Mabel Odessey – Pinhole Photography – The Process


The process

I have been making and working with pinhole cameras since 1985.  They have taken many forms, from the Giant Camera fixed on the back of a pick-up truck for the 1987 Bradford Festival, to handbag cameras, metal, cardboard and wooden boxes of varying dimensions. The work is an ongoing experiment and adventure, the images are so unlike the way we perceive through our eyes that they open our minds to new possiblities of seeing and understanding the world. I’m not interested in taking pictures of what I have already seen but trying to make pictures of what I imagine and discovering new perspectives.

A very brief background on Pinhole Photography

Pinhole photography is lensless photography. A tiny hole replaces the lens. Basically a pinhole camera is a box, with a tiny hole at one end and film or photographic paper opposite. Light passes through the hole forming an image inside  the ‘camera’.

Exposures are long sometimes even hours and the images are softer than pictures made with a lens and have a nearly infinite depth of field. The first known writings about the basic optical principles of the pinhole are commented on in Chinese texts from the fifth century BC. Chinese writers discovered that light travels in straight lines.

Mo Ti

The philosopher Mo Ti was the first known to record the formation of an inverted image with a pinhole or screen. Later the phenomenon was observed in Egypt, Greece. It was mainly used for scientific purposes in astronomy, in Europe during the Renaissance, it was fitted with a lens, as a drawing aid for artists. Since the 1980’s there has been a revival of pinhole artists around the world, thinking outside the box and creating beautiful, unique and lyrical imagery. I am glad to be part of this community.


Our society attaches great value to old objects, antiques are lovingly tended and admired. Old people however are shipped off to old age homes, where they become invisible. We appreciate the marks of age and the patina of old furniture. But for the elderly wrinkles, and signs of age are considered ugly. Retirement for many is not only the end of the job but also the end of their identity and usefulness. Old people have to face the difficulties of limited mobility, sickness, and loss of independence. They must cope with the loneliness caused by death and separation.

We try and keep these realities at bay

Our society is obsessed with youth,  we fuel the economy buying products that claim to put off the inevitable. And by separating old people from the rest we don’t have to see where we are headed. This project is a response to these issues and the personal loss of my dear neighbours, Jean and Mimi now living in a nursing home in Liverpool. I hope to raise these issues through the photographs.

Lifelines are the lines of the hand, and the hands of the residents of this rural community tell many stories. Clearly the hands that have laboured the earth show a different history than those of an office worker. The ninety year old hands of the residents contain all the history of a life, we must just take the time to decipher it.

Great success

The project so far has been a great success. The residents have joined in and look forward to the photo sessions where we  talk. And Celine Rouquairol a journalist from the local radio station records the oral histories. The second part of the project, Inside Out Lacaune started April 4. After gaining trust with photographs of their hands the residents now feel ready to literally ‘face’ the world. Their portraits and those the jr; high school students will be pasted around the village.