Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák
Works Concerning Images of Light

Pinhole Image, 1991

I applied photographic methods in almost every early works of mine, yet none of my visual artworks, whether they involve analogue or digital imaging, contain photography in a traditional sense. I use the above definition, Images of Light, which sounds both bombastic and somewhat kitsch, merely because I have failed to find a better description for my real intent. I have never been interested in recording a scene or an object; my real concern has always been the experimentation with optical imaging, or with light as a phenomenon of nature.

PHOTOGRAM, object, 1991

My first publicly shown work related to photographic imaging was the Photogram object from 1991, a work with ten identical bottles of mineral water lying on their photograms. The cylinders filled with water function, on the one hand, as lenses rendering the photogram’s details visible; on the other hand, they show a “moving image” that changes as the observer moves, the effect based on lenticular lenses known from the old “winking photos”. As the bottles lie in the same place as they did at the moment of exposure, the observer may take the position of the light source generating the image, from where a more or less even, dark grey surface appears behind the bottles.

In 1990 I took my first pinhole camera photographs. It remained a major concern for my work during the first half of the 1990s, so that besides a number of sequences, I also used pinhole camera photographs in installations, and even in interactive works.

Between 1990 and 1993 I made several moving images where I exposed each frame in my pinhole cameras for an unusually long period of time, sometimes for several hours, or even days. When these frames are projected in quick sequences, one may experience a perfect illusion of moving images, but the long exposure of the individual frames generates an unusual effect: the created sight is quite similar in character to pixilation, despite the fact that in this case the film sequence is the result of a reversed process. (Whereas in the case of pixilation, the time between the moments of taking the individual frames are longer than usual, here the exposure time of the frames is several hundred or thousand times longer than the time between their expositions.) I used the absurd relations between the times of creating, perceiving, and viewing the image as the main motif not only in video animations, but also in my installation entitled Real Time. In these works, I employed interactive ways of viewing pinhole camera animations, and I also rendered visible a few computers’ algorithmic attempts to define images. Thus, I showed how intelligent apparatuses struggled with interpreting data flows comprised of moving image sequences.

REALTIME, animation using pinhole photographs (detail), fifteen frames from one of the animated sequences, 1991–94

As opposed to cameras equipped with light-concentrating optical lenses, a characteristic feature of pinhole camera photography is that it requires a longer exposure time. This longer time, however, does not necessarily mean more than a few seconds or minutes. With my shots, however, I tried to spend an extremely long time taking the photo, since I was interested in the very effect it has resulted. In my pictures, made during the early 1990s, as well as in those from 2007, I usually employed natural light and low-speed film material, or the least aperture possible to extend the time of exposure. In addition to the variations in the angle of light, this process involved the changes in the intensity of light in the wake of the sun’s movement: it was the strongest at midday and the weakest at dawn/twilight, but the changes of the weather, with the passing of clouds, also had their incalculable impact on the process of image making.

Even for my pinhole photographs way back in 1990, I made use of two other major characteristics of the medium, owing to the fact that in lack of a lens, no optical distortion occurs in the image (i.e., straight lines remain straight, and the geometry of imaging can be clearly constructed). It does not only imply that every detail of the world in front of the camera will be focused, but that you are free to place the light-sensitive material anywhere within the box itself; you will get focused imaging at every single point. In 1991, after experimenting with tilted image planes of various angles, I started to work with films folded (and sometimes randomly squeezed) into the pinhole camera. Here, in addition to imaging the world, the photographic raw material, with its shadow cast on itself, became a factor in the image constructing process.

double pinhole image on folded negative,
c-print, 70x50cm, 1992
quad pinhole image on folded negative,
c-print, 70x50cm, 1992

From 1992, I started to photograph on films folded into various geometric forms, applying several objectives (holes) simultaneously. Since I simply cut and folded orthochromatic celluloid sheet films into pinhole cameras that I had fabricated from tea cans, my clumsy acts brought about several mechanical damages, traces of pasting, and film tearing, but I also regarded these as image generating constituents, thus I did not try to disguise the “tricks of the trade” with technical perfectionism.

It was in 1994 that I first exhibited a triptych that depicted the full 360-degree surrounding of the camera on films folded into conical forms or into two adjoining cylinders through two, or sometimes through four, lenses. I exposed the original negatives of the three images in 1992–93, but owing to technical difficulties, the final C-print version was only made in 1994.

CAMERA OBSCURA / FOTOGRAM, photogram series exposed in pinhole cameras,
c-prints, 100x70cm each, 1994–97

In 1994, I made Camera Obscura / Photogram, a series resulting from my experiments with a pinhole camera. This work, however, is often referred to as one pushing the limits of the medium of photogram. The shadow of the light-sensitive material cast on itself, i.e., its photogram, appeared already in my 1991 works with films squeezed into the camera. When making this series, I placed mass-produced, i.e., identical, objects on the film in the pinhole camera, and in front of the objective, simultaneously. Thus, the photogram (the shadow) of the object appeared simultaneously along with its image. This means that the light used for making the photogram is the photograph of the object itself (and obviously, of its environment). As I used transparent glass or plastic objects, their reflection of light lead to a highly complex imaging. Furthermore, a photogram rendered positive resulted in an unusual experience in the eyes of many viewers. This is why I consider the series, and not so much the individual images, as an artwork, since in this way they “explain one another”. Not only do they provide aesthetic pleasure, but as a group they render comprehensible the imaging process all together. From the negatives exposed in 1994, I created the final series of Camera Obscura / Photogram in 1997, comprised of five C-prints, 100 x 70 cm each.

Series and images explaining one another are also characteristics of my other works, but I hardly ever considered the pinhole camera pieces as individual photographs. Right from the start, I regarded the typically archaic character of pinhole photography, mostly owing to imaging errors (chromatic aberration, soft key image, diffraction, etc.), as a danger of aesthetizing; a trap that is very easy to walk into. In an effort to prevent this danger, I do not obliterate the traces of adhesives used to fix the negatives in position, or the mechanical damages, tearings, scratches, fluffs, etc., arising from my clumsiness. Even though these “signs” may assist the viewer in comprehending the image making process, they undoubtedly threaten with a type of kitsch. This is the very reason why I insist on the series format, where the images are interpretive of one another, providing the only effective safeguard against empty aesthetization.

multi-pinhole photographs 1–14/10, c-print, 41x62 cm, 2007