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Turning the World on its Head :: Sheila Bocchine takes on wedding photography — lensless style

“My first few photo trips with my pinhole camera resulted in terrible photos, but I loved the way the camera felt in my hands and I loved the way I was able to express myself, and it was so different from standard photojournalism, that I didn’t give up and just kept shooting.”

I can’t recall when I first stumbled across Sheila Bocchine’s pinhole work, but I re-discovered it in the news articles and website material for the Urban Landscape show, that was held in France during the first part of 2008. Investigating further, I discovered that Sheila was doing work traditionally reserved for lensed cameras—wedding photography. Intrigued, I set out to find out a little bit more about how she came to be doing this work and discovered an exuberant artist, eager to share her joy of pinholing with everyone around.

Erin Malone: I really like your work from your garden series—I find that work very whimsical. Are you still adding to that body of work?

Yes, when I find gardens that I must photograph I take notes and contact the owners. I have three gardens right now that I’m going to photograph. It’s a bit hot right now in Phoenix, so it will probably have to wait until the fall. Most of those photographs came from my grandma’s yard in Concordia, Missouri and from Gracie’s garden in Phoenix. I would love to travel, photographing the mesmerizing worlds of garden ornaments. I totally believe they come alive at night!

I am intrigued by the fact that you are doing wedding photography with pinhole – what prompted you to start doing that?

I started experimenting with pinhole portraits when I lived in NYC and was loving the result I was getting.

When I moved back to Phoenix, my boyfriend (Gary Millard, who is also a photographer) and I, started photographing weddings and because of the wonderful, dreamy effect that pinhole creates, I wanted to only photograph them in pinhole. He photographs the wedding in digital and I photograph it in pinhole. It works out perfectly because we’re able to offer something that no one else in Phoenix is doing and it’s the artistic compliment to Gary’s great wedding photographs.

Snail, My Nana's Garden, July 2006

I also love how, because they are long exposures, I am able to capture the energy of their wedding. For evening weddings I’ll leave the shutter open for 20-30 minutes.

How did you get your first wedding?

We booked a lot of friends and family weddings to begin with. I had just moved to Phoenix, but Gary has lived here most of his life and his family was in the restaurant business so they knew everyone! Gary had been using their restaurant as his personal art gallery so when we plunged into wedding photography, we had a great response.

Are you getting clients who understand the uniqueness of what the images will be like? (do you have to explain how it all works first or do they seek you out BECAUSE your work is lensless?)

It really depends on the client. If they are in the local art scene then they generally come to us because we offer pinhole photography. We photograph the weddings of many artists, musicians and poets. We owned a photography gallery for two years in downtown Phoenix, so that helps us get the artsy crowd as well.

Other clients are definitely intrigued, so I make sure to always bring my pinhole camera to our consultation. They like the soft focus and romantic effect of the pinhole camera. Once they see the camera they tend to get very curious and start to ask many questions.

I love explaining pinhole photography, I spend a lot of time doing that. It’s funny, Gary has tons of photos of me showing off and explaining my camera to strangers! But we definitely get clients who request no pinhole; one my favorite was ‘I do not want any of those pin-prick photos at my wedding’. So I definitely think the client is someone who already appreciates art, is interested in alternative photography, or is looking for something special and unique.

Besides doing weddings, have you branched into any other more commercial applications of your pinhole work?

Yes! I show my work in galleries and museums. I LOVE doing that. I recently had a show outside of Paris, France, and I’ll be showing in London in July. It thrills me to pieces to see my prints printed large, usually 30×30, hanging in exhibits. I curate photography exhibits and show quite often in Phoenix as well.

Babs and Kiera, Phoenix Arizona, November 2007

Pink Flamingo, Gracie's Garden, May 2006

I also have recently started selling my pinholes in postcard form on etsy: http://www.daisyjellybean.etsy.com. I have been making and sending postcards for as long as I can remember so I finally decided to open a shop. It’s doing really well. My dream with this venture is encourage people to send thank you notes, birthday wishes, get well messages etc… to send something in the mail that will make the recipient smile and have a fabulous day. I put the postcards in vellum envelopes so the postal workers can also enjoy the pinhole postcard on it’s journey. Once the journey is complete they are perfect for framing, so they are beautiful frame-able mail art!

What is your favorite camera for your work?

I always use a medium format pinhole camera by Zero Image.

How long have you been photographing?

