Wayne Martin Belger: Pinhole Photography

May 17, 2008

About the Artist:

Wayne Martin Belger is an Arizona based artist/ machinist who creates unique pinhole cameras to take photographs. His operation is basically a one-man show, undertaking everything from constructing the camera, to processing the film and even building his own frames. After conceptualizing a photographic series he sets out to build the pinhole camera using materials that range from the practical such as aircraft grade aluminum to the absurd, the heart of a child who died at birth. His subjects range from Californian body builders dealing with AIDS to mothers during childbirth. Belger’s photographic pieces are never snapshots; rather, they require precise manual exposure control, 4×5 film, and a tremendous amount of patience. Most of Belger’s images follow a particular theme in relation to the camera created to capture them

Artist Statement:

Born February 11 1964 in Pasadena California to two very understanding middle class Catholic parents, I remember the days when mass was done in Latin. Magic language, magic practices, and magic altars with their own ritualistic traditions are intriguing at 5 years old. Not knowing Latin, I relied more on visuals to receive the communication. The priest was using beautiful sacred tools and potions that were subject-created to bring me into communion with the subject. As the Priest has made his tools of gold and silver and Blood and Body to be in direct relationship with the subject Jesus, I create my tools of Aluminum and Titanium and Blood and Body to be in direct relationship with the subjects they are created for.

The tools I create and work with are pinhole cameras. With pinhole photography, the same air that touches my subject can pass through the pinhole and touch the photo emulsion on the film. There’s no barrier between the two. There are no lenses changing and manipulating light. There are no chips converting light to binary code. With pinhole what you get is an unmanipulated true representation of a segment of light and time, a pure reflection of what is at that moment. With some exposure times getting close to 2 hours, it’s an unsegmented movie from a movie camera with only one frame.

The creation of a camera comes from my desire to relate to a subject. When I choose a subject I spend time studying it. Then I start visualizing how I would like a photo of the subject to look. When that’s figured out, I start on the camera stage of the project by collecting parts, artifacts and relics that relate to the subject. When I’ve gathered enough parts and feel for the subject, I start the construction of the camera. I create the cameras from Aluminum, Titanium, Copper, Brass, Bronze, Steel, Silver, Gold, Wood, Acrylic, Glass, Horn, Ivory, Bone, Human Bone, Human Skulls, Human Organs, Formaldehyde, HIV+ Blood and relics all designed to be the sacred bridge of a communion offering between myself and the subject. All to witness and be a tool of the horrors of creation and the beauty of decay presented by the author light and time.

Themes in his work:

Survival and death are recurring themes in Belger’s work. His future project may include portraits of Holocaust survivors. Employing this concept, his subjects would be photographed using a split cam that exposes the 4×5 film in two parts. A portrait of the survivors would appear on the top two-thirds of the film, while a close-up of their identification number tattoo would be displayed below. The pinhole camera used for this project would include a cross worn by Hitler’s wife, Eva Braun. The relic is already in Belger’s collection.


Heart Camera

Designed to take photos of soon-to-be mothers who are at least 8 months pregnant, and explore Belger’s relationship with his twin brother who died at birth.

4”x5” camera made from Aluminium, Titanium, Acrylic, Formaldehyde and an infant human heart.

Still a work in progress, this project documents mothers who are at least eight months pregnant. The 4×5 pinhole camera created for the project contains the heart of a child who died at birth. The heart, donated by a gallery owner who found it among a collection of old anatomy equipment, is preserved in a sealed compartment at the rear of the camera. Despite its chilling reminder of the risks of childbirth, Belger says he was surprised by how well the mothers took to the Heart camera.

Word about his project spread fast, with expecting mothers now contacting the photographer to set a date. So far Belger has photographed portraits of 30 women. He’s even been invited to photograph the women giving birth. Belger is able to capture only one frame, about a ten-minute exposure, and begins to expose the film just before his subject gives birth.

Untouchable HIV Camera

This 4×5 camera was designed by Wayne Martin Belger to photograph individuals suffering from HIV. It is made of aluminum, copper, titanium and acrylic. HIV-positive blood is pumped in front of the pinhole to create the effect of a #25 red filter.

