What’s new Photographers & people Solargraphy – The art of catching the sun’s path through a pinhole camera

Solargraphy – The art of catching the sun’s path through a pinhole camera

Writer / Tarja Trygg
Photography / Tarja Trygg, Christine Brault

Tarja Trygg, from Finland, is mapping out the paths of the sun all over the world. In her global pinhole project, she sends her small pinhole cameras everywhere around the world to her “can assistants” for sun-path recordings at several latitudes.

Solargraphs or solargraphics or solarigraphics are photographs people had never seen before until the first most surprising images were published on the Internet in November 2000 by the project

[1] led by the inventors of this unique photographic technique, Slawomir Decyk, Pawel Kula and Diego Lopez Calvin. They called this kind of images “Solarigraphics” which come into being in cameras without lenses and light-sensitive material is exposed in such a way that the image is revealed directly, without the use of further chemical processes. Solarigraphy and heliography[2] mean Photography of the Sun. I prefer to use the term in English “solargraphy” because “solar” means Sun and in my native language Finnish, I use “solarigrafia”. Solargraphy is a photographic method for recording the paths of the Sun.

The most famous of my solargraphs has been exposed for 180 days in Helsinki. It can be seen on the web gallery of Solaris, too.


Image left: This solargraph is the result of a six-month exposure of an area in Helsinki taken with a self-built pinhole camera from a balcony. In 2003 I wanted to see solargraphs with half a year exposure time or for 180 days. Solargraphy by Tarja Trygg.

The solargraph received considerable public attention of taking published in the notable daily newspaper called Helsingin Sanomat on March 23rd 2004. The image was placed in the pages on Science & Nature. This solargraph has spread all over the world via Internet, too. In the same year Serbian Photo Magazine REFOTO June 2004 published it in the second part of the article[3] about Pinhole Photography. It included three of my solargraphs. The original print has been exhibited in Helsinki, Finland, and in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2005.

Why do so many people regard the solargraph as amazing?

Solargraphs are unusual photographs, taken by means of a pinhole camera.

We are not used to see this kind of image with our naked eyes. The weather during half a year can be re-coded into a single image. The sun’s slow path across the sky is beautifully captured by this unique process.

Its peak is reached during midsummer on the 21st of June in the northern hemisphere. Every day the Sun leaves one line after one. The tracks of the moving Sun are visible and increase progressively from December through to June. The missing tracks are due to the Sun being obscured on overcast days.

What else can be seen in the image? There are the ghosts of the cars in the parking place. Several cars have been parked in the same places one day after another during the long exposure and so the cars have merged into one model or the arch type of the cars.

Although the movements of the boat traffic go daily in front of the camera we cannot see any track of the boats in the solargraph due to their short exposure time to the light-sensitive emulsion. The same phenomena photographing with a long exposure was noticed already in the early history of Photography in 1838 or 1839 in one of the most famous daguerreotype[4],
Boulevard du Temple [5],

taken by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) from Paris where a shoe polisher is working but all the pedestrians have disappeared from the crowded boulevard. The exposure was one day of about eight hours.

 Image left: L.J.M Daguerre, “View of the Boulevard du Temple” Daguerreotype, Paris, 1839, Stadtmuseum, Munich[6]

Nowadays people are used to see frozen moments in photographs but in solargraphs the exposures are extremely long which often last months, from one day up until half a year, recording the tracks of the Sun.

Solargraphy is a new approach to photography and it can be defined as an “anti-technological” means of photographic expression.

With the simplest pinhole camera the tracks of the sun can be caught on an emulsion of photosensitive materials as a piece of black and white photographic paper. Solargraphy is an ecological way to take photographs. In that the photographs are neither developed nor fixed in any way. Light may cause the darkening of photosensitive emulsion and eventually for the images to disappear. It sounds unbelievable but all the tracks can be safely viewed only in dimmed light after exposing. Solargraphy discovers the surprising results achieved by the pinhole cameras. Solargraphy is a reality in itself. The Sun burns the traces of reality on the emulsion. Solargraphy can be called the Art of Pinhole Photography and Space-time Art, too.

