a way of showing time, these are really interesting. The photo paper cannot be fixed in the usual way or the image would be ruined, so the paper would continue to expose and eventually turn black, which could be used as a metaphor for the present time, or creating a sense that the photograph itself has a life that begins and ends. At the end of its life, only the digital scan would remain. My primary interest is in portrait photographs, however there are links to be made between this process and how Roland Barthes’ discusses the image: “As if the (terrified) photographer must exert himself to the utmost to keep the photograph from becoming death. But I – already an object, I do not struggle” (Barthes & Wells, 2002, p. 23). In the solargraph , it becomes an object the personifies this decay and is unable to be embalmed as Barthes’ states.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Window image shot on 35mm film

For the week 4 ‘Hands off’ task, I decided to create a pinhole camera to shoot film, which is something I had never done before. I modified a new beer can pinhole, which needed to be lined in order to make it usable for film and to reduce reflection inside the can. Working out the exposure time was quite a challenge but an important one as I only had a few strips of film to play with. The idea of separation and abstraction has been a feature of some of the work that I am producing, which included the barrier created by my windows. I have come back to this at the start of this module by re-photographing them onto film (Fig: 5), so decided to see how I could abstract the view using a different method.

The fstop for my pinhole camera is around 250, which creates a much longer exposure time. In low light it would have meant factoring in reciprocity failure. However, during the day if metering f22 at 1/30th second, my pinhole would need to expose for 8 seconds. The resulting images show the view through my windows, something that I had not done with my other window images, yet they are still abstracted because of the time it took to expose leading to some inevitable movement (Fig: 6).

Could I use this in my research project?

I think that the technique used is not something that I would take into my research project but the idea of abstraction, which creates a separation in the image is an interesting concept to take forward. I feel that even if the image is strictly lens based, indexical and also iconic, it can still be abstracted. Abstracted in the sense that all images are untruths, All images are unable to be true representations. This could then be introduced to my research project subtly as even a digital scan of my photographs is an abstraction of the negative, which is an abstraction of the reality it recorded.


Barthes, R. & Wells, L., 2002. The Photography Reader: Extracts from Camera Lucida. 4 ed. London: Routledge.

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