A pinhole to the past

Long exposure photography exhibit showcases student work

Vanessa Warne, associate professor in the department of English, theatre, film and media and co-organizer of the Crafting Communities project, taught her ENGL 2140 Literature of the Victorian Period students how to take apart soda cans and turn them into pinhole cameras with tape and sewing pins and film back in the fall of 2023.

Installed throughout various locations across Manitoba, the cameras sat capturing long exposure images of light until they were taken down and developed in Warne’s office by the students themselves. On April 5 these images were put on display as a pop-up exhibition in the Haney Reading Room in Fletcher Argue.

Each of the photographs in the exhibit is haunting, with the pinholes capturing the light over many months, multiple photographs feature branches or long streaks of the sun arching across the sky from rise to set. 

The overbearing presentness of sky and land in the images emphasizes the way the objects can become overlooked, with a plaque beside Glaiza Balanquit’s own piece describing the process as one that “reminded [her] that the sun is still a star.” 

“I didn’t expect to be doing this in an English course,” Hannah Cole, music student currently enrolled in Warne’s class, told the Manitoban. 

“Other English courses are not doing crafts, going on a field trip to Dalnavert Museum,” Cole said, adding that the joy in an eccentric class like Warne’s gives students a break from traditional styles of academia while still learning about the Victorian era through this unconventional course structure. 

After Cole made her pinhole camera, she set it up in her backyard to capture an image of her house and other details of her everyday life. However, when the film was developed, Cole’s image “just had some speckles and some strange marks.” 

Warne and Cole theorized that the film slipped out of place inside the camera. 

This “surprise failure” was used to refine the creative process. The next time Cole set up her camera the film was taped inside in the right placement. 

Cole wasn’t the only student whose original project didn’t provide the expected results, unsurprising considering the images had to be left for so long to process. One student’s camera was even pecked at by an animal — “presumably a woodpecker” — achieving an unusual bleed of light onto the film during this time. 

Cole found the process to be one that made her appreciate the everyday life of her backyard. 

“Seeing it in this exhibition with everyone else’s images, I feel a connection, and maybe even a sense of pride,” she said. 

Regarding learning about the Victorian era with this unique project, Cole said that this experience had her thinking about how photography has changed from that era in contrast to now and how accessible it is to take something as simple as a photograph with modern-day technology, something that wasn’t possible back then.  

Readers can keep up with Crafting Communities for other Victorian Craft exhibits and opportunities at https://www.craftingcommunities.net/ or @crafty_victorians on Instagram. 


12/04/2012: the article has been updated to accurately reflect the name of the U of M English, theatre, film and media department