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Time in a can

A blend of science and photography.

How often do you think ‘science’ when you talk about photography?

The experience of images automatically takes us to the world of art and visual imagination.
Yet a bunch of creative people from Madrid has managed to combine science with photography, adding the flavour of the beverages industry on top of it. 

They have come up with a great project called The Time in a Can. Although the team is based in Madrid, the project is based on the network of very patient photographers located on five continents. In simple words, what they do is record the motion of the Sun in the sky using empty beverage cans. They call it ‘solarigraphy’.

To find out more about The time in a Can, we have spoken to one of those who kick started the whole idea, Diego López Calvín, who himself is an experienced pinhole photographer and film producer:


AA.  What inspired The Time in a Can project in the first place?

It was inspired by the Solaris Project developed in Poland by Pawel Kula, Slawomir Decyk and myself between 2000 and 2002. During these 10 years, Solarigrafía (Solarigraphy or Solargraphy is the english translation from the original invented word) has grown a lot, and the primitive know-how has been spread around the world.

Some years ago I started as a partner in Estudio Redondo (a creative platform in Madrid) and we decided to relaunch the original idea of Solaris, so we looked for pinhole artists around the world who wanted to work with us. We designed and built the best solargraphy camera ever thanks to the support of our sponsor Asociación de Latas de Bebidas (Association of Beverage Cans) and we sent 5 cameras to 40 different pinhole photographers spread around the globe, from the Equator to both Hemispheres. We were working together during six months, the period between summer and winter solstice 2011. All the participants were using the same cameras and keeping the same parameters during all the procedures in order to achieve and compare the solar phenomena in the same period of time.

AA. How much of it is art and how much science for you?

Solargraphy is a pot where many ingredients are being cooked. We started by asking ourselves: “can we show through photography how the perception of the sunlight changes depending on the lattitude of the observer?”  Time in a can is an art project that is partially born out of curiosity, which we think is what drives both art and science. Trying to understand our physical environment and reacting to it is, in a way, what both do.

Solargraphs are images that have different layers. They give us information on the position of the sun and the weather in a particular place, but at the same time they are also impressive photographic images that contain six months of time in a single picture, they show us something that we can not see with our bare eyes. Just like photography can freeze a bullet going through the heart of an apple, solargraphy can contain thousands of decisive moments in one image.

Since we are working simultaneously in the entire planet using the same cameras (loaded with the same photographic paper) and we process the negatives with the same parameters, we can compare results and draw some conclusions, but there is not a scientific approach in an academic sense. It is, in a way, a primitive approach to science.

Solargraphy is about looking at the world from within the landscape. We like to think of it as nature looking at itself beyond the limits of human vision, through the eyes of a stone or a tree.


AA. Have you already identified a solar path that delivers the most impressive image?

All solargraphs give us a lot of information about our environment and weather. Our Time in a Can participants have done a great work fixing their cameras in amazing locations, each one with different results. Among others, we very much like the one which was made in Sun Square (Madrid) by Francis Tsang. It has a great symbolism to it and a powerful meaning coming from our most famous public space at the city center. It shows an amazing view of an empty space which is crossed by millions of people every month. Sol Square was also the center of the 15-M movement, the so-called “spanish revolution” in 2011. The issue of rethinking democracy and society was deeply discussed by this movement, and we like to think that solargraphy in a way can help us rethink who we are and how we see the world.

AA. On your website you talk about the development technique that does not involve chemical processes. You called it "The solarigraphic sacrifice" - why sacrifice? 

As you know, we have an unconventional approach to photography. We are using, for instance, photosensitive paper in a way that is not recommend by the manufacturer.

The original idea of Solargraphy takes us back to the roots of photography. Let’s remember that photography was officially “born” when our ancestors were able to fix the photographic image. Before that, they were able to produce photographs, but they vanished after a short period of time. The solarigraphic image works in a similar way, since we are dealing with a direct negative image “drawn” by the Sun directly on the photosensitive paper and we are not developing nor fixing the image with chemicals. The negatives remain sensitive to light, they are still “alive”, so they should only be seen under dimmed light. In that sense, the process of scanning –which throws a lot of light into the negative- gives us the chance to have a stable digital reproduction of the negative but at the same time accelerates it’s degradation. The same light that created the negative can destroy the image.
That’s why we metaphorically speak of “sacrifice”.


AA. You are already planning an exhibition. How will you utilize the results of your project in the long term, both from the artistic and scientific point of view?

We can proudly announce that the first international Time in a Can exhibition will be held in Madrid this year, opening next Summer Solstice.
We have also published a website: with information on the project and we are planing to publish an exhibition catalogue with the results. We hope to see you all in Madrid for the opening!!

AA. Although a project round lasts 6 months, are you planning to extend it? And are you planning to extend the pool or participants?

Currently we are collecting the negatives from a second edition of the project: Time in a Can Portugal. We have been working with some local pinhole artists from mainland Portugal and the Azores Islands during 2012 and we will try to organize an exhibition in Lisbon by the end of 2013.

It is important to mention that all the work we do for Time in a Can at estudio redondo is on a non-profit basis, so we also have to make a living with other jobs. We are already thinking about alternative funding formulas like crowdfunding to expand the project.

We like to think of Time in a Can as an on-going project and we are open to further collaborations in other parts of the world. You can reach us at or through Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

One of the pinhole cameras made of an empty can ready to be used at Estudio Redondo´s roof in Madrid.


We certainly love the project and we wish Diego and his team all the best with their plans. We look forward to more results. Thank you. AA


Photographs featured in this article have been contributed by (showing from the top):

Francis Tsang ( - Plaza del Sol, Madrid

Ross Togashi ( - Hawai

Estudio Redondo ( - Estudio Redondo, Madrid

Daniel Tubio (http.// - Argentina

Diego Lopez Calvin's work can be found on

Photo: Diego López Calvín  avatar

Diego López Calvín commented:

Dear Analogic Advocate Readers. The creators of this project are complaining about the advantage taken by the sponsor "Asociación de Latas de Bebidas" and his family at the Estudio Redondo de Madrid without listening our demands. You can read the full history about the Time in a Can affaire here:

on: 20-06-2016 12:20
Photo: Vertigo avatar

Vertigo commented:

What a great project. I wish you all the best.

on: 14-03-2013 21:06