Tinworks Art
Chris Fraser

Casini’s Meridian Line, Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna, Italy

Project description

“This project is inspired by the Renaissance practice of retrofitting large cathedrals with pinholes, effectively transforming sacred spaces into gigantic solar observatories and reliable timekeepers. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Catholic church was committed to reforming the solar calendar due to uncertainty about when to celebrate Easter. At a time when Galileo was under house arrest for saying the earth revolved around the sun, this led to a strange alliance between theologians and astronomers and resulted in our present secular calendar.

The installation calls attention to the specific transit of the sun over Bozeman, MT, through the creation of a large, multi-pinhole camera obscura designed for the site and season. Visitors watch the sun pass overhead by looking at the patterned projection of disks covering the floor, walls, and themselves. The projection resembles a star chart. But rather than looking up into the night sky at a multitude of stars, visitors look down at an image of one star, our sun, repeated several thousand times.

The pattern of the projection is fluid – changing with the time of day, as disks gather on the west wall at sunrise, fall across the expanse of the floor at solar noon, and congregate on the east wall at sunset; changing day to day, as the sun dips lower into the sky, pushing the projection further into the room and increasing the size of the disks and the degree to which they overlap. The project creates a space for exploration and quiet contemplation, immersing visitors in an experience of time marked not by numbers but an attention to place.”

— Chris Fraser



I construct environments modeled on historical image-making technologies, from the camera obscura to the magic lantern. These apparatuses put objects in dialogue with their images, sacrificing broad distribution for an experience of image that is local and ephemeral.

Photography is the foundation for my practice. I spent several years making photographic cameras that played with perception. I would imagine a camera, build it, work within its constraints, and finally take on its qualities, inhabiting other ways of seeing. But ultimately, I realized the limits of my pictures. They documented experiences but failed to offer them.

I started building room-sized cameras to share my performative experiences with others. The camera was itself once architecture. Through quirks of history, it transformed from the room-scale camera obscura to a handheld apparatus. Our relationship to the handheld is one of mastery, control. We photograph with a camera as we might play an instrument. My work brings the camera back to architectural form and human scale, into a space that must accommodate both observation and locomotion. At the scale of architecture, we approach things and invest ourselves differently. We see ourselves as belonging to space rather than possessing it.

At first, the project was strictly about photography: light came into a darkened room through a hole and made a picture. But over time I loosened the camera. Lost to English speakers is the mundane origin of the word aperture. Italians know to enter a business when its sign reads aperto – open. Breach the wall of a dark space and the world enters as an image. As my concerns became architectural, small apertures became elongated windows; pictures became patterns; walls gave way to doors. I wanted to unmake the camera, leaving only what was necessary to maintain the connection to place through image.

Website: chrisfraserstudio.com


Additional images