Pinhole Photographer Inspires Syrian Refugee Children

Pinhole photographer Zeb Andrews gets to see the world a little differently with every photo he takes. What started as a hobby taking pictures with a cardboard box has turned into not only a career, but a life passion that has made a big impact on the lives of many young Syrian refugees. Watch this video to see how Andrews went from hobbyist pinhole photographer to mentor:

An Introduction to Pinhole Photography

A pinhole camera is simply a light-tight container with a hole in one side. It can be made out of pretty much any box; you just poke a tiny pin-size hole in it and fill it with film or photo paper. Since you’re working with such a small hole, the exposures have to be really long.

In pinhole photography, you are taking lensless photos through a single aperture. There is no view finder. No screen to check what you’ve captured. This puts a lot more emphasis on the photographer to think things through, rather than relying on the camera to prove things for you.

Pinhole photos aren’t perfect; they’re soft, sometimes vignetted at the edges, sometimes there are light leaks, but as Andrews says, imperfection is interesting.

single aperture photography

“We see the world in fractions of a second. And the fact that a pinhole camera captures a span of time is already vastly different from how we see things. So every time I take this camera out, it’s like I’m putting on a new set of eyes.”

How One Photographer Inspired Many

Andrews got into pinhole photography back in 2004 and really just loved the idea and process of taking pictures with a box with a hole in it. He didn’t have any expectations, but what happened a decade later would change his life.

As Andrews kept shooting for fun, he became well known around Portland, Oregon, where he’s from, and started showing his work in galleries. He even got profiled on a local TV show, “Oregon Art Beat.” It was the syndication of this story that would lead him to Turkey. Kinda Hibrawi, a Syrian-American painter who helps run the nonprofit Karam Foundation, contacted Andrews and asked him to teach pinhole photography at Zeitouna, a mentorship program for at-risk Syrian children in Turkey.

He accepted right away and was eager to be part of such a great cause. But when he arrived, he was surprised by the emotion and inspiration that came with it. The kids—about 400 displaced Syrian children between five and 17, who had fled Syria and were in Turkey legally or had been illegally smuggled across the border—were super excited.

syrian refugee children photo

“It is a pretty awful situation in Syria, and they were so inviting and so enthusiastic. It was hard not to be inspired and moved by that.”

Andrew says the kids were astounded when they first heard they were going to take pictures with a cardboard box, but they caught on pretty quickly.

Pinhole photography teaches you to pay attention. What it did for these kids is absolutely incredible.

“When you look at how it changed these kids’ lives, you’d be surprised that something so primitive would mean so much.”

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