A camera without flash or focus, multiple speeds or high-tech special effects seems wildly out of place in the age of digital photography.
But the very basics of photography rival technological advances in the field, said Stuart Diekmeyer, who curated the current exhibit at Harmony Hall to demonstrate that belief.
"Through a Pinhole, Clearly" shows images made by three local photographers using cameras that employ only light and film. Works by Kevin Allen, Tom Lindsay and Bruce McKaig make up the exhibit, which runs through Aug. 28.
"It's all about breaking down the stereotypes of the camera," said Diekmeyer, the center's gallery manager, who is teaching the art form to children at Harmony Hall's visual arts summer camp.
"There's a whole group of people who believe in pinholes. It ties people around the world together," he said.
In order to connect his campers to the pinhole medium -- first observed by Chinese philosopher Mo Ti in the fifth century B.C. -- Diekmeyer planned the exhibit in conjunction with his summer photography lessons.
For the past four years, Diekmeyer has been teaching the campers, ages 7 to 14, how to create their own pinhole cameras using a Pringles can. Essentially, they poke a tiny hole in the base of the can and keep it covered until they want to shoot an image. They attach photographic paper to the inside of the can, and when they uncover the small hole, light comes through and causes a reaction that creates a black-and-white image of what's outside the "camera."
Since there are no fancy functions associated with the makeshift cameras, photographers must use careful placement to get the desired outcome. Diekmeyer said his campers figure out that the art form requires precision after looking at their photos, which Diekmeyer develops for them in the center's darkroom.
"It's really interesting to the kids who can't sit still. It emphasizes to them how they actually move," he said of the blurred images that sometimes result.
Though the campers don't start out trying to tweak their images, there are pinhole photographers who actually seek to distort images for effect.
In order to do so, McKaig, a Washington photographer who uses a 10-gallon metal trash can to shoot urban scenes, plays with exposure time. He turns the trash can multiple times to get images lying on top of each other. He often sets the "camera" in front of cars parked on city streets or bridges and uncovers his pinhole for anywhere from five to 40 minutes. Some of his pictures on display look imprecise, in part because of the rounded edges of the trash can and also because sometimes a scene changed while he was exposing the film to the light. In the exhibit, McKaig's city portraits include ghostlike images of cars that pulled out of their parallel parking spaces or people who have walked by while he was shooting.
Not all pinhole photographers use everyday objects for their cameras. Lindsay, whose pictures document his battle with cancer, uses a store-bought pinhole camera. His black-and-white images include both realistic and blurry representations of himself as well as objects that show his pain, such as piles of medication bottles and the mark a feeding tube left on his stomach.
Allen's work is also done with a 4-by-5-inch field camera with a pinhole lens. His nature images are in color because he digitally processes them onto watercolor paper.
The different ways the three artists have used pinhole photography help Diekmeyer demonstrate to his campers the diverse creative possibilities that exist even in the simplest, most rudimentary processes.
And they apparently get it, because, Diekmeyer said, "When I look around this [exhibit] room, I realize that some of the kids have done really phenomenal images like the ones here."
"Through a Pinhole, Clearly" runs through Aug. 28 in the Main Gallery of Harmony Hall Regional Center, 10701 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington. 301-203-6040. Free to the public, the gallery is open 8:30 a.m.-9:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.