Art and Science Come Together for the 7th Grade Pinhole Camera Project

Recently, Middle School art teacher Veronika Bromberg found a seamless way to integrate science and art studies for 7th graders. The students are creating pinhole cameras — homemade cameras that will actually capture a photograph, which they can develop and keep. Equal parts artistic and scientific, this work is allowing students to see their projects from a more dynamic perspective.

In her art classes, Ms. Bromberg teaches a section on photography and digital art — lessons that will help inform students’ art studies later in the Prep School. In this unit, Ms. Bromberg looks at the work of several photographers and discusses their intent, composition and the ways in which the shot evokes emotion. These discussions allow students to integrate new terms and vocabulary often used in photography, terms they may not have been familiar with before. 

First, Ms. Bromberg showed the students a shot from the this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award winner, Roma, which takes place in 1970s Mexico City. Several children, main characters from the family the film follows, huddle together after a near-death experience. Ms. Bromberg probes the students to consider the emotional depth and narrative behind the shot without knowing the storyline: “What can you assume might have happened from this image?”, “What is the strongest visual element in this work?”, and “How does the lighting evoke emotion?” 

The students’ discussion will help inform their next project in science class, which is to create their own pinhole camera. In this unit, taught by Middle School science teachers Jon Olivera and Sara Moldofsky, students will learn about acid and base chemistry in the development process for photos and wave physics in the light refraction from the camera lens. 

To build their own cameras, they will be painting a cardboard box black (to absorb light), then attaching a small piece of aluminum pricked by a thumbtack to create a pinhole. More cardboard will be used to create a “shutter,” which they can tape down and lift up. Electrical tape will seal the camera closed. Students will then load the camera with a piece of photo paper. This all must be done in complete darkness, so that no light comes through the pinhole.

When the cameras are complete, students will go outside, aim their cameras at a subject they would like to capture, and release the shutter. The pinhole camera will capture the image and reflect it onto the photo paper, which they can then develop in a darkroom.