Heard of the Thrifted Pinhole Challenge? Heather Palecek is running an event where pinheads are invited to build pinhole cameras from found objects, we had to find out why, when and how.
What is the Thrifted Pinhole Challenge?
Heather Palecek: The competition involves people going to a thrift store on or around August 17th to purchase something unique and turn it into a camera, then photograph with it. There are prizes awarded to winners in two categories: “Most Creative Camera” and “Best Photograph”. Entries are due through Instagram by the end of the month and winners will be chosen the first week in September. You can enter by using the hashtag #thriftedpinholechallenge
All of this info is outlined on the Instagram page I made for the challenge: @thriftedpinhole
How come you started the Thrifted Pinhole Challenge?
Heather Palecek: One of the best parts of pinhole photography is the ability to make your own cameras. There are a lot of quirky people in the pinhole community and my admiration for them paired with my love of upcycling inspired me to organise a competition that involved making cameras out of ridiculous items to see what kinds of photographs could be made with them.
I chose the month of August because in the USA where I live, August 17th is National Thrift Store Day, which is a day encouraging people to shop second-hand at thrift stores. 2023 was the first year of the competition and it was an amazing success! Artists made cameras out of ukeleles, barbie dolls, purses, cake pans, coolers, phones, chess pieces, lunch boxes, old tins, tea strainers, flower pots, birdhouses, vases, baskets, chess pieces, coffee mugs, chalices, clocks, and more. The photographs submitted for “best photo” were made with a mix of paper negatives, film, and the solargraphy process. The variety of both cameras and photographs was astounding!
“I’ve been very active in the pinhole community for many years. For the last few years I’ve been inspired by the amazing things happening with “Holga Week” and thought that it would be fun to have a competition for pinhole photographers too.”
Heather Palecek: Pinhole photography is my main focus and medium, and the community I am involved with, so it came naturally to want to create a competition for us. Making your own pinhole camera is always a ton of fun, especially when made with unusual objects. Literally, anything can become a pinhole camera, so I was optimistic that the results of this competition would be wild! (And I was right!) The local thrift store became a playground of possibilities for us during this challenge and many of us are seeing everyday objects in new ways since participating. In addition to that, the size and shape of the camera influence the look of the photograph, so depending on what thrifted objects were turned into cameras the resulting photographs were amazing! Some examples: Paulina Vicino’s chess piece camera created a very tiny image. Wendy Leocque created a camera out of a spherical lamp and her image needed to be conical shaped to fit inside properly – the final photographs were sculptural! And Kris Sebring turned a ukelele into a camera that photographed through the strings. In each of his images, the strings are visible and play an integral part in the composition.
How many pinhole cameras do you have?
Heather Palecek: Oh, I have hundreds of them because I make my own cameras for solargraphy and regular paper negative photography. Besides that, I own 2 Ondu’s and 1 Reality So Subtle for film photography. And now… I have one strainer camera because of this competition! You can never have enough pinhole cameras!
How many pinhole cameras do you need?
Heather Palecek: I guess the simple answer is 1. You can be incredibly creative and make beautiful photographs with just one camera. But where’s the fun in that when you can have one camera for 35mm, one for 120, one for 8×10 paper, one that makes anamorphic images, one that is cylindrical to warp your images, and one with 36 holes in it? Most pinhole photographers “need” more than 1.
What do you get out of the challenge?
Heather Palecek: I personally gained a lot of satisfaction from hosting this challenge and am so excited to do it again in 2024! Every single day throughout the competition I would receive notifications of submissions and my jaw would drop from pure amazement. Just when you think you’ve seen it all someone has gone and created something else you never would have thought of. Cameras out of tea strainers and flower pots, ukuleles and barbies, lamps and cake pans, purses and telephones. It was incredible! I felt so much inspiration and fellowship in the pinhole community. It made it worthwhile!
But I didn’t make the challenge for myself. I made it for all of the pinhole photographers all over the world to have a chance to come together and have some fun. We all joined into an absurd task, tested our creative muscles, and made cameras and artwork to be proud of. I hope it was as fun for everyone else as it was for me.
And for the winners… they received even more! 2023 Prizes included laser-drilled pinholes from Reality So Subtle, Gift Certificates to Unique Photo, stickers, and books. Congratulations to Kris Sebring and Ana Hernandez for winning the 2023 Thrifted Pinhole Challenge!
“The purple strainer camera is one I made to inspire folks to join the challenge. Of course, I’m not eligible to participate in the competition since I’m jurying it but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join in on the fun!”
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