“It is a very playful way of approaching photography and the world.”
Amy Rockett-Todd (born 1974) and Antonia Small (1970) are two photographers mostly experimenting with alternative photographic processes.
Amy was born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina. Currently resides in the flatlands of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Antonia is originally from Maine and now makes her home in Port Clyde, about two hours down east of Portland.
Both have recently worked together on a pinhole photography project called “BAKER’s DOZEN”.
BAKER’s DOZEN – A Pinhole Dialog
What began as a trek through the woods towards Fairy Beach, with canned chairs atop the heads of her children, fusing the path of two wellie-wearing women.
Amy Rockett-Todd met Antonia Small on that rocky beach the summer of 2012. As Jack, Antonia’s jack russell, perched himself atop a nearby rock, the two discovered they were both ‘pinholers’.
A chance meeting on a quiet empty slip of land, which isn’t even visible at high tide, the two found themselves stepping into a pinhole dialog that would span almost 2000 miles and 13 months.
They began in April 2013, on Worldwide Pinhole Day, shooting images specific to their own artistic visions as well as the contrasts of their varied regions – the flatlands of Oklahoma and the rugged coast of Maine. Amy and Antonia will be rounding up their Baker’s Dozen on Worldwide Pinhole Day 2014.
The images shown are three months of image pairings for Baker’s Dozen: a pinhole dialog. You can see more of Small and Rockett-Todd’s pairings via their respective websites: www.antoniasmall.com and www.rocketttodd.com.”
Amy Rockett-Todd and Antonia Small, where did you study photography?
Amy: While my grandfather introduced me to film photography at an early age, my interest in photography was cultivated at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro with mentor Arnold Doren. I studied the Wet Plate Collodion process at Maine Media Workshops + College, with Jill Enfield, in 2013.
Antonia: I grew up watching slides shows of my father’s collection of images made primarily in Italy after WWII. Both he and my grandfather gave me a bit of the bug as a kid. I studied 16 mm film-making first and worried I would never have the funds available to make films, so I went on to study still photography, first at the SALT Institute for Documentary Field Studies in Portland and then at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport.
I have since studied photo and encaustic and will be studying Wet Plate Collodion w John Coffer this May.
Why did you become a photographer? And why pinhole?
Amy: I don’t really have that definitive moment of suddenly becoming a photographer, but I have continually been drawn to certain aesthetics in art and photography and have been lucky to be around the right folks, who have inspired me. It is a continual personal progression. I love pinhole photography for it’s slow process and how it can capture movement in a graceful way.
“I love pinhole for its mystery.”
Antonia: I wanted to tell stories and since I’d decided still photography would allow me more independence than motion film, I began with documentary work, and then went exploring historical B&W craft – my professor lent me his 5 x 7 pinhole camera and said: ‘I think you will like this.’ It was magic when all the pieces came together. I love pinhole for its mystery. It is a very playful way of approaching photography and the world. I love the quiet box and feeling the passage of time while I am working.
Is there anything in particular that you want to say with your pictures? And in other words: What is it that a photograph can say at all?
Amy: I enjoy exploring the relationships between the static environment and how we move through it. Sometimes all that is needed is the environment itself … a place, a portal in which we can move through, experience, and then move on.
“The sea and sailors are rich fodder for storytelling. I think a photograph is a portal.”
Antonia: I call my pinhole pictures “theater for the camera” – much of my pinhole work to date has been self-portraits in costume as I work to describe a seafaring experience I had on a tall ship in my 20s. I find that I think of it as a way to explore relationships – between people, people and time, people and place, or their environment. The sea and sailors are rich fodder for storytelling. I think a photograph is a portal yes, what Amy said.
Is there anything that pinhole photography has taught you about photography in general?
Amy: Pinhole photography takes me back to the fundamentals of photography. It also allows for playful creativity. I love the basics, simplicity, and history. If I were to narrow it to one specific aspect … I enjoy the slowness of seeing.
