Retro America with a Zero Image 2000 Pinhole Camera

One small segment of suburban and small town architecture has always appealed to me, and that’s sidewalk ice cream shops or dairy bars. I’m not even sure what they’re called, since they’re mostly referred to as proper nouns.

To me, they represent the lowest common denominator in pop-retro culture, and I mean that in a good way. The tackier and older the structure, the better it looks.

In my mind, there were a few approaches to take, and both were based on medium format film.

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The approach was to use 120 black and white film with a pinhole camera. Since it’s still winter and these places for the must part are shut down until spring, the black and white approach seems more appealing.

These establishments have been around in one form or another since the early 1800s. They’re a summer mainstay in almost every town or suburb in the United States.

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There is something very lonely about these places in winter when they’re shut down for the season. I wanted to capture that.

I took these shots with my Zero Image 2000 Deluxe Pinhole camera. It’s built to last, make of teak and brass.

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To find the correct exposure time, there’s a convenient dial on the back. Use a hand-held light meter

I used Ilford FP4 at ISO 125 and developed it using Iflosol 3 for four and a half minutes. The exposures on the pinhole were about 4-5 seconds. If you have a spot meter, that can be an advantage. Or, you can use spot-metering mode on a DSLR to determine exposure. Use your light meter or DSLR’s meter in the usual fashion by setting the ISO, then the shutter speed. Take a reading.

Look at the rear dial on the pinhole camera. Line up your shutter speed with the aperture value (f-stop is on the rotating dial, exposure on the outer fixed dial). Find 138, which is the fixed focal length of the pinhole camera, and the corresponding exposure time is on the outer dial. For this shoot, the exposure time was four seconds.

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I’ve used Tri-X with the pinhole before, but the exposure time is so short on a sunny day that it’s impossible to get a correct manual exposure. The film is overexposed a tad, and if you push the film during processing, the results are ok but really grainy. Shooting film rated at ISO 125 is a good starting point for pinhole photography, since you can control exposure much more accurately.

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I like the way pinhole images look. The Zero Image 2000 Deluxe Pinhole is becoming one of my favorite medium format film cameras.


Manhattan in Medium Format, 1980

Instead of flying out of Newark, New Jersey after a week’s worth of work, I changed my flight to La Guardia and took a bus to Manhattan to spend a few hours shooting with my Yashica Mat 124G. The Yashica Mat 124G is a metal solid twin lens reflex medium format camera that I’ve had for over thirty years now and is still as reliable and functional as the day I bought it.

These shots were taken in May, 1980. The day was clear and warm being late spring. This was my first time to New York City and I was in awe, to say the least. For the time that I had, I just wandered around taking shots.

Here’s a shot of a subway under Grand Central Station.

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The light was really low and I was shooting Tri-X at ISO 400 and didn’t push the film, so it was tough holding the camera steady. This was shot at f/3.5 which is wide open for the 124G and at 1/30 sec.

Every photographer takes a subway entrance shot whenever they see one, and I’m no exception. The irony isn’t lost, looking at the debris on the stairs and the “IT’S YOUR SUBWAY” sign.

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The leisure suit in this guy looks cool, big time in style at the time. Maybe they’ll come back…

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Grand Central Station is a classic place to shoot, It’s challenging with a TLR to get fast street-style shots looking down at a waist level view finder, but if you park yourself in a spot it works. Here are a few:

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This worked out because of the light on the front of the escalator, centrally framing the subject.

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Here’s another shot below Grand Central Station that caught my eye because of the posters and soft contrast.

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This dude was cool, dancing and trying to pick up the two women seated at the fountain.

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Of all the shots taken that day, this is my favorite with the girl with the notebook.

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This is a small slice of un-gentrified NYC in 1980. I still remember shooting there to this day. Using a TLR is a little tough for street photography, but many great street photographers have used them in the past.