I think I’ve always been interested in photography. My parents always had a video camera or a film camera with them, documenting our lives. When I was 8, I told my mom that I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic magazine. I used to sit in my room with the magazines looking at the photos and using a dictionary to look up the words I couldn’t understand. I distinctively remember her telling me that photography wasn’t a real job! HA! So I went through life wondering how photographs were taken and put into books and magazines!

I remember taking my first photograph when I was 9, there was a moment when I could tell something amazing was happening, and at the time I didn’t know, but there was definitely a spark! My dad was in the military and we were living in Sicily. We had spent the day at Mount Etna, Catania and in my personal favorite city in Sicily, Taormina. It was evening, the air had my favorite Italian smell of wood burning (probably pizza), and the cobble streets were strung with lights. I took a photo of my family and as I pressed the button, I remember thinking to myself, that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

My parents bought me a new camera almost every year for my birthday starting at age 10, for some reason, I had a knack for breaking them! I was always taking photos and still love looking through old photo albums. In High School I was the photo editor of the yearbook and the student newspaper. On my 18th birthday I used all my birthday money and some of my own saved money to buy my first ‘real’ camera, a Nikon N50, it’s also when I said I wanted to go to college for photojournalism. I went to undergrad at Columbia College Chicago and majored in photojournalism. I was also the Photo Editor of The Columbia Chronicle, our school paper.

Before I left Chicago I saw the Zero Image pinhole camera at a photography store in Chicago was definitely intrigued. When I was living in Arizona, I had a dream that I was using that camera to photograph the sunsets, and was printing them wall size like Andreas Gursky’s photographs, and the dream was so powerful, that the next day I ordered one from Hong Kong.

That was pretty much the beginning of my love for pinhole photography. It definitely took a few years to master the camera but now I won’t shoot with any other camera. My first few photo trips with my pinhole camera resulted in terrible photos, but I loved the way the camera felt in my hands and I loved the way I was able to express myself, and it was so different from standard photojournalism, that I didn’t give up and just kept shooting. I took notes for 2-3 years, until I mastered the length of exposures and could gauge the depth of field. I moved to NYC to attend graduate school at Pratt Institute and spent the whole two years experimenting and learning how to use my favorite toy!

Were you a photographer when you had the gallery? What prompted you to stop doing that—I would think having a place to show your work every now and then would be pretty cool?

Yes I was a photographer when we had the gallery. Being the owner and curator of four white walls was fantastic! We were open for two years but weren’t making enough to stay open. We sold many pieces if the price was under $100, but maintaining the gallery with a few hundred dollars a month in sales just wasn’t feasible. As much as I loved the gallery, closing was probably the best thing to do for my pinhole photography career. The gallery took all of my time and I was busy promoting the artists I was exhibiting, I never had time to focus on myself. When the gallery was open, I exhibited a couple times a year, but ever since it closed I’m exhibiting almost monthly! Sometimes you just have to choose what is best for you… and I’m happiest when I’m pinholing and exhibiting!

Bodybuilder, Venice Beach, California, January 2008

What inspires you?

My imagination inspires me —it’s pretty wild! I dream up ideas and then I have to seek them out.

Traveling inspires me, I try to get out of town as often as I can, even if it’s a road trip to a new town three hours away.

People’s stories inspire me, I’m always talking to the most random individuals.

Learning inspires me, I’m always reading books, magazines, blogs…

Artists that inspire me… I never remember anyone’s names but I read a lot of art blogs and my favorite art magazine, Art Forum. Suzanne Falk is a local photorealism painter and she definitely inspires me. I know she’s a painter but her pieces are so incredible that sometimes I mistake them for photographs.

Photographers on flickr inspire me. I’ve met so many wonderful and talented photographers through flickr and before that, fotolog. Looking at the world through their eyes is such a treat for me!

What’s your next big thing?

Oh, the next big thing…. I think getting my name out there globally. I’m pretty famous locally but would like to be represented by galleries in Scottsdale, New York City, San Fransisco, Santa Fe, Chicago, London, Paris, anywhere in Italy(!), Tokyo… I also really want a new excuse to travel!

I’m also looking forward to my pinhole postcards taking off! I could definitely spend all my time making postcards and taking pinhole photographs to exhibit!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to take their pinhole work commercial – i.e. to do weddings or other events?

Just start doing it and add it to your portfolio. When you meet with clients, show them that you offer something very unique.

TELL EVERYONE!

I talk to a lot of people and I’m always telling people what I do. I hand out business cards and postcards all the time. I’ve actually started handing out more postcards than business cards. The front of the postcard is one of my favorite images and the back gives a little background info and some starting off prices.