Pinholed: Turning wheelie bins into art

GREEN, bulky and often fairly smelly, wheelie bins were never the most welcome addition to the Edinburgh streetscape. Indeed, they are obviously just pure rubbish.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 10th March 2012, 12:00 pm

But in the hands of photographer Kenny Bean, the humble wheelie bin has been transformed into, of all things, something of a work of art.

A small adaptation the size of a tiny pinhole, some careful manoeuvring into prime position and at least 20 minutes later – that is assuming no-one has dared to lift the lid to deposit an old crisp packet or sweetie wrapper inside – and the wheelie bin’s job is done.

A spell in a dark room and some chemicals later, and the results are usually striking and often provocative images, photographs captured without camera or lens, using just light and paper.

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“What many pinhole photographers like is that element of surprise,” says Kenny, 47, a professional creative photographer who has wheeled his modified bin to spots around Edinburgh, using it to capture a range of intriguing images.

“You can’t be too sure of exactly what picture you’ll end up with. It’s far more satisfying than simply pushing the button on a digital camera.”

The results of his work, along with other fascinating images from fellow pinhole photographers, can be seen at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in the city’s first Pinhole Photography Festival, which also offers a chance for a new breed of would-be pinhole photographers to discover how to make their own basic cameras.

Each striking image on show, some in dazzling colour, some quirky – such as a snap taken from inside one photographer’s mouth – and some blurred ghostly portraits, has been captured using the simplest of cameras possible: just a sealed box, a pinhole to allow in a shaft of light and either some photographic paper or film.

With no lenses to fiddle with and an element of guesswork involved when it comes to framing each shot, along with a giant dollop of patience – exposure time can range from minutes to several hours – the results, agrees Kenny, can be a more hit or miss affair than simply pushing the button on even the simplest smartphone camera.

The question then, is with digital photography these days offering us all the chance to take perfect pictures and computer technology at our fingertips to tweak and twist it how we want, why bother?

“I think this is a kickback against digital photography in a way,” says Kenny, 47, who also uses a sewage pipe – a new one, he quickly adds – to capture striking images which look like they could have been taken on the most expensive of equipment.

“A lot of people find digital photography quite unsatisfactory. It’s too easy. You have a screen that shows you what picture you’re taking and every picture works, more or less. There’s not much involved in taking it either.

‘So there’s this lack of creative control, everything is done for you, all automatic. But pinhole photography is very manual. You have to work at it to get a picture and that makes it more satisfying when you do get a good picture.”

According to Kenny, the process involved is so simple that parties of primary school children who attended the festival workshops earlier this week mastered the art within minutes.

“You basically just need a sealed box,” he explains. “You put a pinhole in the edge of it and a piece of light sensitive paper or film inside the box to capture the picture which is projected through the pinhole.

“Seal the box up then expose the photo paper for seconds, minutes, sometimes hours and then develop it in a dark room. It’s that simple but the results are very satisfying.”

The festival runs until March 17 and includes a chance to see photographs captured using pinhole cameras, workshops and tips on how to make your own pinhole cameras.

“The wheelie bin is tricky, it takes 20 minutes to take a picture,” adds Kenny. “And it’s quite strange to be pushing a bin around the streets while I get the right location.

“I then have to sit next to the bin otherwise people walk up and stick their rubbish in it, completely ruining the shot.

“But once you master your pinhole camera you can get a picture every time,” he adds.

“And it’s just much more fun that just pushing a button.”

• Edinburgh Pinhole Photography Festival runs until March 17 at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Visit