Peter Zirnis


Peter Zirnis was born in Riga, Latvia and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography at night at the International Center for Photography inNew York and it was while living in Philadelphia that he fell in love with buildings through his work with the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation. In 1995 he moved to Jersey City and immediately began photographing its architecture. The result is "The Architectural Landscape of Jersey City, NJ", an ongoing project. In the summer of 1999, a back injury prevented him from carrying his 4x5 equipment so he switched to pinhole. These pinhole images of Jersey City buildings are the result of that summer's interlude. Zirnis currently live in Jersey City, NJ and is actively involved with the arts there.

"I see buildings as the 'nature' of the city. They grow, live and die
us providing a collective memory of our urban existence."


Mr. Zirnis has written about pinhole photography:

“The first thing that struck me about pinhole photography was the beauty of its simplicity: any lightight box, a small hole at one end, and (in my case) photographic paper at the other. Light shines through the opening and unaided by lenses directly strikes the paper at the other end creating the photographic image. That’s all there is to it. No light meters, no f-stops, no autofocus-this or automatic –that.

“Then there is the physical aspect in the making of the boxes. You select your boxes, paint the insides black, make the pinhole, and then seal the cover and openings with electrical tape. The picture-taking itself also involves you physically. Since the boxes must be steady during exposure – from 10 seconds to 4 or 5 minutes with my cameras – I need to rest them somewhere. This means becoming involved with the environment of what I’m photographing. I use what is there, leaning the boxes on the curb, against a fire hydrant, the side of a building or on a parked car. Sometimes if nothing else is available, I pile them one atop another to get the angle I need. If there’s a breeze, I have to be aware of this too and block it with my body. There is no distancing from the subject or from where it lives. One might almost say that a bond is established between you and the subject.

“Next, there is the developing of the paper in the darkroom to see the resulting image. Since I cannot see what my boxes see, I have to guess angles and distances. With practice you get what you want most of the time, but sometimes it’s what you weren’t expecting that is most revealing. A slight movement in one or the other direction brings in elements you didn’t expect, a distortion from angle or distance adds something you didn’t notice and the exposure time – always an educated guess – might just be the catalyst that brings the subject out beyond itself. And when that happens, I have a tendency to wax poetic and think about the revelatory nature of pinhole photography, as if there existed some bond, some link, between the light, the subject and the object.

“And lastly, what can we say about the relationship between lens photography and pinhole? Take flying as an example. Sailing in a glider and sitting at the controls of a jumbo jet are both called flying, but these are vastly different activities. You don’t experience the planes, the ground or the world below you in the same way. And so in photography, both the pinhole box and the modern high-tech camera produce photographic images. They just don’t see the world in the same way and just perhaps the world doesn’t let itself be seen in the same way."