Pinhole Photography in Toronto

Pathway between Gate of Five Nations and South Redoubt, Fort Niagara, Youngstown, NY
Pathway between Gate of Five Nations and South Redoubt, Fort Niagara, Youngstown, NY, taken by Tod Ainslie using a hexagonal pinhole camera of his own design

Writer / Nancy Breslin

Nancy Breslin chases down some pinhole photography in Canada and finds some related to the War of 1812.

My summer travels this year took me to Canada. I covered lots of the country since, after flying to Toronto, my husband and I took a train all the way to Vancouver (and passing through the Rockies was magnificent). In both cities I kept my eye out for interesting photography, and was happy to learn of an exhibit of pinhole work at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It wasn’t EASY to find the show, as I had to ask multiple museum staff members where the pinhole photography show WAS, and kept getting blank looks. The guard who finally pointed me in the right direction said I’d also enjoy two photography exhibits on the second floor, but they, alas, had already been dismantled.


Afterimage: Tod Ainslie’s Vision of the War of 1812, which runs through February 24, 2013, features about twenty pinhole photographs taken at historic sites related to that war between the British and Americans, some of which was fought near Toronto. Ainslie designed three cameras for this work, one being hexagonal and multi-pinholed for 360 degree panoramas. Exhibit materials noted that, while 1812 was before the birth of photography, Ainsle chose pinhole cameras to “evoke the experiences of those who lived through the war.” The choice of black and white is probably closer to evoking our contemporary imagination than the actual experience of people in the early 19th century (who weren’t, after all, colorblind): the work did remind me of Civil War tintypes with their warm tones and flawed edges. One advantage of pinhole would be the long exposure, since I presume that otherwise it would be difficult at some of these locations to get so many desolate shots, free of passing strollers and other contemporary distractions. Ainslie’s approach gives the sites a lonely and timeless beauty.

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