Marcio Faustino Santos’s Pinhole Self Portraits

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All images by Marcio Faustino Santos. Used with permission. This post is being done in collaboration with the subreddit R/Analog

Like many other analog photographers, Marcio Faustino Santos likes working with his hands. But Marcio also very much enjoys working in black and white and with pinhole cameras. Because of a lack of available models, he got into doing self portraits with his pinhole camera and embraced its artistic offerings.

Born in 1983 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he dove into photography while in Ireland after attempting to study painting on canvas and Journalism. But he had a bigger love for classical photos. Marcio is based in Germany now, and has been featured in many exhibitions.

“Thinking about the direction photography and art in a whole have being taking I try to return to “primitivism.” says Marcio. “For it, I have shifted completely to Pinhole photography. Specially for landscape, portrait and nude. I am in love with pinhole’s simplicity, its soft images and contact prints. It takes me back to photography’s essence.”

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Marcio: I’ve always been interested in the visual arts by drawing, collecting stamps and postcards as a boy. I got a better theoretical understanding years later after taking a Journalism course back in Sao Paulo (Brazil). It was during my travel in Israel in April 2008 when I took it more seriously in a practical sense. Not only because of photo opportunities while exploring a foreign land but also because of the numerous people I met and portrayed when I had the opportunity.

After 6 months in Israel I went straight to Ireland where I got my first DSLR, a second hand Nikon D70s with an 18-55mm kit lens. Until then all I had was a 5MP pocket camera that came in a magazine my father bought. Very limited settings but I was never really bothered by that, especially because in Israel the days were always bright and clear. The photos were only to be shared among my friends anyway.

Phoblographer: What made you fall in love with film photography and shooting pinhole photos?

Marcio: After reading about medium format characteristics I was really excited about trying it. Since I couldn’t afford a digital middle format camera I got a film camera. It was a Bronica ETRSi.

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I enjoyed shooting with film negatives, especially after I learned how to develop my negatives at my own at home. I never enjoyed much spending too long time in front of computer, and working with film negatives I felt it to be more “crafty” than working on digital files. I simply prefer to manipulate things with my hands and for this reason I felt more attached to it. It was also a good opportunity to explore another field in photography.

Dublin is a very dynamic city. It often kept me busy with street photography. It was also very easy to find models to photograph, so this is what I used to do whenever I was free.

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I become really interested in Pinhole photography after moving to Germany. South Germany is different. I soon became uninterested spending my days walking the the streets and photographing people. Germans are more reserved and easily more annoyed about interaction with strangers. Plus, nobody answering my model castings.

At that moment I was going crazy to find something else to fill my free time and it had to be something related to photography. This was when I started building my own large format pinhole cameras. It was also an opportunity to step into large format photography with little money being spent.

Since I was living near the Black Forest and among farming lands, I left pinhole photography to dedicate more time to exploring the region by doing landscapes and nature photography. I spend a long time cycling and walking on the mountains with a Pentax 6X7 (a brick) in my bag, filters and a good tripod.

After more than one year later I realized I could carry a large format pinhole camera that was the same size on my Pentax 6×7 and have less weight in my bag, bigger negatives to work with and less worries about the camera dropping, rain, mechanical problems and so on.

The more I photographed with my pinhole camera, the more I appreciated its simplicity. I felt the rustic look of pinhole soft images and long exposures suited better for how I feel about visual creation. It’s more poetic and dreamy, as well as less predictable. With pinhole I feel like I’m doing photography at its purest form.

Phoblographer: Where did the idea and concept of shooting a pinhole portrait come from? Most folks tend to exaggerate motion by using pinhole cameras.

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Marcio: Back when I was building my pinhole cameras, I often tested the cameras by photographing myself. Also because I was used to photograph myself, since I had hard time in finding models; so I decided to be my own model.

When I got into photographing as much as possible with my pinhole camera, I saw the long exposure portraits had a kind of movement on it. For some reason this little movement that the body has, while posing for the long exposure, makes my images look more alive and subtle to my eyes. This is why I don’t see the need or reason to trying make everything sharp with a pinhole camera (or long exposures), because with portraits it always will have some small motion anyway, which I think is much more appealing and interesting than trying motion effects.

There is also an impression of continuity on the images, as if there is something happening instead of just a static body, compared to well frozen portraits from fast shutters that need more elements and body expression to bring out this perception. The motion in the images from a long exposure helps a lot in finding a sense of narrative in the image.

