Buy The Book
HomeAbout The BookShopBlogNewsPinhole 101ContactJoin us on Facebook
Take 5 Interview
The Take 5 Interview series is a continuation of featuring selected pinhole artists from around the planet. Each artist is asked a set of five questions that will shed light on their persona, their portfolio, and their creative take on this intriguing art form called pinhole photography. All questions are derived by Brian J. Krummel and answered by the respective artist in their own words.

Featured Artist : Willie Anne Wright
"Willie Anne Wright, a native and current resident of Richmond, Virginia, is an artist aclaimed for her lenless photography. Although Wright began her career as a painter, in 1972 she chose pinhole photography as her primary creative medium. Since then, her photographs have been shown internationally. She is represented in many private collections including those of Graham Nash and Cy Twombly. Among the institutions owning her work are the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, The Chrysler Museum, The Mariner's Museum, the Southeast Museum of Photography, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The New Orleans Museum of Art, Longwood University, The University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire." Reused with permission from the artist's biography.

You received your formal art training as a painter, but in 1972 you moved to photography (specifically to pinhole). Which characteristics of photography pulled you away from your first discipline and what was the impetus for that switch? Why is pinhole photography important to you?
In the summer of1972 I enrolled in a photography class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. I wished to learn to use a newly acquired 35 mm camera to photograph my paintings.

Willie Anne Wright
Email me Follow me on Facebook Check my website
Our first assignment was to construct and use a pinhole camera. This was not something I had anticipated. I set about, with relunctance, cutting and piecing together the mat board for the preplanned box. It turned out to be a cleverly designed 4" x 5" instrument with three focal lengths. After a week's struggle to make a light-proof imaging instrument, class members loaded their boxes with #1 grade photo paper (then available) to fullfill their next assigment— pinholing a class partner.

Having no previous darkroom experience, I was overwhelmed when the image from my first paper negative emerged in the developer. It was a defining moment. I had come to the class frustrated by an unsuccessful attempt at making a painting derived from a 19th century family photograph. Here before me was the way to realize the ideas that had been swirling in my head. From that moment, the pinhole path opened to me. The class moved on to learning to use our 35mm cameras, but I knew creative adventures lay with my pinhole camera.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
the canoe, 1974
photo paper negative (using the VCU camera)
Your current body of work includes the Civil War Redux, Southland, Sites and Markers, Left Behind, and Channeling series. The images are seemingly ethereal and melancholic, although I feel that there is more to your images than simply simulating the past or capturing a representation of loneliness. Each portfolio seems to draw on the subject matter of past and loss. Why are these themes important to you?
The themes I am drawn to in pinhole photography came into my life with the 19th century family photographs, mentioned in question one. When I was a teenager, an elderly relative gave me a series of five albumen prints of a group of young people enjoying a day in the country in the late 1880s. My father (who was 50 when I was born) was a young child looking on at his elders in several of the photos. Something about the past and present being a continuum and even interfacing fascinated me. I have yet to relinquish the mind-set the poignancy of these family photographs established. Recently, I used the 1880s photographs in two "combines" of my Channeling series.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
Wright utilizes the combination of pinhole, photogram, and printing to create layered images in both her Channeling and Left Behind portfolios. This is the original "seed" photograph.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
A Day in the Country includes the original "seed" image, plus a pinhole photo of wright and pinhole camera. scanned flowers have been added by contact printing and The final image is a gelatin silver print created from a digital negative.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
Hanover County, Virginia:
Abandoned House, Interior


In the Southland series, Wright uses the woman in white as a symbol for loss.
 
CIVIL WAR REDUX
For the Civil War Redux portfolio, Wright followed Civil War re-enactors and captured images that were simultaneously representing both past and present. Pinhole is an obvious compliment to capturing the historic subject matter and images such as Gettysburg: Union Widows could have been made in the 1800s, but I find the juxtaposition of past and present very interesting such as found in the image Chancellorsville: George A. Custer.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
Chancellorsville: George A. Custer
You worked on the Civil War Redux series for 13 years and exhibited the work extensively. That is quite a commitment to one series. From the score of images that you have recorded over the years, what is the most satisfying image that you have produced from the series? What is the one elusive image that you are still searching for?
Civil War Redux, pinholes of re-enactments, is an example of time travel imagery. An introduction to the world of the 1860s came, unexpectedly, in 1988 when my late husband, Jack, and I, walked by accident into a staging of General Robert E. Lee's installation as Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. The event, on the grounds of the state capitol, was one of the beginning commemorations of the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. Here were folks in period costume recreating the past. There was a deadringer for Lee stepping down from a carriage. All were ideal for my interests and the pinhole.

Jack and I followed the troops to re-enactments both large and small in several states for the next decade. I, in an effort at evenhandiness, included Caucasions and African-Americans— both men and women, Yankees and Rebels, in my images of camp scenes, impressions of players both famous and unknown, medical and death related activities. I identified with photographers of the period who also contended with slow exposures. In 2006, I was invited to pinhole re-enactors aboard the replica of the Union ironclad, The Monitor, for a solo exhibition at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Those were my first images of Union naval personnel. Faux generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, A.P.Hill, George Custer and photographer Mathew Brady have been my subjects. So far, an acceptable Abraham Lincoln lookalike has eluded me, but I have not given up hope.

