Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opens Afterimage. Tod Ainslie’s Vision of the War of 1812

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Afterimage. Tod Ainslie’s Vision of the War of 1812, 22 photographic works on display from Saturday, June 2, 2012 to Sunday, February 24, 2013. These evocative photographs, documenting many of the War’s historically significant sites, were taken between 2001 and 2009 by Burlington-based Tod Ainslie using three pinhole cameras that he designed and built.

Tod Ainslie, Pathway between Gate of the Five Nations and South Redoubt, Fort Niagara, Youngstown, New York, May 2007 (printed 2009). Six-pinhole camera, 3” focal length. Gelatin silver contact print on fibre paper. Edition 2/22, 2011.95.15. ©Tod Ainslie.

The photographs of Afterimage, using a medium not available in 1812, create a 21st century showcase of war sites – restorations included – as they exist today. The absence of figures and the images’ aesthetic qualities transform the scenes. Permeated by anachronistic complexity, the photographs become resonant spaces of reflection, commemorating lives lived or lost during the War of 1812. Over nine years, Tod Ainslie traversed eastern North America, taking approximately 2,000 photographs. The ROM has purchased 25 of these images for its collection and 22 have been selected for this exhibition.

Each image is augmented by information on the photographed location. Visitors will discover the significance of such sites as Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio; the Octagonal Blockhouse, on Coteau-du-Lac on the St. Lawrence River, 40 kilometres southwest of Montreal; and York (now Toronto, Canada’s largest city), invaded and twice burned by the Americans in 1813.

The exhibit is no mere history lesson on the facts of the War of 1812. Afterimage is framed by a section explaining Ainslie’s use of the cameras he built himself, and each of the photographs is accompanied by technical information allowing the visitor to understand some of the aesthetic choices Ainslie has made in order to create his evocative images.

Burlington-based Tod Ainslie was born in 1945 in Nassau, Bahamas. He is a practicing documentary pinhole photographer of historical sites and architecture, using cameras he designed and constructed. Particularly interested in the War of 1812, Ainslie has shown photographs of its sites in juried shows, demonstrations, and galleries, often being awarded for his work. His photographs are also found in a number of private collections. He has guest lectured at both Ryerson University and Doors Open (Fort York) and taught art and photography. Tod Ainslie has a Bachelor of Art Education from Eastern Michigan University and an Honours Specialist (Visual Arts) from the University of Toronto.

In his images, Ainslie strove to evoke the experiences of those who lived through the War of 1812. His photographs are, in his words, “Daguerre-like”, similar to what may have been produced at that time had the chemical technology been available. To achieve this style, Ainslie made use of the simplest possible apparatus – the pinhole camera. Essentially a closed box, one side of the camera is pierced by a tiny aperture through which rays of light enter and imprint the scene on a negative placed within.

The apparent simplicity of the pinhole camera belies the complexity of Ainslie’s process. Three different pinhole cameras were built by Ainslie, each allowing for various aesthetic effects as dictated by a particular site’s atmospheric conditions. Choices were made as to camera, its position relative to the subject, its focal length, and length of exposure. In the darkroom, Ainslie manipulated the light and cropped his images to create his desired effects.

Afterimage: Tod Ainslie’s Vision of the War of 1812 is included with paid general ROM admission. Visit for more information

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