What is film?

I had the privilege today to work with a group of kids (mostly kindergarten and first graders) in a pinhole photography workshop. Pinhole photography is not exactly in the mainstream of photography, so it was refreshing to introduce others to its possibilities.

The event was organized by the Dunham Tavern Museum, a local historical spot on Cleveland's near east side. It was held at the Rainey Institute, an awesome inner-city center that teaches neighborhood kids about the arts.

Anyway, Elizabeth Wantz, the Museum Manager, conducted the event. We met through my friends at LabWork (probably the best black and white lab you'll find in the U.S.). The design of the camera was simple. Elizabeth was able to get a local paint manufacturer to donate quart cans. A nail was driven in the middle side, covered with foil and taped down with masking tape, and then a small pin used to prick a hole in the foil. Black duct tape was used as a "shutter." She used photo paper as the media, cut into 4 x 5-inch pieces.

My role, as the "professional," was to show the kids what pinhole cameras could look like, and show samples of the kind of images they could produce. I did what I thought was a commendable job, using the "KISS," method and then opened the floor for questions.

One of the first questions was, "What's film?"

Damn, should have seen that one coming, given that the average age was probably seven. I did my best to explain that it was a light-sensitive chemical on plastic, or in our case, paper. I know. Huh?

So, in groups of six or so, Elizabeth and I took the students into a makeshift darkroom.  She cut the  8 x 10 sheets of photo paper into 4 x 5 pieces and handed them to the students to insert and then seal the can. The room was pretty dark but by the time each group was completed, you could distinguish shapes.

But light will find its way. Especially when, say, a youngster decides to jump up and down with LED light-up shoes, or another decides to check their cell phone.

I won't be around when the kids take their photos. I'm sure many don't get the concept that they only get one shot, and the "shutter" has to stay taped over the pinhole at all other times. I'd be real happy with a 30% success rate.

Oh, my other favorite question, "Are you really, really, really, really, really, really, really sure this will take a picture?"