Pinhole photography is as simple and basic as it gets when it comes to creating images, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to make impressive work out of it. In fact, photographer and camera maker Sergey Lebedev proves you can make the camera itself jaw-dropping. After seeing his gorgeous handmade pinhole cameras made out of driftwood, I believe we no longer have any excuse to not take on crafting our own pinhole cameras — and getting experimental with it in the process. I’m sure that seeing something that is typically ignored made into something beautiful, unique, and functional is nothing short of inspiring.
We recently got in touch with Sergey and asked him to tell us more about his driftwood pinhole cameras, the inspiration behind it, and his goals when it comes to making more unique pinhole cameras.
Phoblographer: Can you share with us how you began making your driftwood pinhole camera? Where did the idea come from?
Sergey Lebedev: I have always enjoyed working with wood. It was initially lamps and all sorts of crafts made of wood and driftwood. At the same time I tried to make pinhole cameras, but they were very simple ones — for example a camera made from soapbox.
So one day I just decided to combine two of my favorite hobbies to make a camera box from a piece of old hornbeam tree I found on the beach. That’s when my first camera was born.
Phoblographer: Did you ever try making pinhole cameras using other materials prior to using driftwood?
Sergey: Yes, very simple ones. Because you can make a camera from actually anything, so I had all sorts of boxes made of cardboard, wood, and plastic.
Phoblographer: Have your driftwood projects ever inspired you to design pinhole cameras out of other unique materials?
Sergey: Yes, sure. I already used bamboo, sea shells, and sea glass … I still have quite a lot of ideas waiting for their time. I do not want to stop at only using driftwood. There are tons of plans to work with metal and ceramics, plastic, and different resins. I also want to continue with a series of hand-painted cameras.
Phoblographer: What do you find most challenging about designing and building a camera out of driftwood?
Sergey: Each camera is unique in its own way. Every opportunity to build one is like a new challenge to create something new. This is perhaps what inspires me most. It is impossible to repeat what has already been created, so each time it’s kind of a new sculptural work.
Also, when you make trunk cuts, you don’t know what will ultimately happen until you put everything together. It’s almost the same with the film photography — until you develop the film, you can only guess what results are waiting for you.
Phoblographer: What is it about pinhole photography that you find most fascinating?
Sergey: Usually the images made with the pinhole cameras are calm and serene. Those are exactly the qualities that I like in pinhole photography. Long exposures can turn water into a fog and only what is motionless will be more sharp. You can easily play with multi-exposures as well.
But perhaps the most pleasant thing is that you can admire the process of shooting as [long] as 5 or 15 seconds, and even longer. Real meditation!
Phoblographer: Which film/s do you like shooting pinhole photos with?
Sergey: It’s different kind of medium format films. I found the Fomapan films quite good. I also like Ilford films.
Phoblographer: Can you describe to us your process in designing your driftwood pinhole cameras, from choosing the driftwood to work with to embellishing it?
Sergey: It all begins at the beach with a search for suitable driftwood. Then the process of drying the wood in which I’m not particularly involved.
The main work begins with sawing the tree and assembling the boxes. In my opinion, the material itself is not important. The most important thing is that it’s a process that brings you the joy of creativity.
Phoblographer: If you could build a pinhole camera out of any material, which would it be and why?
Sergey: As I mentioned before I already tried different materials. For now, I really want to try to combine driftwood and ceramic! I feel it would be quite interesting combination. I already had a camera made of driftwood and shells — it looked very interesting, so I really want to continue this series.
Phoblographer: Lastly, what’s one important thing to keep in mind for anyone who wants to build their own pinhole cameras?
Sergey: Everything starts from inspiration — that’s most important thing. So if you already have some inspiration, just get started! Take the first thing that comes to your hands and make something, even if nothing will really work at first.
Most importantly — you will get the joy of creativity, the joy in the creation process. This joy will push you further to the new ideas. So basically, just start and have fun!
All images by Sergey Lebedev. Used with permission.