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Photographer Sarah Roesink

Using simple pinhole cameras, the London-based photographer shoots and develops nostalgic and eerie images by hand

Sarah Roesink is a London-based photographer who has an enviable collection of self-made camera obscuras and a collection of vintage cameras. She deals in atmosphere and auras and spends most of her time cutting holes in cardboard boxes, from which she makes pinhole Polaroid cameras. It’s all about uncertainty and experimentation…

Dazed Digital: How do you define 'atmosphere'?
Sarah Roesink:
Atmosphere to me is something very personal, like a connection that you feel with a place. However, the camera you use can also underline the atmosphere in an image. I have a very old camera a KW Reflex Box 6X9 from 1933, that has a very basic lens and this has an immense effect on the outcome of the image.

DD: How far do you art direct your photography - or do you just point and shoot?
Sarah Roesink:
There is a lot of nostalgia in my photography, so I would remove objects that could affect that notion. I used to like using my father’s desk as a backdrop; however, he has now moved to the modern era and has a computer on it, which for me takes away the aura of the desk. I once made a panoramic pinhole camera, which produced a wrap around shot that included the camera in the final image, things like that only happen through accidents.

DD: Tell me about the formats that you use?
Sarah Roesink:
I like the immediacy of Polaroid and slide film. I currently work with a pinhole camera that has a Polaroid back which I made myself. It’s a medium format Polaroid back and I built the camera body from a small cardboard box. I have made a number of pinhole cameras before, so I knew what sort of adjustments to make to the body to get the look in the image I wanted. Apart from that, just a usual digital camera!

DD: Tell me about the pinhole Polaroid project…
Sarah Roesink:
The pinhole camera with Polaroid back is something I had in mind for a very long time. I was invited to participate in an exhibition focusing on analogue photography last summer and this really brought me back to it. It took several attempts before I managed to build the body for the camera that gave me the desired outcome for the images. I wanted a vignette effect in the images, so I had to find the right distance between the Polaroid back and the pinhole. This is what I love about pinhole photography, the uncertainty and experimentation involved in creating every image. I usually try to imagine what the image would look like, but its constant trial and error.

DD: I like the Heath Robinson adventures - Tell me more about your collection of cameras and equipment...
Sarah Roesink:
There are self-made camera obscura and a series of vintage cameras: a KW Reflex Box 6X9 from 1933, a Nikon FG-20, a Voigtländer 35mm, a Foth 6X9 which was produced between 1933-37. And there is also a Canon 5D digital camera on my shelf. Everyone has their moment…

DD: What's been the greatest loss to photography with the advent of digital?
Sarah Roesink:
The disappearing traditional darkrooms at art colleges and universities are the biggest loss. In the darkroom you are limited to cyan, magenta and yellow dials to adjust your colours and there is no undo button, it teaches you a lot about colour, which Photoshop doesn’t.  

DD: Another question… slightly morbid but what would you do if you lost your sight? It’s just that pinhole cameras remind me of myopia…
Sarah Roesink:
This is a very difficult question, I have no idea what it feels like to have no vision, but I’d like to think that I would start writing and express myself that way. Creating images in people’s minds, rather than on photographic paper.

Text by Robert Urquhart