Q&A with Visiting Artist Lou Krueger on Building Cameras

Artist Lou Krueger will be at Sawtooth as a visiting artist for a “Build Your Own Camera” workshop on Oct. 18 & 19. During this 1 ½ day workshop, students will build their own wooden camera, create black-and-white pinhole photographs and learn darkroom printing. The camera that students will be building is a new design that Lou has created specifically for this workshop.

Krueger, professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, has taught camera-building workshops at the Penland School of Crafts and other prestigious institutions. His artwork has been exhibited across the country, including solo shows at the Soho Photo Gallery (NYC) and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts.

Krueger is the 7th artist in Sawtooth’s visiting artist series to teach at the school this year. Sawtooth’s visiting artist series brings masters of art forms to share their unique skills with the community. Sawtooth’s next visiting artist workshop will take place in February 2020 when Katie Baldwin will be teaching “Mokuhanga: Japanese Woodblock Printing.”

+ How did you get started making your own camera?

The first time I created a pinhole camera came about as a function of helping a student, who asked for help building his own camera. At the time, I was head of photography at Syracuse University and I was taking students camping at Adirondacks. He got some interesting results with the images he captured, and I decided I wanted to explore this further. Since then, I’ve created a variety of cameras during the past 20 years.

The pinhole camera distorts an image, and the result is unexpected. It changes your perspective of the world. Photographing things very close to the camera is a magnifier. It takes space and alters it in very dramatic ways.

+ What interests you about creating cameras?

A lot of my work is based in fantasy and alternative worlds — and pinhole cameras allow me to create a different effect.

Even though I’ve been understood mostly as a photographer, I’ve always been a maker. I’ve always been interested in construction, materials and invention. That underscores all of my work. Maybe that’s the most important thing for me … to try to invent something that hasn’t been done before. That’s a thread that runs through all of my work.

+ Why do you offer these workshops?

For me, it’s a way of staying connected to people who are interested in learning. I haven’t looked at teaching as a profession, but rather as a privilege. I was meant to be a teacher and an artist.

+What will students experience in the workshop?

During the workshop, students will partake in the magic of the darkroom, the drama of building an experimental camera and a collegial experience that brings people together.

There’s real magic in what we’re going to do. It recreates the magic of film — and for many, it’s their first time in a darkroom.

The real drama is … are these things going to work? There’s a lot of trial and error with these cameras.

This is about as collegial of an experience you can have in a workshop. We start building the cameras almost immediately. We might need every minute. It brings people together really quickly. The decibel level will go up and up. It’s like being in Santa’s workshop. It has this huge entertainment value.

Finally, there’s the learning that accompanies it. I back track and explain how after we confirm that the cameras work.

+What are you looking forward to?

I’ve created a new camera design specifically for this workshop at Sawtooth. I’m trying to build one of the coolest pinhole cameras you’ll ever have.

I can’t predict whether it’ll work out exactly as planned. There will be surprises in it for me. Everything I do is trial and error. I don’t mind putting in a million hours if I can get a result. I’m dedicated to making stuff work.

+Tell me about the students who take your classes.

It really runs the gamut from people who have instructed photography for 25 years to complete novices. There’s no guarantee that the experienced people will do any better than those who do it for the first time.

+ Where are you coming from?

My wife and I will be traveling from Bowling Green, Ohio for this workshop. It’ll be our first time at Sawtooth and our first time in Winston-Salem. We timed this trip to take advantage of the fall foliage along the drive.