Matchbox Pinhole Camera Project

One of the last projects I attempted with the teens I worked with during the last two years in Katutura, Namibia was a photography class.  The idea was that I would explain how cameras work;  bring a half dozen of my vintage cameras for them to examine and touch; explain basic principles of photography, and then I’d show them how to make simple pinhole cameras per the instructions at  I planned to donate about $100 to cover some of the supplies, plus the film, development, scanning, and eventual printing of the best shots.

I’ll just start up front with the basic lesson to be learned from all of this:  before you spend your money and time teaching kids how to do something, try doing it yourself first.

The instructions on seemed simple enough.  I copied all the great photos they provide onto a power point file so the kids could see exactly how everything needed to be done.

But as we went along, we realized everything was taking longer than we had planned. and at the end we were really rushing to get some sort of working camera, but we never really covered the instructions in detail.  Twenty kids, working in pairs, were to make ten pinhole cameras and were supposed to work together to take 36 or so pictures on each camera and bring them back a week later.  I figured 360 photos, we’d end up with at least a few really cool ones.

Almost immediately, we ran into problems.  While I’d been giving the class, the kids had been fiddling with the take-up film cartridges, and about half of them had wound the little bit of film we needed to attache the new roll to, inside the cartridge.  Lucky I had a dozen or so extra.  But then, as we taped the new film to the take-up cartridges and the kids started winding the film, the tape came off 5 or 6 of them where the film was connected to the short bit, and those also ended up being wound inside the cartridge.  So I came up with the last few spare cartridges.

In the end we had ten somewhat functional cameras and the kids had instructions to bring them back a week later.  After a week, five of them brought them back and I took them in for development.  I came back a few days later and the film processing folks gave me the bad news:  no photos on the film, which I passed on to the kids.

Except a few days later I decided to have a look myself and discovered there actually WERE (sort of) images on the film.  So I had to go back and tell the photo lab, “listen I know it doesn’t look like much, but please just scan whatever is on the roll, regardless whether it meets your standards.”

Below is a sample of what the kids ended up with.  Some of them are pretty cool and interesting.  But I decided to go back and make a matchbox pinhole camera of my own – something I should have done before the class – and I’ll share those photos (if I get any) in a later post.  While you’re waiting, you can check out some other pinhole photography on Flickr.




















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