Though I have been using digital technologies in my photographic work since 1992, and the majority of my images today are made with digital SLRs, for the photographic project featured in this article I still have one foot firmly in the analog world of film and simple pinhole cameras.
For those who are unfamiliar with this type of photography, a pinhole camera has no lens, just a tiny pinhole through which light enters and exposes the scene. I had made occasional forays into the world of pinhole photography throughout the 1990s, but in 2000 I began to explore it more seriously. The camera used for this series is a ZeroImage 6×9 multi-format camera that is essentially a simple wooden box; the only exposure “control” is a small wooden slide that covers and uncovers the pinhole. The multi-format capability consists of wooden dividers inside the camera that can be repositioned in a series of notches to change the format of the negative to 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7 or 6×9 (the photos in this series are all 6×9).
For the first test roll that I ran through the Zero, I carried an old typewriter down to the edge of a river, not far from my house in the Sierra foothills. I set the ISO on my DSLR to the same as the ISO 400 film in the pinhole camera and used the DSLR as a light meter to determine a correct exposure for the scene.On the back of the ZeroImage camera are two circular brass dials, one engraved with apertures and the other with exposure times. By lining up the exposure values from the digital shot, I then checked the position on the dial for the aperture of the pinhole (f/235) to see what the corresponding “shutter speed” was and exposed the film for that amount of time. In the case of the typewriter, it was about 20 seconds (so far, the exposure times for the photographs in this series range from one second up to about five minutes). The test roll results were very good, and that shot of the typewriter was the first in a series of photographs that I have been working on for the past four years.