Why does ArtSake love oatmeal boxes, shoe boxes, and toy cameras? Because they can be transformed into mighty pinhole cameras. For those that don’t know, pinhole cameras take photographs without the use of a lens (or a cell phone for that matter) and they have the capacity to create amazing images that rival any digital counterpart. ArtSake recently caught up with Susan Mikula, a photographer who has created some exquisite images using a pinhole camera and discontinued monochromatic Polaroid film. We asked Susan a few questions about her work.
What artists’ work do you admire most but photograph nothing like? I am not a painter, but I am moved most by painting — and I think about the visual world in terms of the thick or thin application of paint, that physical texture, that movement.
When I need my eyes to be refreshed I visit my dear old favorites at the museums. It is always painting that sets me right. The brush strokes and lines, like de Kooning, the fierce slashes and color like Mitchell, the precise ambiguity of Homer’s sober palette.
Living artists that I have art-crushes on include Charlie Hunter, TJ Walton, Maggie Mailer, and both Maloney’s – Paul and Bob.
If forced to choose, would you be an instamatic Polaroid camera or large format 8×10 camera? Polaroid! But not just any Polaroid. Maybe an SX-70 Alpha in a leather case or a white plastic Swinger at the beach in 1968. Polaroid was almost as good as Barbie at giving their cameras cool outfits to wear.
Do you live with any animals? Oh, in the hilltowns of Western Mass., we all live with way too many animals — red squirrels, daisy-eating groundhogs, arboreal weasels, moles, voles, minks, moose, you name it. I do love the critters, but admittedly, I love them best when they are outside rather than inside the house. Inside, we have an enormous dog who barks at floppy hats but not skateboarders and considers commands to be suggestions.
How do you know when to push the shutter? Old cameras — especially old cheap cameras — have little personalities you need to get to know. I try to learn each one, what the lens really sees, how it sees it — I try to get to know each camera so well that it becomes like a body part for me. I think about a project for a long time before I start taking pictures — both the intellectual point of it all and the worldly mechanics — but then knowing the camera intuitively means that I can act quickly at the moment the shot is finally composed. Its a long slow process that has a short, sharp, deliberate ending.
Thats how it works. Except sometimes its not like that at all and it happens in a frenzy — that, I cant explain.
What films have influenced you as photographer? The Misfits, Slaughterhouse-Five, Hud, and anything by Terrence Malick or Zhang Yimou.
What are you currently reading? I am always reading lots books at once. Right now, its some non-fiction: Art and the Power of Placement by Victoria Newhouse; some high-strung fiction: Lush Life by Richard Price; some poetry: Say Uncle, by Kay Ryan; and always one book just for the beauty of the sentences: The Signal by Ron Carlson.
Susan’s upcoming exhibition bearings at the TJ Walton Gallery in Provincetown will showcase her most recent pinhole work consisting of large and medium sized digital Duraflex prints face-mounted to Plexiglas. TJ Walton Gallery is located at 148 Commercial St, in Provincetown, MA. Exhibition Dates: October 9 November 1, 2009. Opening Reception: Saturday, October 17, 6 – 8 PM. Gallery Hours: Monday – Thursday 10 AM – 8 PM; Friday – Sunday 10 AM – 9 PM. Gallery phone number and email: 508.487.0170; email@example.com
Image credit: All photographs by Susan Mikula. From top to bottom: bearings #7, 30″x23″; bearings #18, 36″x28″; bearings #13, 36″x28″.