Antonia: Pinhole has become a means to re-enchant my own world. I love to be surprised by the images, so I am always seeking out news ways of playing with the camera and with time/space if I can.
Can you recall any special moment shooting pictures?
Amy: Antonia and I had just gotten our feet wet with the beginnings of our pinhole project and had just selected the second month’s focus : Lost/Found. During that month, Oklahoma experienced one of the most devastating series of tornadoes, leaving many folks’ lives, as well as their personal photos, scattered across the region.
Many were finding tattered snapshots in their fields and backyards for months afterwards, including my own mother. She knew what I had been working on and called me to let me know what she had found and wondered where she could take it so that it might be reunited with its owner again.
“I still get chills just thinking about that month and about all those lives affected.”
I located a photo rescue service in the area and was touched by the many images that marked special lifetime moments of those directly affected. I, too, became deeply affected. The hospital that helped those affected was the St. Anthony Hospital in OK City. St. Anthony is also the Patron Saint for lost articles and is credited with miracles involving lost people and lost things as well as attributed to those lost at sea.
My colleague, Antonia Small, also bears the namesake and has a close relationship with the sea. I still get chills just thinking about that month and about all those lives affected, and only hope that the images taken over the course of May 2013 can reflect a bit of those moments.
Antonia: Honestly, Amy’s experience in Oklahoma during our Lost and Found month was profound for me too. Imagining her there and seeing the pages devoted to reconnecting images to homes and families on Facebook.
It got us talking about the moments when you don’t take pictures, when we choose to remember the moments in other ways. For me, photographing is almost always special because I drop into another zone when I am only focused on image making.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Amy: I am drawn to photographers who are not afraid to think outside the box – combining other artistic mediums along with their image making. A few contemporaries that come to mind are:
Rebecca Sexton Larson
Robert and Shana Parke Harrison
What’s your favorite photography quote? By whom?
“I tend to think of the act of photographing, generally speaking, as an adventure. My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”
“Art is risk made visible.”
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process of shooting pinhole images?
Amy: I enjoy finding something small, a secret, or the byline of the overall story – and that is what intrigues me.
For one of the images in our current pinhole project, I spent over an hour on the phone with a Commanche linguist discussing the native language and the history of the Numunu people.
The conversation led me to the base of a sacred healing mountain in western Oklahoma, called Medicine Bluff, for my final image.
Antonia: I came to photography by performing and the theater arts. I was heavily influenced aesthetically as a young woman studying in Paris. The mood of European theater and art really held my interest.
“I am hoping to surprise myself as much as the viewer.”
So when I moved into making images I brought a lot of that with me. I look for drama in unexpected places and when I perform for the camera I am hoping to surprise myself as much as the viewer. It’s like an improvisation for me. And play. And I believe in magic when I get into the work of making images.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic language?
“If we reach the destination, then why keep looking?”
Amy: Developing your personal aesthetic and how it combines with your internal story is important, but some times you just don’t know what that is until you go out and look – and shoot – and do that over and over. Eventually you will see something emerge.
But I’m also glad to be looking for something, too. To not find the destination. If we reach the destination, then why keep looking?
Antonia: The pieces, which make up your story, can be rich fodder for a photographic language. Sure, we can copy a style or a technique, but delving into the raw materials and crafting something unique is what interests me.
Everything has been looked at already, there is freedom in that – we can look again!
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Amy: I am drawn to the inner story of an image from an altered viewpoint. Using a traditional process helps me keep things simple and personally invested, from loading, seeing, and processing – hands-on.
I like to think about the final image resting someplace between photography and art.
Antonia: Central to my work is the relationship between time, people and place, particularly sea-infused places and people. I like to think about how place shapes me, as well as others. Then, sometimes, I just like to look at light.
“Pinholes are great for slowing down to look.”
Technically this means I use time, the environment and people I know to create the work I am making. Pinholes are great for slowing down to look – the kind of slow seeing that is interesting to both Amy and me. I play with water and placing my camera in or near the sea these days.
