Today we welcome Andre Costello to the Library as Incubator Project!  Andre is a Mentor for The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; in his first guest blog for us, he shares an exciting overview of the photography programming that happening at CLP throughout February.  Don’t miss the other posts in our continuing coverage of The Labs programming– they’re all archived HERE.  Cheers! ~Erinn


by Andre Costello

This February, we are focusing on Photography in The Labs. Our workshops have a monthly focus, including graphic design, filmmaking, and soft circuitry, to name a few. When mentees display a certain level of proficiency, they are awarded an official “Labs Badge” which comes with equipment borrowing privileges so they can work on their own time, beyond regular Labs hours.

Each week we will be doing different projects that are aimed to educate and instill an appreciation of this rich and historic art form. The idea is to give the mentees background information, cover the basics of photography, guide them by giving them an objective, and help them work through their creative process. The workshop agenda is as follows:

  • Week 1: Pinhole Cameras
  • Week 2: 360 degree photography (panorama)
  • Week 3: Recreate a famous photo

Working with topics of a broad scope, we find that it’s good to start with something basic to build a firm footing. With this in mind, my colleagues, Corey (Labs @ CLP program manager) and Molly (fellow Labs mentor), and I chose pinhole cameras as a launch point for this month of programming. To inspire curiosity in these eager young minds, we made it a point to begin the workshop by focusing on the historic “camera obscura.” The aim was to make teen mentees feel the sense of mystery and magic that must have been present when this concept was first observed.

In the workshops, I have made it a point to explain photography’s profound impact on the course of human history as well as the art form’s connection to the feeling of nostalgia. We discussed the notion that before photography, the most readily available way to capture a fleeting moment would be to draw or paint it. “This naturally occurring phenomenon (camera obscura), when harnessed, made it possible for people to literally trace an image of real life as it happened,” I explained. “Later, with the addition of film and lens, this process became more compact and mobile.”


Next, I moved on to talk about Eadweard Muybridge and his photographic studies of motion. We clicked through a slideshow projection of early photographs, touched on double exposure, and discussed modern photographic techniques and technology. When we got to this point, I mentioned cell phone cameras. As expected, everyone whipped their phone out and started messing with the camera features (which is on-task to some degree, although, that inevitably segues into texting or perusing Facebook). To keep their attention, I flipped the lights back on and had them gather ‘round as I showed them how to assemble a pinhole camera.

We built our cameras using black construction paper, duct tape, an X-acto knife, black paint for the inside, a safety pin, and photo paper. At our CLP-East Liberty Labs location, we strategically placed our newly constructed pinhole cameras in windows on three sides of the building to experiment with different lighting situations. In addition, we kept scenery in mind when choosing the right vantage point. We had to leave the cameras up for a few days for the paper to expose (we used Ilford MGIV Multigrade RC IV RC Deluxe paper  and simply followed the developing specifications). This served as a great instructional technique, because it gave the teens incentive to return for the next workshop to see the outcome. It also gave us an artifact to scan and share with other Labs locations, and on our social networks.


Next week, with our “Create Your Own ‘Street View’” project, the mentees will snap a series of photos in succession from one end of the periphery to the other. They will then merge them together in Photoshop, generating one panoramic image. This will give the students the opportunity to practice using a digital camera, orienting themselves to it and its various settings, and then getting to know the very basics of Photoshop (which will help in coming weeks of programming, i.e., Graphic Design Month). The participants will be encouraged to interact and feature themselves or others, blending in with scenery, posing portrait-style, or even posing as passersby as seen on Google Street View.

MartenCalebMainPanoramaBlog copy

Hall of Architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo by Caleb M – Teen Labs Mentee

The final week of programming for February’s Photography Month will entail our “Recreate a Famous Photo” project. This time, participants will be encouraged to scour the Library’s resources in search of an historic or iconic portrait they like and will be able to recreate. The mentees will be encouraged to toy with aperture and shutter speed on their cameras to adjust focus via depth of field and long exposure to make things blur, if appropriate. We will also have different studio lighting options available to match that of their chosen photo reference. At CLP – Main, we’ll be taking a walking field trip to the Carnegie Museum of Art, adjacent to us, to visit the Oh Snap! photo exhibit. Teens and museum patrons are “invited to submit their own photographs inspired by one of the 13 works from the exhibition.”

Photography month has been great so far, and I attribute it to our growing expertise in our field of engagement. The outcomes Corey, Molly, and I project when planning a month of workshops are becoming increasingly realistic and accurate. Sure, we’re still running into speed bumps and roadblocks– but such is the nature of what we do, and with every workshop, we make positive progress as those hurdles allow us to move forward with what worked and leave behind what didn’t  It keeps us on our toes and makes our job that much more exciting when we face those obstacles and conquer them.


andreCroppedAndré Costello is a mentor at The Labs@ CLP, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s digital media learning lab. He graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a Bachelors of Science in Graphic Design in 2009. As a self-promoted designer and musician, he shares his applied knowledge of both worlds in The Labs.

Pin It