When I scanned my first long exposure of photographic paper using a beer can pinhole camera I was thrilled by the result (see post: „Looooong time exposure“). I had also sent a few of those cameras to family all across Germany as a Christmas present. The idea behind it was that they should record the same 6 months as my cameras and once scanned my family members would receive a framed print of their half year local recording of the sun’s movement. Admittedly, a somewhat egoistic present, since I was probably even more excited to see what their pinhole cans would record over the same period of time. Would there be differences in the suntrails? At least the weather should have some impact, but I expected rather subtle deviations from an overall comparable result. But not quite so!
The pinholes were closed and all cans were collected at summer solstice. They were sent to me for scanning, but they had to wait until last night before I found the time to open them and reveal their secrets. And I was stunned how different the results were. The first can I opened in May was mounted to a dead tree in the field and recorded half a year of a Brandenburg open landscape. It showed the full amplitude of the sun’s ecliptic changes between winter and summer. The second pinholed beer can was mounted to our house in Berlin, and two more had been fixed to a roof near Göttingen and to a rain pipe near Celle, both in Lower Saxony. Finally, a last one was set up on a windowsill near Heidelberg from where it vanished at some point and unfortunately delivered nothing.
While the can mounted to our house basically produced the same image as the one from the field (apart from the background being houses in one and farmland in the other), the other two images had some strange peculiarities. The one from the roof obviously had an obstacle to the left as there is only the last third (early afternoon to evening) of the suntrails to be seen in the image. The left side of the photograph shows a curved black area with no exposure whatsoever. I remember now that the can was mounted to a wooden beam and this must have blocked the view to the East. However, the camera recording from the rain pipe gave another totally different impression. Although it had a clear view from East to West with only a few pine trees interfering, the suntrails showed only about a two month‘s time frame. It must have stopped recording around late February to early March. The only explanation for this is that just before spring something must have clotted or covered the pinhole. I think despite the missing white curves higher up in the sky this last image is still the most beautiful of all the solargraphies due to the clear and calm foreground.
183 days looking south (Berlin)
183 days looking south (Göttingen)
Not quite 183 days looking south (Celle)
Overall this was a fantastic experiment with a really stunning result. I love these images. They are very raw and blurry due to the optical properties of the coarse pinhole I pricked into the cans with a sewing needle. By the way, it’s not a focus problem, since in pinhole cameras everything is in focus as long as the size of the pinhole is in proper relation to the distance between the hole and the film (or in this case the photographic paper). The panoramic effect due to the cylindric form of the beer can and the beautiful color shadings when the scans were inverted into positives add another dimension to the images. I will certainly repeat this experiment at different locations and I can only recommend to try it yourself – it’s dead easy to prepare these cameras and the results are always rewarding.