It's not everyone who dreams of building a pinhole camera out of an old van, and perhaps fewer who would go to the effort of applying for a Lilly grant through the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship program to do it. However, Nicole L. Croy, Carroll High School's photography teacher, did.
Much to her surprise and delight the Lilly Foundation thought it was a great idea, too.
Croy was recently awarded a $10,000 grant to make her dream a reality.
Every year the foundation awards a maximum of 100 grants of $10,000 each to Indiana teachers through their fellowship program for professional renewal projects.
Croy said she first became interested in building pinhole cameras 10 years ago. A pinhole camera is much like any other camera except a person can use any type of a light-tight container, from a pop can to an oatmeal container. A “pinhole” is then poked in one end, which serves as the lens. Photographic material, either film or light-sensitive paper, is placed at the other end. A piece of black tape, or any other lightproof substance can be placed over the hole when the camera is not in use. When in use the tape is removed from the pinhole and the film or light-sensitive paper is exposed.
It takes a little trial and error to figure out the correct exposure, and the smaller the hole the longer the exposure takes. The tradeoff is the smaller the hole the sharper the image. Just like F stops on a lens, the smaller the aperture, the more light it takes to expose the photo and the greater the depth of field, or area of the photograph that is in focus.
Croy has built pinhole cameras out of everything from cigar boxes to 50-gallon drums.
The drum, Croy said, is a panoramic pinhole camera. It has five holes around the outside. Two large sheets of photographic paper are wrapped around a piece of PVC pipe on the inside, placed in the center.
The only problem with the camera, said Croy, was she kept getting herself in the photo. Short of climbing on top of the drum, it can't be avoided. Her solution was to run around in circles, which adds a “ghosting” image in the photograph. So, somehow, it seemed like a normal progression to think about a van.
“I can drive to my location. Then literally climb into the camera to take the image,” Croy said.
With a pinhole through the back of the van and a very large sheet of film or paper stretched across the back wall she can watch as the image appears. She's not sure how long it will take for the exposures, which means she could be sitting in the van for up to two hours. She is planning on painting the van to make it look like a giant camera. She wants people to have an inkling of what she is doing when she drives up, parks and then climbs into the back of the van for two hours, sometimes with her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
“I don't want people to think something “creepy” is going on,” Croy said with a laugh.
She said it could be that her images turn out to be a montage of people coming up to look at the van. Right now she is thinking less about content and location and more about the process of taking the photos and processing the large prints.
“The cool thing is to be inside the camera and watch it expose,” Croy said.
To develop the oversized, 4-by-8-foot images she will either use a long, oversized trough to roll them in the chemistry or possibly on the floor of her art room with a mop. Down the road she would like to do a show and a workshop and, of course, use the van as a teaching tool for her photo students at Carroll.
“I love being a teacher more then being an artist. If you were going to pay me $100,000 to do one or the other I would choose teaching in a heartbeat,” Croy said.
Croy has grown the photography program at Carroll from a single introductory-level class to five levels. Croy, a Snider High School graduate, got her undergraduate degree in photography and art education at Ball State. A few years ago she got her master of fine arts in photography at the University of Saint Francis.