Artisans, surfers, photographers and beach bums: those single-mindedly dedicated to their craft flock to the Outer Banks, NC for inspiration and musing. A unique chain of islands, with a history as powerful as the sand and storms that shaped the land itself, provide a dynamic playground for the creative mind to explore. One such artist, armed with only a camera as small as a deck of playing cards and the sun, stepped foot on the Outer Banks to capture the narrative of a lighthouse that went far beyond what could be seen by the naked eye.
Christian Fiedler is a hobbyist photographer from New Jersey, working with an experimental method of photography called solargraphy. Solar photography, easily surmised as “solargraphy,” uses the sun both as a means to expose a photograph and as a central part of the image. The cameras used for solargraphs are simple, made up of a lightproof body and a pinhole, aptly dubbed pinhole cameras.
The pinhole acts as an aperture, the lens opening, by controlling how much light passes into the camera body. As sunlight filters into the camera, the subject matter is captured on photo sensitive paper that is safely nested inside the weather and lightproof body. With such a small amount of light passing through the pinhole, solargraphy exposures can last for months, filled with anxious patience and excitement. If placed in winter, while the sun sits low on the horizon, the sun’s rise north to its zenith in summer can be recorded over the course of the seasons.
Fiedler’s project, “Beacons through Time” has taken him to famous and historic lighthouses across the country, from northern Maine with the Marshall Point Lighthouse to Georgia’s Tybee Island Lighthouse. The project, launched in 2022, traveled down the east coast, bringing Fiedler to North Carolina. Fiedler captured captured two iconic beacons in the state: the Bald Head Island and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
With cameras in hand (five to be exact) Fiedler set out to get the shot. The camera placement can be tricky; he had to choose a structure that could remain still for months, angled towards the subject, and out of reach of curious hands. Working with lighthouse keeper, Meghan Aresto, Fiedler placed the cameras in January 2023 and retrieved them in May, with summer just around the corner. Days eventually turned into weeks, and then months. Each time the sun took its rise and fall across the sky, the small cameras kept their watch and took diligent notes. One camera fell, another lost, then a third that didn’t produce a viable picture. The final two cameras were able to sing a story of patience and sweet success. The delicate arcs of light in the photographs, each one representing the sun’s journey over a single day, capture a unique story that cannot be replicated with the simple “click” of a digital camera or cell phone.
When Fiedler began “Beacons through Time,” he set out with a mission larger than an average snapshot. “The more I thought about it, the more I saw a deep connection between the format and subject. Solargraphs are long-standing and capture a steady, constant daily cycle. In them, you can see cloudy days, storms, even times when the cameras are covered in snow and ice.” Extended exposures like the ones captured by the solargraphs do not record the daily minutia moving around the camera, like the movements of people or animals. The steady presence of structures like buildings and lighthouses are rendered in splendor. The seasonal pathway of the sun combined with the quiet stoicism of the lighthouse render narratives that span years and even decades. Solargraphs like Fiedler’s are quietly yet profoundly documenting the relationship between human-made structures, mother nature, and the people who seek to share those stories.
To read more about solargraphy and see all the lighthouses included in the project, click HERE.
Two solargraphs (9 Jan 2023 – 28 May 2023, 139 days of exposure) of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. After exposure, the cameras are capped to prevent further light from reaching the images. They are then scanned and inverted, leaving the images seen here.