Mabel Odessey – Hidden Images Through a Pinhole

I was instantly attracted to the simplicity and mystery of pinhole photography while attending my first photography classes in London in 1982. Since then boxes (big and small) have been my support for exploring both internal and external landscapes. I combine the inner tools of intuition, imagination and patience with a very  low tech interface of a tiny hole in a black box.

Making cameras and getting away from the equipment consumerism of traditonal photography freed me up to develop a visual language that seemed to break traditional rules. Some of the early cameras were large enough to climb inside and were transported on a pick-up truck.

Mabel Odessey, "Swimmer"
Mabel Odessey, “Swimmer”

The gestural marks left by light on paper negatives indicated ghosts, and blurred zones could be developed to create mystery and the invisible. The traces of time and movement became the subject of the work rather than just happy accidents. The images are like memory, layered with sharp and blurred information.

In each series of work I concentrate on a particular idea and the work develops organically. Over the years the subjects have become more and more intimately linked with states of mind and ideas. Using cameras without lenses, viewfinders, shutters … meant that most of the time I was working intuitively, and the marks left upon the film revealed a different perception from where I stood outside the box.

Working in this manner means that one has no idea what the finished image will look like. This practice of letting go, and embracing the imprints left by time and changing light opened up many new possibilities. The negatives became starting points for further work in the darkroom to invest meaning in the ghosts and shadows.

The projects continued to focus on the invisible with ‘Games and Ritual’, an exploration of the relationship between archetypal, universal games and rituals. It may seem strange to choose photography to explore what cannot be seen. However, the long exposures of the pinhole camera seemed to uncover systematically things not seen while making the photograph. I came to realize what was most important in the image was to create an atmosphere which would translate into a feeling in the viewer. Rather than capturing or recording a moment, what motivates me is to probe into unknown territory.

Mabel Odessey

Mabel Odessey was born in NY. She left the comfort of the suburbs and the USA at the age of 17 and lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year, travelled in Europe and North Africa. She discovered pinhole photography in the eighties in the UK and obtained her BA in Art and Design at Bradford College.

Working with diverse communities has been part of her practice since, both in the UK and France. She is currently working with residents of a nursing home on a pinhole project called Lifelines, and has led a portrait project with the residents and teenagers as part of the international Inside Out Project. 

Mabel exhibits regularly in both group shows and solo exhibitions in Europe, Canada and the U.S.A.  She lives in southwest France with her husband, Gary Waters.