Justin Quinnell is a master at making weird and wondrous pinhole photographs. He recently worked as the Pinhole consultant for the movie ‘The Brothers Bloom’ and his cameras are featured in the film. We took the opportunity to talk to him about his Hollywood experience and fascination for pinhole photography.
How did you first get introduced to the world of pinhole photography?
I’m not sure if this has much relevance but when I was 4 I had several operations on my eyes to sort out something. I remember having a patch on one eye with a small hole to see through. I also remember a fairly unsuccessful experiment when I was at school. It was well after my degree however that I got hooked. I was head of the photography department at a non-too affluent area of Bristol, the kids couldn’t afford cameras, (but could afford several cans of coke every day) so I got them to make cameras out of their drink cans and got hooked myself. It was all pre Internet, so apart from the pinhole journal and a few obscure magazines I didn’t know anyone else who was doing that kind of work.
What is it about pinhole photography which most fascinates you?
There is no viewfinder, it clashes art and science after a 150-year schism, a lot happens in pre-visualising the images, elements of time, astronomy, wonder etc. etc. etc. (This is what I go on about for hours in my lectures!). It’s also cheap, and it’s anti-commercial. I am involved with the Green Party and was getting disillusioned with photography and the amount of destruction it can cause – pin-holing gets around this.
It’s also delving into the unknown, a bit like riding a unicycle – It feels like you are constantly falling, I quite like that!
We hear you worked on the recent film ‘The Brothers Bloom’ as ‘Pinhole Consultant’ – Could you tell us a little about it?
I had a phone call from Belgrade whilst on a train from the University of Falmouth where I teach part-time. It was from a researcher who said the writer and director of a film wanted to use my photos. My brother had just died so I didn’t really know what it was about until a few weeks later I found myself emailing with Rian Johnson. I ended up in CA with my family for a month and having a ball! The film is great but a few of the pinhole bits got edited from the UK version. Its release was also delayed for ages, which didn’t help. His next film ‘Looper’ has Bruce Willis, no pinhole though!
What’s your favorite Pinhole photo you’ve ever taken?
The Royal Crescent – Bath. It was one of my first successful color images and taken in 1991 when you had to wait for 4 days till your film was processed! The one I’m most sorry didn’t come out was a mouth photo of my son Louis when he was being born.
Any tips for people new to Pinhole photography?
Don’t think too much, just do stuff.
What do you do when you’re not taking photos?
Family stuff (I have a beautiful wife and two equally fab kiddies), bird watching, slobbing around in a pub, mending the leaks in our motorhome (usual stuff)! Currently, I am trying to get a slipped disc sorted. The MRI scan almost messed up due to a pinhole camera I had in my pocket!