Underfall Yard Volunteer Writer Isabelle Compton caught up with Justin Quinnell to discuss his recent exhibition.

Pinhole photographer and teacher, Justin Quinnell, combines art and science to produce stunning, and sometimes funny photos using pinhole cameras. The essence of his works is unpredictability and exploring the realms of the ‘what if…’ An exhibition of continuous exposures depicting views of the North Atlantic from the masts of sailing ships – the Light-waves project – was displayed at The Underfall Yard in late October. Justin’s images range from one week to seven-month exposures and are incredible demonstrations of how to turn a piece of litter into a work of art.

The product of six months on the mast of a ship in the Atlantic

In short, a pinhole camera is the simplest camera possible. The method used by Justin in his Light-waves project – the beer can camera – is made using an old aluminum can. A small hole is made in the side of the can using a pin. A lid is made, and photographic paper is inserted. The hole is covered until the camera is mounted into a favorable position and then uncovered. The exposed photographic paper will develop into an image. It is a simple process, but execution can be a challenge as there is no ‘Programme’ setting that does everything for you.

Justin didn’t start experimenting with pinhole photography until several years after he completed his degree in fine art photography. At the time he was teaching and many of his students were unable to afford cameras. He taught the class how to make a camera out of a coke can and began playing more with the art form. He has now completed many projects from the hilarious ‘Awfullogramme’ project to his new Light-waves project.

Can Camera

A veteran pinhole camera

Andy, Volunteer Manager at Underfall Yard, has made his own pinhole camera. It will be mounted onto the visitor centre on 21st December (the winter solstice) and taken down after six months in hope of showing the sun’s path over time.

Long pinhole exposures, like those featured in the Light-waves exhibition, capture more than digital technology can achieve. A battery-free camera that captures several months of light activity in one still image defies the laws of temporality and brings new light to the world of photography. Justin combines old and new technologies, avoiding the predictability of digital photography, as pinhole works become increasingly rare. One benefit of this is the ability to put pinhole cameras in places digital cameras cannot venture. A Pinhole camera’s indestructibility allows the production of long exposure photos over several seasons in contrasting weather conditions.

Justin is also passionate about battling environmental issues. His use of litter as a means of producing art sets an example to the next generation of artists, encouraging experimentation and exploration of new, eco-friendly forms. This method of photography also unifies those who can afford cameras and those who can’t with a common interest in photography, allowing anyone to express themselves through photos.

Pinhole workshop

Justin leading a pinhole workshop at the Yard

Many of Justin’s projects have been based in the Bristol area, but his pinhole cameras have ventured further afield too. In one of his previous projects, a pinhole camera was positioned on a ‘banana boat’ mounted on the stern of the Dole Chile and travelled for several months around the Caribbean. It may still be aboard the vessel. More recently, a pinhole camera set sail on Bessie Ellen, a beautiful historic vessel. She was intended to make a stop on her travels at The Underfall Yard, but due to foul weather in the Bay of Biscay did not make it as expected. Justin’s philosophy is that as a photographer, accidents should be allowed to happen. They become the art.

The stunning images that were displayed in the Light-waves exhibition should act as inspiration for aspiring photographers to delve into the realm of accidents and experiment with unusual art forms. “The joy is in not knowing what will happen.” Justin once said, “if you know what’s going to happen in life why bother?”

The Underfall Yard has a number of volunteering opportunities. Please see here for more information.