Louis (Getting to know Dad). Photo: Justin Quinnell

Pinhole photography uses the most basic concepts of photography – a lightproof box and a pin-sized hole that can slowly create an image. Creating and shooting with a pinhole camera is a fairly standard assignment for photo students, and is actually how Justin Quinnell first became interested in the art form.

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'It was the early 90s when I was teaching kids at a college who couldn’t afford cameras,' he says. 'They could afford several cans of Coke every day, so we put holes in empty drink cans and all started with the same camera.'

One day he was struck with a wild idea – what if he used his mouth as the lightproof device? He'd been using 110 and 126 cartridge film to create an essentially indestructible pinhole camera – one that could be attached to windshields or thrown off bridges – and that inspired the 'smiley cam.'

'I realized their intra-mouth potential whilst staring out of a window,' he says.

His smiley cam is made of mouth-sized film cartridges and a small piece of black insulation tape. The tape covers up the pin-sized hole on the front of the camera and stops the film inside from being exposed. For this shot, he peeled back the lens cover to reveal a pinhole covered with clear tape ("to prevent saliva and general dribble getting into the film housing") which he then placed in his mouth. The dim indoor locations make it so he has some time before the film is overexposed, and for the actual shot he uses flashguns to get a striking image. When the exposure is done, he removes the camera from his mouth with a finger over the pinhole to stop further light, then replaces the black tape.

Although Quinnell no longer sells the smiley cam through his website, it shows that with a bit of experimentation and curiosity nearly anything can become a pinhole camera.

Here Quinnell answers a few of our questions about his surreal mouth's-eye-view pinhole pictures.

What are you considering when composing a pinhole image using your mouth?

I try my best not to think. It's often the spontaneous which is the best, although I do like it when people say Errrrgh! There’s a lot of pre-visualization, especially when you don’t have a [through-the-lens] viewfinder, let alone a digital screen.

Where did the idea for the above image come from?

It just had to be done. The original exhibition was titled A Day in the Life of my Mouth.

How long do you need to keep your mouth open for a proper exposure?

A few seconds, if I’m using flash. Some [photos], such as the Lincoln Memorial, took more like five minutes. One issue with long exposures is saliva getting into the camera!

What's the most important thing to consider when taking a picture with your mouth?

To smile!

Ever spot a cavity while shooting with the smiley cam?

Not yet. Bits of food though...

What advice would you give to someone just getting started with pinhole photography?

Even if the photos don’t come out the whole process is interactive and fun.