312 day exposureA photograph using a 312-day exposure has been produced to document the entire construction process of Edge Hill University’s new £17m Creative Edge building.

Neill Cockwill, a lecturer in media theory and photography at the University in Ormskirk, decided to use the art of pinhole photography to capture the stunning image as part of his practice-based research into the reception and understanding of time through long photographic exposures.

He was inspired to take the 312-day exposure picture after seeing the work of German photographer Michael Wesely, who used an exposure which lasted from 7 August 2001 to 7 June 2004 to record the destruction and rebuilding of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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Speaking about the process, Neill said,

“I left the cameras in place for as long as I dared, then removed one to see if the camera had survived and what the image looked like after 312 days. I’d sealed the camera box so well we had to prise it open but I still found 2mm of water in the bottom of the camera box.”

In an attempt to rescue the image without damaging the light-sensitive paper, Neill used an unconventional method. He blasted it with a Dyson hand dryer, which allowed him to dry the paper in a few seconds, hopefully without ruining the precious 312-day-long exposure.

Due to the potential light and water damage, Neill had some tense moments as he used a scanner to remove the image from the photographic paper. This inverts the image and allows post-production using a computer. Neill only had one chance to use this process as scanning light burns out all the detail on the negative.

But despite the setbacks, the image not only shows the stages of Creative Edge’s construction, but some dramatic solography too, which is the photographic process which captures the path of the sun.

“The idea of the photo was to see the different layers of building,” he said, “but I also ended up with some really good solar flare too.”  He will now open the remaining cameras and extract the images inside after a year-long exposure.”

Later this year, Neill plans to inspire students and the community by running a short course dedicated to pinhole photography, solography, the camera obscura and dark room work.

His own interest in pinhole photography flourished after demonstrating to students on the Media, Film and Television course that they didn’t need an expensive camera to take interesting photos. This led to Neill constructing his own cameras from paint tins, coffee containers and light-tight candle boxes and using an 0.18mm acupuncture needle to make the hole.

He said: “It’s always about the moment in photography, and a pinhole camera is not just a really simple process, but the only real way to capture an image and record a reality that is not changed by the technology within a camera.”