Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetics and Pinhole Photography

Did you know that the last Sunday in April is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day? I didn't either, too bad, because it would have been fun to participate. Oh well, next year! Over at their website you can learn all about how to make a pinhole camera yourself -- a neat project for kids -- and you can look through a gallery of photographs taken by participants in Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day since 2001. There are even workshops and events being held all around the world. How fascinating! As we all go digital, it is interesting to see how to take photos manually with a camera you've made yourself out of something as ordinary as an oatmeal box. (although you can apparently convert your digital camera into a temporary pinhole one as well!) You can even download templates to make a camera as wacky as this SPAMera, over at Photojojo!

Anyway, all this investigation of pinhole photography made me wonder if there were any Canadian poets writing on photographic themes. I recalled faintly that there might be something about it in Stephanie Bolster's 1998 Governor General's award-winning collection White Stone: the Alice poems. Yes -- and here it is -- this collection is made up of poems about Alice Liddell, and the infamy thrust upon her by Lewis Carroll's attachment to her and her influence on his Alice in Wonderland. It's a wonderful set of poems, do try to find White Stone --reading it all at once is fantastic.

First the flood of chemicals:
guncotton, ether, silver
nitrate. Then forty-five long seconds
of stillness--and she only three
and quick. Did they meet because

of a raising of eyebrows, curiouser
about each other than about anyone
else in the garden? Her sisters
blurred into foliage;
he smelled of medicine. He was

twenty-four, did not choose her
as his favourite until the Adventures
six years later. But something began
that afternoon, marked in his diary
"with a white stone."

Her blue eyes tight buds.
Her mousy thatch straight across
the forehead. Spring everywhere threatening
to open them both: tense in that unfurling
garden, during the long exposure.

After his first meeting with Alice Liddell on 25 April 1856, Charles Dodgson wrote in his diary, "I mark this day with a white stone." The expression originates in Catullus' "Lapide candidiore diem notare," (Poem 68, line 148) which translates as "to mark with an especially white stone the (lucky) day." The English version was quite commonly used in Victorian times.


  1. Thanks for posting about this. I had not heard of this event either, but I've been thinking about pinhole photography A LOT lately. I haven't done this since high school and I've really had a desire to give this a try again. I have bookmarked the website so that I can read more about the technique again later.

  2. Wow! Thank you very much for publishing these useful resources..this is really a great help to many people who want to learn more about photography--like me...I have just started my Galang Lente site. I wish I can do things like this in the near! Right now I am still learning the basics of photography..thanks once stuff..keep it up!

  3. Carl - I'll be watching for some examples of pinhole photos to appear over at your gorgeous site some day! :)

    Galang - nice pics on your site, thanks for sharing


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