Belger uses the HIV camera; which contains sealed vials of blood donated by an HIV-positive friend to capture portraits of individuals suffering from the virus

He has already captured portraits of AIDS victims in San Francisco. Belger says that 13 of the 14 individuals he’s photographed for the project are very muscular, citing the steroids they use to treat AIDS as the cause. He plans to expand the project, hoping to travel to South Africa and Calcutta this fall, creating a geographic comparison of people with HIV and AIDS. “Where you live has so much to do with your survival,” he says.

Yama (Tibetan Skull Camera)

The latest camera is named Yama, the Tibetan God of Death. Yama is made from Aluminium, Titanium, Copper, Brass, Bronze Steel, Silver, Gold, Mercury with 4 Sapphires, 3 Rubies (The one at Yama’s third eye was $5000.00), Asian and American Turquoise, Sand, Blood, and 9 Opals inlayed in the Skull. The film loading system is pneumatic. A 300psi air tank in the middle of the camera powers 2 pneumatic pistons to move the film holder forward and lock it into place. The switch to open and close the film chamber is located under the jaw. Yama’s eyes are cast from bronze and silver with a brass pinhole in each. A divider runs down the middle of the skull creating two separate cameras. A finished contact print mounted on copper is inserted in to the back of the camera to view what Yama saw in 3D.

Belger says that every metal part of the camera was assembled by hand. The $240,000 asking price includes a gold Burmese temple case and an elaborate steel and wood table made with materials from India.

In Tibetan Buddhism, Yama will see all of life and Karma is the “judge” that keeps the balance. Designed for two photo series. First series is of his interpretation of the modern incarnation of Southeast Asians deities. Second will take place in the Tibetan refugee cities of India, a home coming through the eyes of a 500 year old Tibetan.

The skull was blessed by a Tibetan Lama for its current journey and Belger is working with a Tibetan legal organization that is sending him to the refugee cities in India.

Yemaya (Underwater Camera)

4”x5” underwater pinhole camera made from Aluminium, Acrylic, Brass, Sea creatures and pearls. An altar to the Santeria Goddess of the ocean, Yemaya, is inside the back of the camera.

Dragonfly Camera

Designed to study and photograph time segments of children.

4”x5” camera made as an altar for a 9 year old girl that passed away. Made from Aluminium, Steel, Acrylic, Insects, and other relics.

Third Eye Camera

Designed to study the beauty of decay.

4”x5” camera made from Aluminium, Titanium, Brass, Silver, Gem Stones and a 150 year old skull of a 13 year old girl. Light and time enters at the third eye, exposing the film in the middle of the skull.

Sons of Abraham (9/11) Camera

Designed to study the Passions of Abraham by capturing images of Imams, Priests, and Rabbis holding a Koran, Torah or Bible, in front of a Church, Mosque or Synagogue. Different man, different book, different building.

4”x5” camera made from a solid block 6061 T6 Aircraft Aluminium inlayed with a piece of the Bible from 1860, a piece of the Koran from1960 and a piece of the Torah from 1880. The jagged piece of metal in the front of the camera with the pinhole in it was once part of a support beam holding up the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Roadside Altar Camera

Designed to study beautiful altars created at points of tragedy.

A collection of Roadside Altars from the US and Mexico all shot with the Roadside Altar Camera. All titled by their GPS location. The total collection is around 200 photos.
All are toned 11”x14” gelatin silver prints.

Deer Camera

Designed to study the core ritual of the hunt and man’s arrogant separation from Nature.

4”x5” camera made from Steel (3/4” plate found in the desert near Mexico), Brass (parts from an 1800’s gold scale and bullet shells), Bronze, Copper (Bullets), Aluminum, Antler and Ivory (carved hand from a 18th century Christ figure).

Wood Camera

Designed to study distance.

The Wood Camera is made from Wood, Aluminum, Copper, Steel, Acrylic, and Insects. Most of the camera parts were found in Death Valley, CA. The camera has an interchangeable front plate used to float objects in front of the pinhole. With pinhole photography the focus is infinite. Objects which are a quarter-inch in front of the pinhole are just as in focus as objects 20 miles away.

Classic Camera

4″x5″ Camera made from Aluminum, Steel, Insects, and Turn-of-the-Century Cameos.


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