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Through the Pinhole: Kelli Anderson’s Paper Pop-Up Camera

By Libby Nicholaou

Designer, tinkerer, and Adobe Creative Resident Kelli Anderson recently made a quick visit to San Francisco to debut her newest self-published book, This Book is a Camera. It’s part of a series of functional paper pop-up objects Kelli has been dreaming up and creating in recent years.

Paper and its magical properties feature prominently in Kelli Anderson's work. If you've ever asked Kelli Anderson about her art or attended one of her presentations, you've likely heard her say, "I love things that do what they're not supposed to do." With her series of paper pop-up projects, Kelli has tapped into some of paper's largely forgotten abilities, and This Book is a Camera demonstrates why she likes the medium so much. 

When Kelli came to Adobe’s San Francisco office in November, she gave us a unique opportunity to engage with her paper camera. She wanted people to see how the camera worked—without asking them to go through the process of learning how to use a pinhole camera, going outside to find the perfect light, and finally developing the image in a darkroom. To simplify the demonstration of the camera’s ability to make photos, she attached a Polaroid back to it, inserted some Fuji film, set up high-intensity lights, and began taking portraits.

People holding portraits made with Kelli’s pop-up pinhole camera.

Kelli’s camera was intriguing to people across a range of experience, from expert photographers to dabblers. The fact that she made the camera as a pop-up says a good deal about her design skills and her meticulous attention to detail. We were wowed by her ability to provide the camera’s integral structure and to seal the seams in order to prevent extra light from sneaking in. It’s hard to compare Kelli’s camera with other pinholes or other cameras. It’s a beautiful object, as well as an almost magical image-making box.

Kelli explains, “The reason a hole in a lightproof box can perform a function similar to real photographic equipment is due to light’s intrinsic tendencies. Light steadfastly moves in a perfectly straight line. In a normal environment, light beams bounce around ambiently—their cacophony of trajectories eager to fog a piece of photographic paper with a muddy multitude of images. A pinhole quarantines an image-carrying beam from competing light.” 

In this brief video, Kelli explains her pop-up camera and demonstrates it at an Adobe event.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the camera works and how Kelli made it, check out her blog post about it. She provides plenty of information and explanations that may inspire you to try making your own paper camera! And visit our Creative Residency page to learn more about that program and our two Residents.