Copyright © 2010 richmond times-dispatch
willie anne wright, 1982

From The Richmond times-Dispatch, July 1992: "It was a chance meeting, but in it Wright recognized the moment as a moment in time. Paradoxically, it was neither past nor present time, but both past and present. She found herself standing at an intersection. Any intersection where the present was reliving the past, making it, in a sense, no longer the past but a living, breathing docu-drama of the present as it was."
Technique
Wright has been known to produce beautifully haunting images in color as well as black and white. In her Cibachrome series, she utilized color photo paper inside a homemade, large format camera. I really wanted to know how the artist works now, so here is her answer to that question.

Copyright © 2010 willie anne wright
N. by the Ocean
By willie anne Wright
In the book Willie Anne Wright: My Lenless Imaging your autobiography states that you started using paper negatives and then switched to 4" x 5" sheet film. Is this still your preferred method of recording an image? What creative tools and techniques do you use, such as any specific cameras, film, development, or printing processes?
I photographed with the VCU 3 focal length camera for several years following it's birth in 1972. I wrapped photo paper around three quarters of the (inside) back of the camera for a trademark wide angle image look. I also designed a camera which creats a small circle with a sharp image and began using 8" x 10" film in it. A multi-pinhole camera also came my way. I had a three focal length wooden 11" x 14" box constucted which led me to design a one focal length 16" x 20" wooden box camera. Each camera accepted film holders. In 1979, I tried Cibachrome in the various cameras for direct color exposures, worked out a filter system over the pinhole to correct color balance, and continued the practice for several summers.

In 1988, I purchased a World Famous Santa Barbara Pinhole Camera which accepted 4" x 5" filmholders. It was the perfect box for in-the-field pinholing at Civil War re-enactments. I continue to use the 4" x 5" with FP4 Ilford film exclusivly. I develop the exposed film with Perceptol and print the negatives by enlarger projection on archival Ilford warm toned matt paper— I dearly miss Agfa Portriga paper. The gelatin silver prints are often sepia-toned with Kodak two-step toner.

Willie Anne Wright: My Lensless Imaging
by: Willie Ann Wright,

Self-published, 2003, 36 pgs. of text and 27 pinhole photographs in color and sepia, 6" high x 9" wide, soft bound. Introductions by Brooks Johnson and Deborah McLeod. Available from pinhole resource.
How has pinhole changed in the last 30 years and what observations have you made about the current state of pinhole photography? With the advent of digital photography, is pinhole photography a slowly dying medium? What do you hope to achieve in the next decade regarding your tools, technique, or subject matter.
Interest in pinhole photography accelerated after it was introduced in many beginning photography classes in colleges in the 1970s— witness the many sites on the internet concerning pinholing and the success of net's yearly Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. The digital revolution will have a huge effect on pinholing as supplies for film photography become harder to obtain and more expensive. Digital cameras can be adapted for pinholing. A scanned print from a paper or film negative, while different from traditional darkroom prints, can be very good. Also the scanner comes in handy for proofing film negatives. Pinhole will always be one of the best way to introduce the phenomenon of photographic imaging. As well as teaching the mechanics of the art, it requires imagination, patience, and persistence— not to mention luck! Best of all, it is fun!

I plan to continue my Southland series of pinhole photographs as opportunites arise. In summer, I plan to resume making cameraless Lumen prints utilizing direct sunlight. I have begun painting again. Channeling will go forward as I find vintage photos that "speak" to me.

Selections from Civil War Redux will be a Virginia Museum Traveling show starting in 2011, the beginning of the 150th year commemorations of the Civil War. An exhibition of selections from the series will be shown at the Morris Museum in Augusta, GA in 2011. Shoot'n Southern- Women Photographers Past and Present opens April 30, 2010 at the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Alabama. Three selections from my Channeling series will be included. The exhibition continues until July 18. News of other upcoming events will be posted on my Facebook Fan Page, Willie Anne Wright Photography. Check out Nancy Allison's essay Ever Present Past: The Photography of Willie Anne Wright in Discussions on my Fan Page.
 
Final Thoughts: Wright has been an important contributor to pinhole culture and promotion over the years. "The first national exhibition of pinhole photography in the USA was organized by Willie Anne Wright, at the The Institute of Contemporary Art of the Virginia Museum in 1982", according to Photo.net. Her creative tenacity serves as a reminder to all emerging artists that pinhole photography is a viable means of self-expression and can be fully absorbed by an artist as a creative medium. I personally encourage all pinhole artists to learn more about Wright's work through her website and join her Facebook fan page.

Editor's Note: I wish to thank Willie Anne Wright for the precious time that she contributed to this interview and for the gracious use of her images which are really very magical and iconic in themselves.

- BJK, March 2010.