Summary

The title of this work Bath Tub Converted into a Pin-Hole Camera suggests that the performance and mechanics of making the photograph not the image itself are the main subject of the work. Indeed, Steven Pippin has written that he is 'fascinated with the idea of constructing a camera whose viewpoint is not some external subject, but instead one having the capability of looking back in on itself toward its own darkness. An instrument designed with the intention of recording its own mechanism and features. A singular entity bearing no relationship to anything other than its own intricate and elaborate operation'. (Quoted in Steven Pippin 1993, p.7)

To make the work, Steven Pippin took a wooden board large enough to cover the top of a bath and drilled one very small hole into the centre of it; next, he mounted a bath tub upside down on a wooden stand in the corner of a bathroom. In complete darkness, he then lined the inside of the bath with sheets of 8 x 10 inch light-sensitive paper and sealed the wooden lid over the bath. Having thus created a rudimentary pin-hole camera, he lay naked on the bathroom floor while light flooded the room for ninety minutes. Once the process was completed, Pippin reassembled the sheets of photographic paper into a rectangular grid to form the coherent image presented here. The naked figure surrounded by the distorted features of the bathroom is clearly visible in the negative photographic image.

As with other photographs of this period, the subject of the image is related directly to the means of production, that is to say a bath tub converted into a pin-hole camera. In this instance, the reclining nude refers to a more conventional use of a bath as a secluded space in which to lie naked and inert. Pippin's appropriation of the bath for his own deliberately convoluted project has left the body displaced on the floor. However, the self-referential nature of Pippin's work extends beyond self-portraiture and the practice of using an object converted into a camera to photograph the usual contents of that object. What might be considered imperfections, such as the distorted window, recall images from the early history of photography and emphasise the fundamental processes of photography. While the use of a bath as a camera may be seen as an act of heroic absurdity, the hard-won nature of the image serves as a critique of the effortlessly achieved accuracy of modern photography.

Further reading:
Steven Pippin: The Rigmarole of Photography, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, London 1993, reproduced p.23

Toby Treves
June 2000