Back-to-Basics Photos Restate Idea of Vision

Times Staff Writer

Photographer Peggy Ann Jones has reduced her art to its simplest form. Gone are the f-stops and shutter speeds. Eliminated are the viewfinder, even the lens. All that’s left is a box, film and a hole.

In a way, Jones’ cameras are as artistically noteworthy as the images she produces with them: The cameras are custom sculptures, made of wood with a tiny pinhole pushed into a very thin piece of brass. Light-tight boxes with a pinhole is how she describes them. Put a piece of light-sensitive film into the camera, opposite the pinhole, and she’s in business.

The back-to-basics aspect of her work goes well beyond the equipment, though. Jones thinks that photography is essentially all about vision, and that if you are not really looking at what you are shooting, you are missing the main step.

With a 35-millimeter camera, Jones said, “it’s so easy to shoot a roll of film and not really think about what images you’re making. With pinhole cameras, you get one shot, and when you know you only have one shot, it makes you think more carefully about what you are doing.” There are other, more technical differences between a pinhole and today’s conventional cameras. The depth of field is much different. Everything is in focus, from 3 feet to infinity, though the clarity is softer than the sharp focus you can get with a lens.


Because paper negatives are used, the exposures are much longer than with conventional film. A normal exposure with a pinhole could take 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

“Generally,” said Jones, 36, who works out of San Clemente, “those kind of images are kind of surrealistic: They are depopulated, unless you make someone stand still. I did one of a freeway in Orange County during the rush hour. So in the photograph, there were no cars, and you never see the freeways in Orange County with no cars. There are things that happen in the environment and world.

“When you build the camera,” she added, “you get to control how you record the world.”

Work entitled “Camera/Japonaise” from Jones’ recent trip to Japan is on display at the Cypress College Photo Gallery through April 7. Jones will lecture about her work Monday at 7 p.m. in the college’s Technical Education 1 Building.


The photographs in the show were taken with a handmade rectangular camera, 16 inches by 8 inches by 6 inches, a little bigger than a shoe box. This time, “I took my paper negative and folded it as if it were a fan, and then I exposed on it in the camera.”

The results create a feeling of three dimensions, though the prints are actually flat.

“The subjects were taken mostly from places like Ryoanji, known for its rock gardens, and Kyoto, known for its ancient temples,” she said. “I’m mostly interested in landscapes and sculptural objects.”

To make her work more in tune with traditional Japanese style, she mounted most of the photographs on kakemono and shikishi, Japanese vertical scrolls made from silk.

Born in Fontana and reared in Chino and Ontario, Jones majored in art at Orange Coast College and UC Irvine. Her interest in photography was stirred when a professor gave her a book on the subject. She now teaches introductory photography at OCC.

One thing she has learned is that with pinhole photography, the size of the camera is limited only by imagination. Jones once turned the back of her Volkswagen station wagon into a camera. She photographed such things as the freeway and gas stations.

“I wanted to be inside the camera,” she said. “I had cardboard lining the windows, and I tried shooting out the back, the side and the front so you could see the steering wheel and the dashboard. I’ve even heard that people have turned railroad cars and trailers into cameras.”

“Camera/Japonaise,” a show of pinhole photographs by Peggy Ann Jones, continues through April 7 at the Cypress College Photo Gallery, 9200 Valley View St . , Cypress. Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to noon Fridays.


Jones will lecture on her work Monday at 7 p.m. in Room 213 of the Technical Education 1 Building on the college campus. Admission to the show and the lecture are free. Information: (714) 826-2220, Ext. 244.