Reprinted from the March 20, 2002 edition of Duluth News Tribune
Drifting Time. Jeff Korte Exhibits Pinhole Photographs.
Jeff Korte’s photos let you drift in time.
His stunning black and white images of Lake Superior can call to mind memories of a forgotten past, or wonderful moments when the beauty of the natural world is so compelling that one has to stop and absorb it.
“The pictures seem to hit people on a personal level,” Korte said last week, as he set up his camera on the shores of Lake Superior at Brighton Beach on a perfectly beautiful day. “There’s something about seeing an image taken to its simplest form that allows people to make their own interpretation. It’s like a reference point to their past — like they might remember seeing ice mounds on rocks, but they fade and blur in their memories like these images. It’s like a dream, in a way.”
In this case, the dream-like quality of his images is the result of the ingenious camera he uses that harks back to the earliest days of photography.
It’s a pinhole camera — a simple wooden box that can be mounted on a tripod with a tiny pinhole in one side of the box to let in light, and a place in the back to mount film.
The film is exposed when the covering over the pinhole is removed.
There is no shutter. Exposure is measured either with a stop watch, or the tried and true method of counting outloud — 1,000-and- one, 1,000-and-two, 1,000-and-three …
The result is unpredictable and more often than not, beautiful. Waves coming in to shore are changed to ghostly forms, clouds become textures of indefinable mystery, curtains in a room seem to move with an unseen hand.
This result is called ghosting, and, when pinhole cameras were first used in the 1800s, it was considered to be a major defect.
“They didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t stop time,” Korte said. “I’m trying to embrace it. You’re always getting something more than you expect.”
Using a pinhole camera is also an incredibly simple and quiet process, and doesn’t distract from experiencing the natural world, he said. All Korte has to do is set up his tripod, attach his camera, load his film, point the camera and count. No focusing required.
“For me, being out here is about taking the time to listen, watching the waves, listening to the drip of melting snow and, somewhere in there, making an image. That’s a big part of it for me,” Korte said.
This talented photographer started out taking images when he was a boy — with a pinhole camera.
His father, Jerry Korte, is an artist and photographer who taught at St. Cloud State University for years before retiring a few years ago. He helped his son craft a crude pinhole camera from an old oatmeal box.
Korte loved taking photographs and went on to study photography and journalism at St. Cloud.
It wasn’t until several years later that he began experimenting with a pinhole camera again. “I did a stint with the National Forest Service. It was such a melding of interests — in the outdoors and photography,” he said. “I also worked at a commercial photography studio in Minneapolis. It let me spend all the time I needed in the dark room, printing, and that allowed me to figure out exposures.”
His photos intrigued everyone who saw them, and Korte was selected to be the first artist to spend time on Isle Royale as part of the artist in residence program there. His pinhole photographs are included in the award- winning book, “The Island Within Us,” which documents the work of the Isle Royale artists in residence from 1991-1998.
His work has also been published in a number of different magazines, and he has shown his photographs in galleries throughout the Midwest as well as taught classes on pinhole photography.
The work continues.
“I’ve been making these trips up here since the mid ’80s,” Korte said. “I can come back to the same stretch of shoreline and see complete new photographs. I bet I could take a dozen photos right here.”
He didn’t, that day. Instead, he and his father set out for a two-day odyssey up the Northshore. His father, with sketch book in hand, Korte with his camera.
Joan Farnam, Duluth News Tribune