Perkins’ spotlights pinhole photographers’ ‘ethereal’ work

Perkins’ spotlights pinhole photographer’s ‘ethereal’ work

Sharon Harris’ photography is currently on display as part of the Perkins Center for the Arts’ Photography38 exhibition at their Moorestown location.

Pinhole photographer Sharon Harris gave a presentation on pinhole photography on Monday, Feb. 18 at Perkins Center for the Arts as part of Perkins’ “Conversations on Culture” lecture series. Harris stands in front of her photo “Local Haunt #2,” which is on display as part of Perkins Center for the Arts’ Photography 38 exhibition.

Sharon Harris spent years as a photography retoucher, but she was never quite satisfied with her own photography. When she looked at her images, she saw simply what she had seen with her own two eyes staring back at her, and she found that rather boring.

So one day nearly 15 years ago, she was explaining to a photographer that she felt like her images weren’t exciting enough. He offered her a book on pinhole photography, and he never got the book back.

Harris’ photography is currently on display as part of the Perkins Center for the Arts’ Photography38 exhibition at its Moorestown location. On Thursday, Feb. 14, Harris spoke to a crowd gathered at Perkins as part of the center’s ongoing “Conversations on Culture” series.

Kahra Buss, Perkins’ executive director, said Harris’ atmospheric pinhole photography brings a different element to the exhibition, so they reached out to her in the hope she might explain her process. Harris happily agreed, saying she thought it was a great opportunity to introduce the art to someone in the hope they might find their passion in the same way she had found hers years ago.

A pinhole camera is a camera without a lens that instead uses a tiny pinhole in a light-proof box. The resulting image creates distorted images that play with shape and bend light in interesting and unexpected ways.

Harris’ collection of pinhole cameras.

“I really don’t know what it’s going to do, which I love because I’m all about surprises; I don’t want to know,” Harris said.

Harris creates her own cameras. After receiving the book years ago, she began scouring flea markets and eBay to find interesting tins with which to assemble her cameras. To date, she’s created 25 pinhole cameras — all of which she uses regularly.

The process is labor intensive. From assembling her cameras to developing her film — she never shoots digital — the shoots may result in something spectacular or may yield nothing at all. Of the thousands of images she’s taken in 15 years, she has 100 pieces that make up her body of work.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way because you can’t get these any other way,” Harris said.

Harris has one negative of each image. From there, she’ll scan the paper negative and play with the coloration and other elements in Photoshop. She said she’s no purist when it comes to her images and is regularly taking images down from her website to play with them some more before putting them back up.

“From start to finish, I’ll do whatever it takes to make an image,” Harris said.

Recently, Harris has started a series where she photographs her model interacting with plastic animals and inanimate objects. She said she’d been giving some thought to whether these animals would start to look real through the pinhole lens. One day, she saw a plastic deer on the neighbor’s lawn and asked to borrow it … for a month. He agreed. She’s since gotten her own plastic deer that she’s taken to interesting and unexpected locations.

Her piece currently on display in Perkins is titled “Local Haunt #2.” Her model hopped up on a triangle sculpture at Burlington County College, but the pinhole has distorted the sculpture so that it appears the model is resting on an oblong, linear shape.

Harris sets up one of her pinhole cameras.

Harris said she wasn’t sure if it would make for an interesting image when her model jumped up there, and the photo even wound up in the trash after she printed it. A friend who also does pinhole photography encouraged her to submit when she saw it.

Not only did the piece earn the Laurel Springs resident a spot in the exhibition, but Harris was selected as one of three winning photographers who will have multiple pieces exhibited at Perkins’ Collingswood location this time next year. Buss said while Harris’ work is photography, it has almost an otherworldly, fantasy tone to it that draws viewers in.

“You look at it, and you know that it was somewhere in nature, and yet it has this completely ethereal feel,” Buss said of Harris’ work.

Harris joked that for years she thought any of her successful images were the result of pure luck, but these days she’s started to admit it may be the result of her method and eye. Even still, she said she’s always still learning and doesn’t put too much pressure on herself.

“I’m not that fussy about things. I just wing everything really,” Harris said a warm laugh.

Exhibition38 is on display at Perkins’ Moorestown location until March 24. To find out more, visit http://perkinsarts.org.