It’s hard to miss freshman Walker Mulley when he walks around campus.
He’s lanky, walks with a distinctive lean in his gait, possesses a mop of dark curly hair that he often slicks back or parts like Maurice Moss on “The IT Crowd.” He wears three-piece tweed suits, bowties, a top hat, Doc Martin boots, and can commonly be seen wielding a cane.
“I’ve heard some people refer to him as one of the most classy freshmen. He has a retro style,” freshman Colton Duncan said.
But his fashion sense isn’t the only thing setting Mulley apart. He also engages in amateur photography, using a pinhole camera made predominantly of cardboard.
“I do admittedly enjoy the eccentricity of it,” Mulley said, smiling.
Mulley’s camera is a cardboard box, vaguely the size and shape of a small digital camera. There are two wooden spools for winding the film inside. The lens is a single tiny hole –– hence the name “pinhole” –– that, when the cardboard shutter is lifted, lets light inside the box and exposes the film. Mulley uses standard 35mm fijifilm, and generally estimates his exposure time based off the weather.
Mulley is recent artist in the world of pinhole photography.
“I had gotten my first phone with a camera and started taking pictures with it, but was upset with the pixels, so I tried using some antique filtering to soften them,” he said. “That’s when my parents noticed I was into weird photography and so they got me a pinhole camera kit for Christmas 2011.”
It took Mulley a while to gather what he needed, so he did not start taking pictures until the Spring of 2012.
“I took my first picture on Easter: A long exposure shot of Easter dinner, hanging upside-down from the ceiling,” he said.
Mind you, Walker wasn’t hanging from the ceiling; his cardboard camera was, with the help of a flexible tripod.
“He does a lot of experimentation with the film that I think turns out really cool,” said freshman Megan Scott.“It’s mostly a lot of playing around, I like the style of the photography.”
Mulley says he finds pinhole photography to be fun and beautiful.
“I’m going for a sort of gritty feel. It’s weird because the film gets scratched by the camera and so it’s gritty, but the long exposure makes everything smooth and dreamlike,” Mulley said. “You don’t have to focus a pinhole camera, everything is in focus and the depth of field is pretty much infinite.”
Scott agreed that the pinhole photography had a unique quality to it.
“I don’t have a lot of experience with photography so I couldn’t tell you the technical reasons but I think film has a richness to it that digital doesn’t,” she said. “It’s cozy.”
Because Mulley uses standard 35mm film, he doesn’t develop the film himself. He simply takes the film to Rite Aid and asks for an uncut set of negatives to be developed. He invested in a negative scanner and processes them himself.
“I cut the negatives myself because manually winding the film, the pictures don’t line up with the index marks,” said Mulley.
During the photo-taking process Mulley frequently pauses to jot details in a small notebook.
“I keep a journal of the pictures I take because sometimes they turn out so weird that I don’t know what they are if I don’t write it down,” Mulley said. “It helps me keep track of how many exposures I’ve done, though it is unreliable.”
Mulley doesn’t take pictures as often as he’d like.
“It’s a big event when I do,” he said. “I take pictures over break, it’s one of my few hobbies and so if I do have enough time I’ll indulge in it.”
Pinhole photography requires prolonged exposure and therefore needs to be steady, so Mulley generally employs one of his two tripods, though he has used his knee as an impromptu rest on occasion. That and all the film prep work that goes into it makes it a fairly involved. But Mulley said the work was worth the payoff.
“The whole process is enjoyable,” he said. “I like analog, it feels more real.”
He said that the analog photographer has to factor in chance.
“I don’t know what I’m going to get, I’m manually doing my shutter times,” he said. “The three things I like best are the process, product, and surprise.”
Mulley said he enjoys looking for somewhat unusual settings, describing his art as a kind of “Analog Instagram.”
“I like to take pictures of industrial stuff, bricks, trains, peeling paint, and people. I like to take pictures of people who are dressed up,” said Mulley. “I generally like simple compositions because of the graininess and lack of detail. I try to set up interesting scenes as opposed to shots.”
Mulley would like others to give pinhole photography a try, reminding them that it is very easy to make your own camera, especially with the help of the Internet. And the photographs are indeed striking, with the happy accidents they contain. Mulley especially enjoys the flares caused by accidental exposure through seams in the box of his camera and double exposures, producing ghostly images on top of one another.
“He has a passion for this photography and he does a good job at it,” Duncan said, “The feel he attains with his photography, with the buildings he chooses, the backdrops — the environment he creates — it has a very, very cool feel to it.”