Reality So Subtle — an Interview with Pinhole Camera Maker James Guerin


If you're into the art of pinhole photography and you haven't heard of the name James Guerin then you're totally missing out. James has been making cameras for almost six years now and he shows no signs of stopping. If anything, the drive and passion to create beautiful cameras out of different materials are only getting stronger every year. We've been a fan of him and his work for some time now and we're so glad to have him in the Magazine. Without further delay, we'll let James do the talking.

Hint: He also discloses why his cameras are called Reality So Subtle. Now, enjoy.

First row: RSS 4×5, RSS 8×10 Second row: RSS 6×9F, RSS 6×6 © James Guerin

Hi, James and welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hello, Lomographers! My name is James Guerin and I Iove photography and cameras. I'm from Limerick City in Ireland and have been living in France near Nantes since 2011. I make and sell the RealitySoSubtle pinhole cameras.

We love your pinhole camera designs and the photos you post on your site and media pages. How did you start your career as a camera maker and when did you realize that you wanted to design and manufacture cameras?

My background is as a mechanical engineer but I found that I spent too much time at work thinking about cameras and photography. As I found it hard to find a job as an engineer when we moved to France, (my French was not up to scratch!) I made the leap and started my home business of making pinhole cameras. I started with the 6×17 camera in 2013 and the line up has grown from there to nine different cameras. I really love what I do... It hasn't been easy but it has been very rewarding.

The name "Reality So Subtle" sounds intriguing as it is interesting. What's the story behind it?

It came from a quote from Alfred Stieglitz. He said" ''In photography, there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.''

I really liked that and back in 2011 I had a blog and called it 'Reality So Subtle'. I kept the name from there. I thought it fit the way pinhole photos capture the world.

Shot with RSS 6×6 and 8×10 lens array cameras © James Guerin

What's your favorite stage in your build process? Please share it with our readers.

I enjoy putting the final bits and pieces on the camera bodies, like the latches, levels, and the pinhole itself. The camera becomes a camera at that stage and it's satisfying to see it come to life. Though in truth, the part of the process I enjoy much more than building it is the design. The design and then seeing that first camera, that's the best part. The day-to-day building of cameras is just 'work'.

What inspires you to create cameras? Why focus on pinhole photography?

I love pinhole photography. I have many cameras and enjoy shooting them all but shooting pinhole is so much more enjoyable. It allows you to be present in your environment as you're not disconnected in the way that you can be with a modern camera with all the bells and whistles. There's no separation that looking into a viewfinder brings. There's more of a connection to your surroundings when shooting pinhole. It can be therapeutic.

My inspiration comes from my own needs. I think: “Wouldn't it be cool if I had a camera that could do this or that”, and then I go about making that camera for myself. Then when I'm happy with it and feel that there might be a market, I go about setting up to produce it in numbers.

I've made cameras with lenses too, including cameras made from scratch and 'hacked' cameras. I have an ongoing slit-scan camera project and a lens array camera that shoots 30 separate cells onto 8×10 film. I've got a few new projects on to go too that I will share at a later date. I've recently started making cyanotype prints too and I am really enjoying that.

Shot with slit-scan and RSS 6×17 © James Guerin

How does it feel to design and craft a piece of equipment that you know people will use to express themselves? Has there been any instance when a client of yours reached out to you to talk about your work?

The nice thing about building a camera is that it's a tool, and tools take the personality of the user... so in a way, I like to think that they are a little bit alive. They can create art so it's nice to think about that and by seeing images created with my cameras, I feel that I have played a small part in their creation. I love seeing how people use my cameras in ways that I would never have thought of.

My customers often chat with me through various channels and I'm always happy to connect with them. Sometimes I have requests for specials and if I feel it's a good idea and it's something that is feasible I often oblige. I love making new things and evolving the designs. To be honest, I probably have too many models but I enjoy the design process so much and that high I get when I make something new keeps me going. The feedback from my customers too is a huge motivator.

RSS 6×17F camera © James Guerin

How often do you shoot with your own cameras? Which one of your creations is your favorite and why?

The funny thing about my cameras is that when I offer them for general consumption, it ruins them a little for me. Maybe it's because I spend so much time with these things in my hands building them that I tend to not shoot with them that much. Instead, I have my own personal project cameras that I shoot with. I've learned to hold some things back for myself. The camera is a big part of the art for me. In photography in general, huge corporations decide what tools we are to use. They make cameras that can do 'everything'. I like cameras that have a specialty, that can do only one thing, see one way or must be used in a very limited way. These limitations inspire creativity and allow us to see the world in new ways. Da Vinci said 'Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom'. What a great quote from a great man!

To answer your question I suppose the 6×17 dual pinhole model, my first, is my favorite. Why? I don't know... it just is. :)

Any advice for anyone who's looking to create their own cameras?

Do it. It doesn't have to be sexy and it just needs to work. Embrace the faults and artifacts. If I were to recommend one tool to get to help you create amazing designs it would be a scroll saw. When I started, I used one for the first hundred or so cameras and I later replaced it with a CNC router that cuts the parts automatically, but the scroll saw is an excellent tool as you can cut very precise parts from sheet material. It's safe, inexpensive, and fun to use. I used a process where I would print a drawing of a part at full scale on an ordinary piece of paper and then glue the paper (using simple paper gum stick glue) to the sheet material. On the scroll saw then I would simply cut along the lines to create the part. Afterward, the paper can be wet with water and peeled off. That's a really good way to make something — you just have to design with sheet material in mind.

Shot with RSS 6×9F © James Guerin

Who is James Guerin when he's not making cameras and taking photographs?

He's a dad, a husband, a dog owner, a beer lover. He follows Liverpool F.C and Irish rugby. He loves watching Netflix with the missus. His farts smell really bad and he's losing his hair. He's full of doubts at times and too self-assured at others. He loves talking nonsense and having a laugh. He loves his friends and misses home. He loves living abroad and being the odd man out. He hates being the odd man out. He's happy with his lot.

RSS 8×10 cyanotype, RSS 4×5 cyanotype © James Guerin

Any last words for our readers?

Yes, don't let Canon and Nikon tell you what tools you need — make your own! Shoot the odd-balls, shoot your Holgas, your pinholes, and your vintage cameras. Make photos without cameras at all, make cyanotype prints, get hands-on with your photography and have fun!

We would like to thank James for letting us feature his work in the Magazine. If you would like to see more from him, make sure to visit his website and give him a follow on Instagram.

written by cheeo on 2019-03-27 #gear #people #pinhole-photography #handmade #pinhole-cameras #james-guerin #realitysosubtle


  1. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    Great interview! I'm a big fan of James' pinhole cameras, and have the pleasure to shoot with 2 of them, the RSS 6x6 and the magnificent 6x17!

  2. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    I have the pleasure of owning a few of James’s cameras. They are well made cameras and he was a helpful when I had some questions.

  3. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    "They make cameras that can do 'everything'. I like cameras that have a specialty, that can do only one thing, see one way or must be used in a very limited way. "
    Thats Lomo! Great article, great statement. I also see it that way.

  4. tomasoma
    tomasoma ·

    I always dreamed of a decentered lens. realitySoSubtle made it affordable for me :) i really enjoy my realitySoSubtle 6x6, never move without it

  5. davidph
    davidph ·

    Very nice, inspiring work.

  6. carblkm5
    carblkm5 ·

    Lovely article. I have an RSS 6X6.

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