Art of the Pinhole Camera with Chris Orr


Teia Pearson interviews Chris Orr and Jacqueline Smith

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Chris Orr and Jacqueline Smith from Corvallis Oregon. Together these two make a very inspiring couple, both coming up in the world of photography. They are now striving to turn heads in the matchbox pinhole camera scene. It all started with one creative, fun date with Chris’s first pinhole camera to impress Jacqueline.

Thank you for meeting up with me Chris. First tell me a little about yourself.

Chris Orr: I grew up in Bend Oregon where I first became interested in photography. I started out with my dad’s 35mm Minolta x-700 that I still have today.  A big interest of mine is bike riding, on or off road. I am into music of all genres and love to play my guitar and harmonica.  Pinhole cameras inspired me when I did a web search for homemade cameras online and I found some instructions on creating them.

Teia Pearson: How did you get into creating matchbox pinhole camera photographs?

Chris Orr: I was unemployed for almost a year and I was trying to impress Jacqueline on an almost-nothing budget.  We had just met each other and we shared an
interest in photography. The matchbox was composed of free materials so it was a perfect option as a date activity.

TP: What materials go into making a matchbox pinhole camera and how is it made?

Chris Orr: The matchbox camera is made with and from the following: needle, empty matchbox, aluminum can, lots of electrical tape, sharpie, tissue, the plastic spine of a notebook, empty film roll and new film. You can go here for details on building one.

TP: Is there a certain type of film you use and why?

Chris Orr: Yes, I like to use Fuji Film 200 ISO color or B&W because it’s usually pretty easy to find. It’s also the film that we made our first camera with so I don’t need to use a light meter and adjust exposure time too much. Together, we’ve become pretty good at judging the exposure time for different lighting situations. It took a while to get there, and to do so we keep a notebook with exposure times. This became pretty important to get well-exposed shots in the beginning.

TP: Why do you prefer using a homemade pinhole camera over a regular camera bought from a photo shop?

Chris Orr: Patience. I feel patience is a lost practice. The best way to answer why I prefer matchbox to digital photography is the element of surprise. You never know what you’re going to get!

TP: How do you develop the pictures you make with the pinhole cameras?

Chris Orr:  Film is processed by Oregon Camera, a local Photo Shop downtown Corvallis, Oregon.  I would love to develop film at our home and we have all the equipment to but currently our bathroom is way too small to make it happen.  Soon I hope.

TP: What photograph was your first with the pinhole camera?

Chris Orr: The tree was our very first photograph with the pinhole camera.  It still remains our favorite photo.  It also holds a sentimental value with it.

TP: What type of images, or moments are you trying to capture with a pinhole camera?

Chris Orr: Right now I would say I like to capture the world through my eyes. I love shadows and the geometry they create – the structure or lack of structure. I know Jacqueline does too. We both have the kind of eye that really sees our surroundings rather than just looking. Alleys have been really fun. We also bike everywhere we go so the slower perspective and lack of windows, a car frame and seat belts really lets you appreciate where you’re going and the wonderful things to see.

TP: Where do you display your work for the public to see?

Chris Orr: On our blog, Matchbox Pinhole Photography – M Box B Log, and on The Alchemist. We would like to thank Noah for this.

TP: You recently entered the Lensbaby Pinhole Contest and won. Can you tell me about that and how you picked the winning picture?

Chris Orr: The Lensbaby contest was brought to my attention via Twitter, as they wrote me with an “@” message after a tweet of mine with an M Box B Log link. I immediately choose my favorite two photos and submitted them to the contest. The light house has striking depth.

TP: Are there any improvements with the pinhole cameras you are trying to make?

Chris Orr: Yes, many. I am trying to find a sharper image. The ratio of the pinhole size to the camera body depth needs to be refined to find the elusive sharper image. We are still learning new techniques from the book we won in the Lensbaby contest. For instance, sanding down the hole in the aluminum piece to allow closer contact with the film makes a big difference.

TP: How does Jacqueline Smith come into play, and how does she help you out in taking pictures?

Chris Orr: As my girlfriend, Jacqueline Smith helps me take photos. She inspires and motivates me to take creative photos. We both love art in all different shapes and sizes. Our appreciation and passion show through our work. We usually go out with a matchbox and bike around with nowhere to go and no time frame or constrictions. That’s when our best photos come forth. We share the camera, and usually take a couple shots with different exposure times for the same thing – just to be sure we get the image we want. It has been a really great time so far.

I asked Jacqueline her side on the pinhole camera story and this is what she had to say:

Jacqueline Smith: I was introduced to the matchbox camera by Chris Orr. We were on a date, and in trying to plan an economical one; Chris and I made our first camera. Then we biked around town to take some shots. Color has become my preference with matchbox images. For 35mm photography I prefer B&W, but with matchbox I tend to enjoy the details color film captures. I like the unexpected results of a matchbox camera. Digital photography is so accurate and has become a mirror of our surroundings. But with the matchbox, you never know what you’re going to get. I love different perspectives, angles, colors, shadows – everything and anything that isn’t obvious to most. Even though we all see beautiful parts of our world, I do not think we see them all. We attempt to capture those moments.

You can see more of Chris and Jacqueline’s work at the Pistol River’s Creative Group Show 2010 coming up in October at Good Neighbor Pizzeria in Portland Oregon.

Chris Orr’s Twitter

Jacqueline Smith’s Twitter

You can see more of Chris’s work here on his blog

thassey-10Teia Pearson is diving back into her passion of writing.  She is working on her memoir and writing for the arts in Chicago, IL. During her time she maintains a blog “Just Breathe” about coping with Fibromyalgia and Vertigo.




  • Anonymous

    I love these! Great article Teia, and fantastic images

  • Thank you Julie! A very fun interview 🙂