Dumpsters as Pinhole Cameras: The Huffington Report on “The Trashcam Project” Gets It All Wrong


posted Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 8:42 AM EST

Recently, The Huffington Post ran an article in their Culture section that made me want to call Ms. Huffington herself and give her a piece of my mind. This “report” about the German “Trashcam Project,” I would tell her is, to put it mildly just this short of pure garbage.

However, let me start with the basic facts. The Trashcam Project is made up of six trashmen, er...sanitation workers: Christoph Blaschke, Mirko Derpmann, Hans-Peter Strahl, Roland Wilhelm, Max Soller and Michael Pfohlmann. Working with photographer Matthias Hewing, they turned several of the city’s garbage dumpsters into pinhole cameras that they then rolled around the historic old city of Hamburg, taking "Oscar the Grouch" eye-level black and white photos of their favorite landmarks.

But, dear Arianna, after the Huff Po gets their names right, everything else goes down the drain.

To quote the intern/writer, “...an unconventional art endeavor called the Trashcam Project. By installing pinhole cameras into 1.1 liter dumpsters, the group captured stunning black-and-white photographs of the city of Hamburg.”

Unconventional? Perhaps the writer had forgotten to Google “pinhole cameras” and missed the fact that they have been around for a long, long time. Even had she just come to our website, she would have seen numerous stories about pinhole cameras.

But, worse yet, madam, is that contrary to the writer’s notion, pinhole cameras were not “installed” in the dumpsters, they were the dumpsters.

The intern's surprise at using dumpsters in this way reflects a lack of worldliness on her part. Talk to her Arianna, darling; tell her that in Germany they use dumpsters for all sorts of things, like homes for the homeless and as places to hide police radar guns to trap speeders.

Moreover, Arianna darling, you are Greek, you were educated in Europe. Do you no longer read your own publication? Your intern wrote that these were “1.1 liter” trash bins. What? Something that is 1.1 liter is smaller than a big bottle of Coke. Even my Panasonic FZ150 superzoom would not fit into a 1.1 liter dumpster, if one existed at all.

Calling these highly vignetted black and white images, “stunning” is a bit of a stretch too. They are interesting because they were taken with dumpsters but even Oscar the Grouch would likely call the images “bleech.”

Here's another misinformed quote from the piece: “Pinhole cameras are relatively crude in the world of photography, but take an astute understanding of light and focus to be successful.”

Mon chère baklava, saying that it takes “an astute understanding of light and focus” is where a line must be drawn. Pinhole cameras have no lens to focus and no focusing mechanism. Exposure is by guess and half the fun of a pinhole is not worrying about that. The Trashcam photographs don’t exhibit any particular understanding of light and why should they?

The trash guys were having fun. They were pushing dumpsters around Hamburg snapping their favorite places for the enjoyment of it. Best of all they were wearing their official city uniforms and could pretend to be on the job while spending the day happily taking sneaky pictures.

Here at Imaging Resource/News we take pride in keeping our readers informed about the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of photography. In recent weeks, we have done many pinhole camera stories, from Francesco Capponi’s sweet and tasty pine nut pinhole cameras to a rather gruesome skull pinhole. Therefore, the next time, you want to do a piece about photography, Ms. Huffington, please call us first.

UPDATE: We received the following email from one of the dumpster photographers after we posted this story:

thank you for your article, very funny.

For you some additional facts:
1100 liter of course, not 1.1
1 binwoman (picture will be on flickr tomorrow)
10 trash- and binmen
Mirko and me are from Berlin, Mirko is working for Scholz&Friends, i am architect

We had the idea, so we searched for a sanitation department with enthusiastic bin- and trashmen
we found it in Hamburg
a friend of us, Matthias Hewing, helped us in the lab

thats it!

(To see more photos from the Trashcan Project, click here.)