Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera

March 25, 2011

We had never heard a wireless before

This exhibition launches on Thursday April 8th at Draíocht, Blanchardstown.

My residency with Draíocht required me to work with a youth group in Dublin 15, so I thought it fitting and appropriate to work with an intergenerational group instead, given that my other project is looking at the invisibility of older people. Along with contributing towards an exhibition, it was hoped that the group would also function on some social level, which I believe it did.

On the first day of November last, fourteen strangers from various backgrounds and age profiles assembled in the Draíocht foyer. Some had prior experience with photography, some only an interest, while others came equipped with a mild curiosity. Five months later, the group lost only two people. We met every Tuesday morning in Draíocht and got to grips with both the technical and creative aspects of photography.

The technical aspects involved understanding the basic principles of how images form, regardless of the size or cost of the camera. The creative lay in the process of looking and discussing other photographers work, on brainstorming the theme of the project and in teamwork concerning every aspect of this show. Most signifantly, each participant made their own pinhole camera from a matchbox and other household items, along with printing their final image in the darkroom.

The theme of the exhibition was decided around Christmas, which was based around the individual’s first memory. Each participant, ranging in ages from 14 to 82 would reconstruct their first memory from a concise verbal description, and photograph that construction with their pinhole camera. Each matchbox was individually cut by each participant, thus each image has a unique frame surrounding it.

What’s that sound Jack?

Black pudding tastes nice

Black cloths were strewn over all the pictures and mirrors

I had never broken anything before

It was my 4th birthday

My mother in the wings

I want to steal her bottle of milk

That was the first time I tasted wine

My dad left his drill lying on the floor

I don't know why I was in a hospital

A pile of fresh clay smelled damp

The very nature of pinhole images with their fuzzy out of focus aesthetic, matched the concept in its entirety. Are our own memories our own? Did they even happen, or did they form in our consciousness from a story or photo? Our first memory is also a fuzzy, personal and delicate thing. Something that is generally not aired to the public, yet always are fascinating to hear about. The first permanent photograph in our young minds, fixed forever. In the memories that were reconstructed for this exhibition, it seems that the earliest memory seems something that is brushed with fear, panic, excitement or just extreme curiosity.

The approach used on this project stripped photography back to its very bare essentials – a black light-tight box and a tiny aperture. As the water eventually washes away the chemicals used to process the film, it’s difficult not to experience a sense of amazement that such a thing could produce images. Digital cameras have largely removed the method of investigation from taking photographs. A photograph instantly viewed on the back of a camera is immediately judged as being acceptable or not. Where it fails, a new one is taken and repeated until the photograph is satisfactory. Pinhole photography puts the thinking caps back on. There is one chance with a roll of film. It works or it doesn’t. Somewhere therein lies the magic.

Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera opens on Thursday April 8th at Draíocht and runs until May 28th 2011


One Response to “Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera”

  1. Aideen Barry Says:

    Garvan, those images are truly beautiful. They have a wonderful dream like quality to them. I feel they are like a series of mind scapes, like to tapped into the very first moment of memory itself. I cant wait to see them in the flesh.

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