Tod Ainslie is a practising documentary pinhole photographer of historical sites and architecture, using his own self-designed and self-built cameras. His photographs straddle the fine line between the purely documentary and fine art, as they capture not only the literal sites themselves, but also fragments of their aura and a sense of the people whose energies occupied them.
His newest project is on the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionists. He had a solo show of this new project at the Lennox-Addington County Museum in 2015. He has 3 solo shows of it booked beginning on November 5, 2016 and running until August 13, 2017. They will be at the RiverBrink Art Museum, the Chimczuk Museum and the Chatham-Kent Museum. He will be showing at the Niagara Falls History Museum in 2018.
He has had solo shows of his War of 1812 work at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, the Carnegie Gallery and the Toronto Image Works Gallery. He has also shown at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, Doors Open Fort York, Image City Photography Gallery, Beaux-Arts Brampton and the Latow Show in the Art Gallery of Burlington, winning Best in Show. His work has been seen in the Canadian Art Magazine, the Canadian Edition of International Architecture and Design as well as Photolife Magazine and he has been featured in articles in both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail He has received three Ontario Arts Council grants.
He has guest lectured at the Lennox and Addington County Museum, Grimsby Public Art Gallery, Ryerson University and Doors Open Fort York, taught art and photography, and had a pottery business where he produced historically accurate pottery and installations for a number of museums, galleries, historical sites and film companies.
He has a Bachelor of Art Education from Eastern Michigan University and an Honour Specialist (Visual Arts) from the University of Toronto.
My goal in documenting the sites associated with the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery, is to memorialize the heroic people who passed through them. All of these people have now gone, but the sites remain, and through them the important stories of these people and the events that happened can be told.
The pinhole camera is an excellent tool for bonding time and place. The necessary lengthy exposures enable changing light to infuse objects and places with the patina of time. Its tiny aperture, having unlimited depth of field, gives a wealth of information by focusing on everything in the scene at the same time. Combine this with the endless possibilities in camera design (involving focal length, aperture placement and the number of pinholes used) and verisimilitude follows. The viewer is then momentarily pulled into that time and place. I have used dodging and cropping for aesthetic purposes but not to depart from the image of what was originally captured by the pinhole.
As I worked with these primitive cameras and saw the images they produced, I felt a strong sense of the period’s aura, a sense of the places themselves and an empathy for the people involved in this historical migration and settlement into a new land.