Magazine article National Parks

Through the Looking Glass

Magazine article National Parks

Through the Looking Glass

Article excerpt

Q & A

Photographer Michael Falco captures dreamy Civil War landscapes using a device even older than the battles themselves: the pinhole camera.

Q: What prompted the project?

A: Before I picked up my first pinhole camera, I was averaging about 10,000 images a week as part of my normal freelance work. The volume was so intense, I thought, why not go in a completely opposite direction and start with something that would really slow me down? The pinhole camera was the answer. I visited Antietam in 2009 and took some of my first good pinhole photographs on the battlefield, and I thought, "Oh, so this is what the camera can do." I'd always been interested in the Civil War (the first two books I read as a child were biographies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant), so as the war's 150th anniversary approached, I thought it would be really interesting to see what the pinhole camera could do.

I went to Manassas in 2011, met some reenactors, and when I looked at the images, I thought, "Wow, maybe there's something more here." When I first started working with the camera, I tended to avoid portraits, because I didn't like the way the camera rendered people, but the fact that the reenactors wore uniforms completely changed the feeling of the images- it unified the figures in a way that they became anonymous, as if they represented every soldier. Images of the battlefields tend to be quiet and somber landscapes, but the reenactments really bring these places back to life.

Q: How do pinhole cameras work?

A: The pinhole camera is the most rudimentary camera you can take a picture with; there are no moving parts. There's a pinhole to let the light in and film in the back of the camera to capture the light, and the shutter is basically a flap that covers the hole. I take a reading with my light meter, which tells me [how long to leave the shutter open]- usually about one to six seconds, depending on the subject and whether it's cloudy or sunny out.

What the pinhole camera is able to do better than any other camera is capture the feeling of a place. People often attach their own memories and experiences to the images. The fact that the images are missing detail encourages the viewer to look more deeply, so you wind up staring at the pictures longer than you typically would. …

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