Pin-hole and Panorama

William Mokrynski

Will Mokrynski with the assistance of Susanne Jones, gave a power-point talk on modern day pin-hole and panoramic photography in this increasingly digital era. Like many photographers, Will uses the silver processes including infra-red in his cameras and turns to digital tools to work on the scanned negatives and to print his finished works.

 Will is interested in using photography to reveal new views of the world. His modern pin-hole cameras and panoramic camera are equipped with colour, black & white or infra-red film to capture his vision. Will noted that a lack of means to frame, combined with the soft image and great depth of field of the pin-hole camera, demands more creative intervention by the photographer. One of the pin-hole cameras has its lens parallel to the film vs. perpendicular making each image strange and wavy. His cameras allow him to record images not seen with the naked eye. Using the capability of recording double exposures in camera (lost in the digital era), he can create images he calls "memory fragments" -- like the fleeting images remembered from a visit to the CNE. 

 After discussing his artistic philosophy, Will introduced us to the panoramic camera and its history. These cameras can record a full circle view of the horizon with its undulating curves not visible to the eye. The angle covered can by more or less than full circle, can be horizontal or vertical, and in all cases the photographer must pre-visualize the scene. 

The concept of panoramic images actually predate photography. The term was first coined by Irish painter Robert Barker in 1787. People paid admission to view Barker's oversize images of England and Scotland. Careful scrutiny of the paintings shows that Barker was able to capture the exact look of a panoramic photograph in paint - distortions included. 

Barker licensed his technique to others including Pierre Prevost who popularized it in Europe. In 1822 Prevost's assistant Louis Daguerre, took the panoramic concept a step further with the use of light, sound and transparent panels to create dioramas. It was his interest in capturing scenes for these shows that brought Daguerre to the research that culminated in his famous 1839 photographic process. 

Another famous historical figure in photography also experimented with panoramic images. Fox Talbot made his panoramic prints in the 1840s by taking a series of images while rotating his camera between shots. He printed the  individual negatives and glued the prints together to make the panoramic. 

Patents for panoramic cameras began to appear in the 1840s and by the 1900s a variety of these cameras were available. Three distinct approaches were used. Popular even today, a long narrow segment can be cropped and printed from a wide angle image. Many cameras had a lens mounted on a vertical axis. A narrow slot swept across the negative material to paint the image as the lens moved in a short arc. The third approach was to rotate the entire camera to pass the recording slit across the film, progressing from one side to the other. The best known instrument using this technique was the Cirkut camera, which has left a legacy of school, military and other institutional scenes behind. In covering the history of the panoramic cameras, Will noted the Cycloramic version patented by J R Connon of Elora, Ontario. Connon and his camera were the subject of an article by Ev Roseborough in issue 21-3 of Photographic Canadiana.   

Will uses a modern version of a Cirkut style camera, one that uses a flywheel instead of a gear mechanism. It can record a smooth sweep of the scene up to 360 degrees and more. The camera is pushed to start it rotating on the tripod. Once the rotation slows to a couple of revolutions per minute, the shutter is opened to start recording the scene and then closed after the desired degree of rotation. A thin film works best in this type of camera since any hesitation while the shutter is open results in a light band. 

Will noted that the pin-hole camera was not the original camera (early camera obscuras  sometimes used a pin-hole instead of the meniscus lens which gave a sharper, brighter image). In photography, the pin-hole camera became popular when the 19th century pictorialism movement was in vogue. The first pin-hole photograph to win recognition (The Onion Field by Davidson) was challenged by users of traditional cameras. The pin-hole cameras faded away in the 20th century in the face of realism and the pursuit of sharp images. 

After his presentation, Will let us take a closer look at his cameras and mounted prints, most which were created on his Epson 2200 printer. He brought two pin-hole style cameras and a panoramic model with him. 

The first camera is a Zero 2000 from Zero Image. It is a beautiful looking traditional pin-hole camera carefully constructed from teak wood. The camera has a manual shutter with a cable release, an exposure calculator dial, and a means to advance the film to allow multiple shots. Zero Image cameras are available in various models accommodating different film sizes. 

The strangest of the three, is the Omniscope from Abelson Scope Works. Shaped like two soup cans squashed together, this black metal gizmo with no obvious lens must be set carefully on a stabilizing pad or tripod. The photographer opens the shutter and steps quickly back out of the range of the lens and waits patiently for the long exposure to complete. The sinister look of the camera tied with the photographer's hasty retreat prompted Will to paste labels on the instrument to assure bystanders it is a camera, and not a bomb. The Omniscope takes advantage of the great depth of focus inherent with a pin-hole lens, to record images with the lens positioned parallel to the film plane rather than perpendicular. 

The sole panoramic camera Will demonstrated is the Lookaround. This camera uses a clever fly-wheel mechanism to record panoramic scenes using a rotating camera but skipping the usual expensive gearing. The camera can be equipped with a number of traditional 35mm camera lenses of short focal length. The resulting images are sharper that the pin-hole images. 

Follow the links provided above to visit Will's web site as well as those of the various camera makers to learn more about this blend of old and new photographic techniques. Articles on pin-hole photography and the work of William Mokrynski also appeared in the Spring 2002 and Spring 2005 editions of PhotoEd magazine.

William Mokrynski by Robert Lansdale
Wm Mokrynski
Will's Visions
Talbot's Tree - pin-hole IR
Walking on Water - pin-hole IR
Egyptian Ruins - panorama
On the Midway - panorama
Parisienne Rain - pin-hole
Fragments in Time Streetscape - overlapping exposures panorama
Fragments in Time Midway - overlapping exposures panorama
Church Interior - Omniscope
The Onion Field by George Davidson - 1889 pin-hole
The Onion Field 1889
George Davidson
Will's Cameras
Zero 2000 camera - back view
Zero 2000 camera - front view
The Omniscope Camera
Lookaround Camera - open
Lookaround Camera - back
Susanne Jones with the prints
After the presentation
Susanne Jones with the print portfolio Mounted panorama print Talking with Will Mokrynski (dark shirt, centre) Taking a close look at the Lookaround camera Will sits for a digital likeness by Robert Lansdale

The illustrations under "Will's Visions" in the right sidebar were captured from the screen with a Sony F828 during Will's presentation. The images were subsequently cleaned up in Photoshop CS2. Contents and images are ©2005 William Mokrynski and may not be used without his permission. All other images are ©2005 PHSC and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Click on any small image to see it larger in a separate window.

Bob Carter

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