The inaugural Birmingham Architecture Festival happened last weekend and Photo School was involved. We co-ran the pinhole photography workshop on the Saturday with Jenny Duffin (who we really hope to work with again) and lead a couple of walks on Sunday and Monday in Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter.

The tagline of the festival was “Take A Second Look” and the idea was to get out of the conference rooms where architecture festivals normally happen and get onto the streets. Which was the main reason I approached festival directory Laira Piccinato in the first place. Our photo teaching is all about using the camera to look at things anew and that seeing and making images is a fascinating way to appreciate and engage with the places we live in. I sense kindred spirits here.

The Pinhole Camera workshop at the Old Joint Stock Theatre wasn’t a sellout but, potential revenue bonanza aside, this turned out to be a good thing in the end. We had seven people in the class and between them they took 45 photos, all of which were developed in our makeshift darkroom (the OJS’s windowless dressing room). Had we succeeded in getting triple that number we’d still have been developing the next day!

The day started with a brief introduction by me to pinhole cameras and their precursor, the Camera Obscura (something I want to build on a massive scale in Birmingham at some point in the future) and a quick tour of the buildings around Colmore Row from Laira. Then, as I set up the darkroom, Jenny got people building their cameras.

The trick here was to get the pinhole just right. Too small and you need to expose it for ages. Too large and you’ll start to lose focus. And while the science behind this is fairly easy to understand, getting it right with a pin and a piece of metal requires a bit of trial and error. Which is a good thing – that’s how you learn.

With cameras made we loaded them up with photographic paper (much quicker to develop than negative film) and sent people out into the streets with their not-inconspicuous red boxes. As expected, some of the photos were disappointing, some were amazing, and we were mostly able to explain why (though there were a few “WTF?” moments). Here’s a few of my favourites:

Pinhole photo by Vicky

Pinhole photo by Vicky

Pinhole photo by Simon

Pinhole photo by Simon

Pinhole photo by Mary

Pinhole photo by Mary

Pinhole photo by Lisa

Pinhole photo by Lisa

Pinhole photo by Kerry-Anne

Pinhole photo by Kerry-Anne

Double-exposure pinhole photo by Jess

Double-exposure pinhole photo by Jess

Pinhole photo by Dan

Pinhole photo by Dan

The photos are on show at 6/8 Kafe during June so if you’re in town do pop in and have a look.

Photo by Bham Architecture Festival

Photo by Bham Architecture Festival

On Sunday and Monday we a couple of sell-out variations on our usual Photo Walks in Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter, accompanied by Laira and her architectural knowledge, giving us a valuable perspective on the Why and How of the key buildings on the routes. Her reading of a passage from “The Girl From Hockley” about the derelict George and Dragon pub was perfect and gave me some ideas of how we might bring readings into the walks.

Here’s a few of photos I managed to take:

Debating redevelopment in Digbeth with Laira.

Debating redevelopment in Digbeth with Laira.

Photo Walk on the Digbeth canals

Photo Walk on the Digbeth canals

Photographing the catacombs of the Jewellery Quarter

Photographing the catacombs of the Jewellery Quarter

Laira telling stories in the cemetery

Laira telling stories in the cemetery

Photographing the derelict  Wellington Works

Photographing the derelict Wellington Works

This also marked our first official walk in the Jewellery Quarter, something I’ve been putting off until we’d gotten enough knowledge to make it worth doing well, and I think we’re ready now so look out for those over the summer.

Needless to say working with a festival like this was a fantastic experience. We didn’t just get access to a new audience – we got access to a whole new way of thinking, the value of which cannot be underestimated. We definitely want to do more of this sort of thing.

The pinhole workshop will be run again, once Jenny has recovered from co-ordinating the festival, so keep a eye out for that. And if you want more walky-talky-shooty action there’s a Still Walking mini-festival this weekend. And, of course, our Digbeth walks continue to run monthly.

And finally, on Sunday, Matt’s running our Architectural Photography workshop. The timing isn’t co-incidental. 🙂