Using a paper negative is nothing new. In the early history of Photography according to William Henry Fox Talbot he found a new method to produce the negative-positive process on paper for producing the multiple images that he invented in 1840 and patented a year later. Fox Talbot called these kind of images calotypes or talbotypes. (From the Greek kalos, meaning ‘beautiful’.)[7]

Since photography was still very much a novelty and many people unfamiliar with the concept, Talbot felt compelled to insert the following notice into his book called
The Pencil of Nature

, published between 1844 and 1846:

“The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.”[8]

Solargraphy involves the combination of analogical and digital photography. Although a piece of black and white photographic paper is used inside the pinhole cameras the results can be seen in colour. Which seems magical. Processing the paper negatives forward with the aid of the computer is a very exciting and creative act. Solargraphing is very surprising and that is why it is so interesting. You can never be sure what the results will be.

Collaboration with the “can assistants” is a key to build the map of solargraphs from different latitudes.

My first touch to solargraphy happened in May 2002. I was invited to participate in an international photographic workshop of PROFILE 2002 in Skoki, Poland. The theme of the workshop was “solarigrafie”. A black curve line on the emulsion of the piece of black and white photosensitive material was an example from the new approach to an “anti-technological” means of photographic expression. I was fascinated with this method. I began photographing the Sun and testing different photographic papers and as I continued to test this method my fascination increased, like a rolling snowball. I wanted to have solargraphs that had up to half a year’s exposure time for different latitudes. The idea of the map of solargraphs came to my mind. But it was not possible to do this alone. I needed some volunteers – my first camera assistants were my friends, relatives, colleagues, students, people I met at conferences or just about anyone who was willing and interested in my project. The invitation to participate in this global art project for filling in the gaps of the world map of solargraphs has been open to everybody. The tracks of the Sun are different depending on where we are located in the world. I wanted to see how different they could be. The project became worldwide since the first website[9] was published. The project is still under way. The best results of the solragraphs are publishing on the website www.solargraphy.com. Thanks to all can assistants around the world, pupils in Scotland, participation of amateur astronomic clubs in California and the Czech Republic, students from Tama Art University, people I have met at conferences, including an array of pinhole photographers have helped me to fill in the gaps of the solargraph map.

Image left: Another example of solargraph comes from Montréal, Canada, can assistant Christine Brault. The exposure was three months, from June 24th to September 24th 2007.

The second solargraph I chose comes from Montréal. It looks so excellent with several movements of the Sun in green or blue colours in the sky. I wonder what is the reason for that. Does it come from air pollution or the colour temperature of the atmosphere? The white lines came in June during many sunny days. Montréal, a big city, seems to fit into the one image. I like this solargraph very much and my curiosity is in the different movements of the Sun around the world. In the northern hemisphere the Sun does not go below the horizon in summer at all and in December, wintertime, the Sun does not go above the horizon. The directions of the Sun paths are vertical in the equator but are they always similar? It is possible to illustrate how the sun shines on various latitudes during the four seasons during a half year of the exposure. Catching landscapes around the world with the tracks of the Sun taken with the aid of the simplest lensless pinhole camera brings new understanding and seeing something in ways that we are not used to see with our naked eyes.

[2] (In French héliographie) is the photographic process invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce around 1825, and which he used to make the earliest known permanent photograph from nature, View from the Window at Le Gras (c. 1826). The process used bitumen, as a coating on glass or metal, which hardened in relation to exposure to light. When the plate was washed with oil of lavender, only the hardened image area remained. He called his process “heliography”. http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/wfp/)


[4] “Photograph on metal, usually consisting of a copper pate covered with a fine layer of silver, giving it the appearance of a mirror. Depending on the angle from which it is viewed, it can appear both negative or positive and is sometimes coloured using pigments…” Bajac (2002:150-151)

[7] Quentin Bajac (2002: 150): The Invention of Photography. The First Fifty Years. New Horizons. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

[9] http://www2.uiah.fi/~ttrygg/  and the newest website www.solargraphy.com

To find out more about Solargraphics Read more on Solargraphy.com or contact Tarja through her projects website.

Beginners guide to pinholing
From pinhole to print – Inspiration, instructions and insights in less than an hour
by Gary Fabbri, Malin Fabbri and Peter Wiklund
The quick and easy way to learn how to build a pinhole camera!
From pinhole to print will guide you from drilling your first pinhole to printing your first pinhole photograph. It is an easy to read, step-by-step guide to making a pinhole camera and creating images.
Strongly recommended for beginners

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