“The more I photographed with my pinhole camera, the more I appreciated its simplicity. I felt the rustic look of pinhole soft images and long exposures suited better for how I feel about visual creation. It’s more poetic and dreamy, as well as less predictable. With pinhole I feel like I’m doing photography at its purest form.”

I feel this inclination to work with simple tools and methods. When I stop to think I realize it has always my tendency. I never was the type of photographer who wanted to have a lens and camera collection, rich studio lights and modifiers. I think owning less equipment helps me have less distractions from my photography process. But also because I had traveled and moved many times and keep my things simple, this makes me feel more free from stuff, and less anchored to one place.

For this reason I couldn’t help but doing portraits with my pinhole camera.

Phoblographer: When you create the portraits, where do your ideas come from? The lighting and the posts seem very specific for a pinhole image.

Marcio: Recently I rediscovered the work of Mick Waghorne on 1x and I realized he had a big impact on me (together with Lucien Clergue, Jan Cobb, Robert Farber, Trevor and Faye Yerbury), when I saw his work for the first time in 2009 through DeviantArt. Very simple images–rich on body expression with many classical elements.

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I also have some books and images on my memories about Baroque and Gothic sculptures and paintings. Stuff from Giambologne, August Rodin, Velázquez, Poussin, Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour and van Dyck for example. In other words, their dramatism, emotion and Chiaroscuro effects of light contrast–images that I admired way before thinking about creating my own visual work.

Since pinhole cameras have such small apertures, like the f270 of the camera I use for portraits, I use continuous light. Otherwise I would have to pop each flash at least 15 times, but probably more, for a single photo.

Phoblographer: Why the black and white choice? Do you feel pinholes just look better in black and white?

Marcio: Colors bear a lot of meaning to them. Eliminating colors is also therefore the elimination of all the messages they carry, which often can become a distraction with their beauty and from the image shapes itself. In a whole, Black and white greater emphasizes the lines, angles, shapes, shadow and light. Also because of its symbolic elegance and deep emotion which the white and the black can create, it has a dreamy aspect, which is enhanced with the soft focus pinholes naturally have.

Unfortunately digital copies and screens are not truthful with the original contact prints on silver gelatin or any other traditional print. The original prints have a warm tonality. something between brown, green and purple depending on the way they are printed and toned. But the digital copy is more than enough to give a good idea about the image itself.

Black and white is easier for me to develop and print in the technical meaning but that is not the main reason (otherwise I would rather shoot digital which is much more handy in this aspect).

Phoblographer:  How do you feel creating these pinhole portraits helps you to express yourself as an artist?

Marcio: I don’t know how exactly, but it does!

“Colors bear a lot of meaning to them. Eliminating colors is also therefore the elimination of all the messages they carry, which often can become a distraction with their beauty and from the image shapes itself. In a whole, Black and white greater emphasizes the lines, angles, shapes, shadow and light. Also because of its symbolic elegance and deep emotion which the white and the black can create, it has a dreamy aspect, which is enhanced with the soft focus pinholes naturally have.”

I believe that every good visual work in a genuine artistic direction (although I don’t usually call myself an artist) are the ones that leave room for the viewer’s imagination. Pinholes images have some mysterious characteristic to them, as if there is always something else waiting to be observed or discovered. Maybe because of the small natural body motion in long exposures transiting some aliveness or happening, or maybe it’s soft focus.

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Sharp images transmitted through lenses brings the idea of evidence, as if everything were being brought to light, or simply a visual copy of what was photographed. When trying to make it more artistic or dreamy, or rustic, photographers tend to use the shallow DOF effect to make it more soft around the main subject with some creamy colors to transmit something more idealistic or imaginary, or boosting contrast with black and white, or sharp motion with long exposures. What I mean is that the essence of all that photographers look for while trying to make more artistic images, is what pinhole image quality and workflow is all about in principal or base.

Of course I am not mentioning above about photographers who go all the way through the sharpness purpose or symbolism of realistic representation with HDR, hyper-reality scenery or trick visual effects, which are also another way to attempt to create something more expressive and artistic. For that matter the photographer expects to have full control and and expectation for precise effects and characteristics.

With pinhole we don’t have all this control. We don’t use an optical viewfinder and it is never precise. It is more about following the feeling of what is happening during the image creation. In my opinion it helps to let us be more sincere about our feelings while photographing and being expressive, instead of focusing on technical control for precise expected results in order to be the main viewer’s appreciation.