Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

POETICS OF LIGHT: Pinhole Book and our work

with 4 comments


It’s not everyday that you wander into an art gallery bookshop and you stumble across a book with your work in it…! A favourite gallery bookshop for me is the QAGOMA bookshops in Brisbane – it’s always worth spending a little time there to see the latest books, to do a little in-store pre-reading, and to check out the ‘Specials’ table where the unaffordable book often becomes affordable.

The other day I’d escaped from some research work at the State Library of Queensland by walking through the preparations in QAGOMA for the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial to drop by the gallery bookshop. I held and flicked through a few books when a large volume entitled Poetics of Light with a big white reduced price label – $99.95 to $59.95.  The title seemed familiar to me – then I saw the sub-title Contemporary Pinhole Photography, ‘yes, I remember that’, I thought to myself.


The book "Poetics of Light'

The book Poetics of Light


I flicked a few pages at the front of the book and one of my pinhole/zoneplate photos … a few pages on there was one of Vicky’s … I kept turning pages and I witnessed a compendium of amazing lensless imagery …


My 'The Sentinel' page

Doug’s ‘The Sentinel’ page

Vicky's 'Banksia lineup'

Vicky’s Banksia lineup



The last couple of years for us have been full of life-changing experiences and dealing with the issues of the moment, my being made redundant at TAFE and the subsequent time spent job searching, selling our house, lecture and writing commitments and amazing house-sit opportunities for friends – I’d completely lost track of this book and the exhibition that it compliments.

The Poetics of Life exhibition and book celebrates the donation of the pre-eminent Pinhole Resource Collection to the New Mexico History Museum (NMHM). The Pinhole Resource was founded by Eric Renner in 1984 and became the world’s centre for all things pinhole. Through personal research, workshops, networking and publishing Renner led the resurgence in pinhole photography, its techniques, images and its discourse. In 1989 Renner was joined by Nancy Spencer as a co-director of Pinhole Resource and co-editor of the Pinhole Resource journal.


The Poetics of Light Exhibition

The Poetics of Light Exhibition


Over the years Renner and Spencer amassed a unique collection of pinhole and camera obscura images, cameras both old and contemporary and texts, books and references about the art and practice of pinhole photography. Much of this material was donated by practitioners as a way of contributing to the ‘Resource’.

The Pinhole Resource Collection became part of the permanent collection of the Photo Archives of the New Mexico History Museum in 2012. This research archive is has the largest collection of pinhole photography and paraphernalia in the world with over 6,000 photographs, cameras, documents and books, as well as an entire run of Pinhole Journal. The NMHM has a website with images available to be searched by author’s/artist’s name, and also includes education resources and a blog.

So what is it about the pinhole image – why would anyone want to make photographs with a lens-less camera…? Renner and Spencer, in the book comment that: ‘describing the mystery of pinhole images is difficult, the concepts of soul, depth, yearning, timelessness, and archetypal feeling all contribute to the kind of visual reality produced, one perhaps only seen in a dreamlike state.’

We both felt privileged to have been selected for this book and exhibition and felt excitement at the opportunity to be recognised for our long practice in this worldwide movement.

Whilst much of our contemporary work centres on the camera obscura each year we participate in the yearly World Pinhole Day in late April – SEE our 2015-submission post HERE.

In the late 1990s I (Doug Spowart) was to state that: “pinholing creates images by simplicity, there is no techno-pretence; the images speak as murmurings, incantations of nostalgia, of mystique and memory; they are incisive and nebulous simultaneously; the process is an enigma.”


The Sentinel, Mt Buffalo

My pinhole (zoneplate) image from the Poetic of Light exhibition and book was taken at The Sentinel at Mt Buffalo using a modified 4×5 Graflex camera. In 1999 ILFORD featured the image in a PROPHOTO Magazine feature on my work. A story about the image is featured on our old website HERE

In a statement about the body of work, The Rocks of Ages, Victoria Cooper discusses her view that image is a result of the connection of technology, process, photographer and subject in the space/time of pinhole photography.

“These images formed part of an ongoing documentation of my corporeal and psychological experiences with the land. They were created using an ancient imaging device, the Pinhole, and analogue photographic materials. Each handcrafted image was then selectively toned to identify with memories other than the eidetic captured within the film. This process is slow and considered – the subject’s light remains on the photographic paper as not a direct document but rather as a visual exegesis of a time and place.”


What follows is a selection of pinhole images made by Cooper+Spowart


Vicky's shortbread biscuit tin 6x17cm panorama roll film

Vicky’s shortbread biscuit tin 6x17cm panorama roll film


Myall-trees-pano prom Dodo land Young-boulder


Other pinhole works by Vicky from film boxes and other cameras …

Myall-Trees Myall-lake

4x5 Chrome film exposed in a film box

4×5 Chrome film exposed in a film box


Doug’s pinhole/zoneplate work from the 1990s

Doug's Graflex 4x5 fitted with a zone plate

Doug’s Graflex 4×5 fitted with a zone plate

Hand Dmarbles Girraween


The CarCamera

From 2000-2008 we converted our Toyota Tarago into a travelling camera obscura and completed a transcontinental crossing from Adelaide to Darwin in what we called our CarCamera Obscura. Here is a small selection of work from this project…


The CarCamera in the field

The CarCamera in the field

The CarCamera on the Barkly Tableands during the transcontinental crossing

The CarCamera on the Barkly Tableands during the transcontinental crossing






In a time where digital photography has impacted upon old analogue technologies we saw digital as just another opportunity to explore. When we were loaned a Fuji S1 Pro camera in the later part of 2000 we fitted a pinhole and made images…


A pinhole digital photo made with a Fuji S1 Pro camera in late 2000.

A pinhole digital photo made with a Fuji S1 Pro camera in late 2000.


There are still more challenges … photography has some more to give, and, be discovered …


Oh!! And I bought the book too …






All images (except the NMHM exhibition instalation) © Doug Spowart and Victoria Cooper


4 Responses

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  1. I nice refresher on the Spowart/Cooper career; thanks.


    November 16, 2015 at 7:12 am

  2. Great post. Enjoyed the tour through your images.


    November 16, 2015 at 8:05 am

  3. Congratulations on your work and the recognition. Thoroughly enjoyed the reading.

    irena prikryl

    November 16, 2015 at 2:38 pm

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