I am getting ready to broaden my work on the fishermen here in Port Clyde – going fishing and I’m excited to see what that visual stew will look like.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Amy: Everything we do is a linear process of sorts and we hold onto bits and pieces of our lives, and of lives that touch us either directly or indirectly. Our subconscious stores these and I like to think they emerge in what we create.
Antonia: A year at sea on a replica of an 18th century tall ship had a huge influence on my head and heart – straddling time on the sea – it opened a lot of windows in my mind.
Personal narratives come in to play, as do the stories of people I hear about or observe. And place. Here. Home. Maine.
What kind of photography equipment (camera etc.) and photographic supplies do you use?
Amy: For our latest pinhole collaboration, I am using a Zero Image 612b pinhole camera that uses 120 roll film. For pinhole work, I also have a Harman Titan 4×5, and several handmade pinhole cameras. However, I have a collection of old cameras given to me from my grandfather that I like to use when the whim strikes. I also work with a 4×5 Burke & James wooden bellowed camera creating ferrotypes and ambrotypes.
Antonia: I also use a Zero Image 6 x 6 pinhole camera, as well as a 5 x 7 inch Santa Barbara pinhole and a couple of 4 x 5s, including one I made entirely by hand from a sheet of cardboard. I keep collecting objects intending to turn them into pinholes one day, too.
I also work with a Yaschica MAT 124G – twin lens. And recently jumped into the digital world with a LUMIX….with a pinhole cap! Wet plate will develop another collection I’m sure.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
Amy: Chris Keeney (chriskeeney.com) has a nice website that spotlights pinhole photographers. Neal Cox (nealcox.blogspot.com) creates extraordinary pinhole cameras based on mathematical geometries that blow my mind!
Also, Mark Tweedie’s site (marktweedie.co.uk) attracts my slow movement senses.
Antonia: www.susanderges.com – cameraless photography!
I hadn’t been to Mark Tweedie’s site before, yes. It’s great.
www.laurent_millet.com – he’s moved into sculpture too – but his original pinholes series can be found there.
What photography book would you recommend? Why?
Amy: There are so many books on various photographic techniques and I would recommend one that appeals to the particular interest that you are drawn to, but I can share a cross-section of my personal favorites:
“Portraits from North American Indian Life” – Edward Curtis for the beautiful imagery rich in historical detail.
“Pictures” by Jeff Bridges for the playful on-set visuals that Jeff Bridges shares from his movies, created with his WideLux panoramic camera.
Clemens Kalischer I have fond memories of meeting Clemens in Stockbridge, MA. He was charming, and shared many personal recollections relating to his beautiful black and white images.
“The Kodak Library of Creative Photography Series”. It is a good traditional series to have in your library, and mine happened to have, within it, an unopened 21st birthday card given to me by my father just days before my 40th birthday. Had to drink to that gift!
Antonia: I love Eric Renner’s book “Pinhole Photography”. It’s a good resource for technical and artistic inspiration.
I have to say that “Daring To Look” about Dorothea Lange’s work is a current favorite – it’s a stunning tribute to a really amazing woman.
Joseph Koudelka’s book “Gypsies” is another favorite. These last two for their sustained and devoted seeing. We’ve gotten so quick to look and look away these days.
Images are made everywhere by everyone and fast! To drop into a book where you can begin to feel relationships developing between a photographer and their subject feels startling now!
Which advice would you give to someone getting started with pinhole photography?
Amy: Play. Explore. Build your own cameras to start with and enjoy the slowness of seeing.
Antonia: What Amy said.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Antonia: Does primitive seeing still matter in the 21st century?
Casting off the conventions of framing and exposure and feeling your way into an image strikes me as an important part of keeping visual sensitivities alert.
It’s not for everyone, but I think as a practice throwing out the rules and safety of a push button photo world and diving into the mystery of light and film remains one of the true pleasures of photography.