There's more to photography than just snapping away at your subjects. For Barend Mossing Holsteijn, it's a love story in analogue.
We’ve featured some of his pinhole camera creations a while back and now we’re back. Barend Mossing Holsteijn or Ben as he prefers it, has more in store for us. From his pinhole cameras to why he went back to shooting with film, read about what he has to say with our quick chat with him.
Hi, Ben! We’d like to thank you for finding the time for this interview! We’re excited to feature you again on the magazine.
All my pleasure.
You may get this question in a lot on interviews but still we’d like to ask: how and when did you start shooting on film?
When I was about 8 years old. But I think you mean when did I start shooting on film again.
That’s about 4 years ago. A few years before that I bought my first DSLR. A Canon 400d and started shooting like a mad man. Before I knew it my hard disk was filled with digital photos. Ten, twenty shots per situation, the CF card didn’t mind. But I got very restless. Which photo is to keep and which to delete. Editing in RAW/PS, half an hour, one hour sometimes on a photo. And then suddenly I realized, what happened to the photo, what have I done. I really admire people who have the discipline and know which photos to delete. Obviously I’m not good at it. But how to continue my photography.
I decided to go back to film, in a way start over again. First with old cameras, the ‘Lomos’, like Agfa Click and Clack, old box cameras and some 35 mm. cameras. I liked it, but not quite enough. By coincidence I saw an article about camera obscura on the INTERNET. Pinhole cameras were showed in that article. That didn’t looked very difficult, though I can hardly saw straight. And now I just love building one.
What makes analogue photography special for you? Is there anything specific about shooting on film that makes it particularly stand out?
When I look at old analogue photos I see the great colors and shades of gray they have. Analogue photos are sharp by being soft. Digital photos are sharp by being sharp. Analogue pictures have the sound of an LP I like to say. It also gives me peace and it’s very satisfying. There is some magic left in that kind of photography. The excitement what will be on the film. Especially when you develop the films yourself. Even color is very simple to do.
It’s evident that you’re really into pinhole photography. What is it about pinhole photography that appeals to you?
The fact that you can take pictures with very simple means surprises me again and again. And no viewer, great. I’ve learned to look again. I try to avoid any cropping. Through experience I estimate the angle well and get a pretty good idea what will be on the negative. In one day I shot maybe 300 digital photos depending on the subject of course. Now I shoot three or four 120 roll films in one day. Mostly 6×6 or 6×9. That’s less than 50 photos. Even now, when I shoot with my mobile phone, I shoot too many images.
Your photos don’t only capture still shots but flowing motions as well. Can you give us your thoughts whenever you’re setting up for a shot?
Well, first I imagine what will be on the negative. Looking carefully or holding my hands next to the camera to get an idea about the angle. And what I can do during exposure to create an effect, if I think it needs one. Eg transport the film back and forward, slowly transport the film, at long exposures I sometimes first pan the camera slowly and then hold it still for the longest part of the exposure, multiple exposures, tilt the camera etc. Sometimes the sun helps with a nice pinhole flare. There are so many things you can do.
My ‘problem’ is maybe that I like too many different styles. Though I like a bit of motion the most. Bottom line is that it has to be done during exposure. I want to make more series and develop my cameras and view about things. I’m getting more and more the feeling I’ve found my style lately. Case in point, a slit pinhole, not that I solely want to do that but I like the images. I like rough, ‘dirty’, distorted photos. It’s a continuous learning process, which is fun.
What’s your favorite pinhole camera? Is there a specific pinhole camera that you want to get your hands on?
No, I never bought a pinhole camera. I saw many pinhole cameras on the Internet, that are much more beautiful than mine. But as long as I can build one for a few Euros, I will keep doing that. And I can make them the way I want.
You have a lot of homemade pinhole cameras. Can you talk us through your process in making those cameras?
I have built about thirty pinhole cameras, not all were successful. Mostly I make them of mdf, it’s easy to saw and glue. Lately I make a drawing before I begin. It’s simple, the base is the negative size and the angle of view I want. Then I consider if I want to add something more inside the camera. Like a build in filter, having the film not straight behind the pinhole, multiple pinholes etc. I build from there, the spool for 120 film is always exact, so I can make my measurements complete. Simply said, make a little dark room and figure out how to transport the film. And a nut of course for your tripod.
You said that your pinhole photography is ever evolving, why do you say that? What pushes you to experiment with pinhole photography?
I want to discover what I can do more with pinhole cameras. Every camera that I build helps me with that. The challenge is to get the kind of photography I like. I want to create and enjoy during the exposure. The homemade cameras gives the feeling that the picture is even more made by me. And sometimes I just want to prove that a pinhole camera can any shape and be made of any kind of material, like my sewer pinhole camera.
Do you have personal rules that you apply to your own work? Please share them with our readers.
I want all effects to be made during the exposure. That’s the main rule. I develop the films myself. After that I use a film scanner and use PS as a dark room for basic actions, like contrast and sometimes adding a color to B&W images. Maybe in the future a real dark room again, that would be nice.
What is your take on photography as an art?
Sure it’s an art. When the viewer says so.
Which artists inspire you in your work? Any artists that we should follow?
I see plenty of great work. Especially Polaroid artists, really great stuff. I don’t have names for you. Please don’t get me wrong. But looking at work from others inspires and discourages me. Only sometimes :)
Given the chance to collaborate with any artist or photographer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
I admire photographers of earlier years like Ed van der Elsken and Paul Huf. They were such great social photographers with a great photographic eye. Marvelous black and white pictures.
Do you have a special film and camera combo that you use or prefer? What are those?
The film I like most is Kodak New Portra, I think that film has great exposure tolerance, great colors and contrast. For pinhole photography very welcome. In general I was surprised by the tolerance of the exposure of film. I don’t always use a light meter in the daytime. I approximately only use five of all my build pinhole cameras, mostly for 120 roll film.
Do you have any other works that you’d like to promote?
I’d like to say, keep an eye on my website from time to time. I’m busy with slit pinhole technique at the moment. You can expect more of that soon. Lomography also, I’ve built one with a single lens, no results of that camera yet. I want to organize analog photo trips this year. I have plans about making a camera obscura in homes and offices, seeing the outside in your room. And I’m taking a video course starting on February. I see a nice challenge in combining my photography with digital video.
Last words for our readers?
The best thing nowadays is, you can do whatever you like. Analogue, digital, PS, pure dark room etc. Only a serious photographer in the early days had a dark room, now everyone has a digital dark room. The shooting stays the same, try to see what you really see before you press the shutter. I guess within ten years we’re making pictures without a lens. Only a sensor with a build in full editor.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you!
I wish everyone a peaceful, healthy and happy 2014!