Questions & Artists: Pinhole Photographer W. Joseph Christiansen

In November, the Cedarburg Art Museum unveiled its Iconic Wisconsin exhibit, a diverse collection of art inspired by the state’s landscape, culture and heritage. Fifty-six Midwestern artists created nearly 75 pieces for the exhibit. Among them were Door County artists Steve Stanger, Jim Rossol and W. Joseph Christiansen.

Christiansen is a Maplewood artist and lifelong photographer with an inclination toward the surreal. Since 1991, he has experimented with pinhole photography, which, as Christiansen explains, “is making photographs using a camera fitted with a tiny aperture known as a pinhole in the place of a lens.” The result provides a soft, dreamlike rendering of the subject.

His love for experimenting with pinhole imaging led him to establish Pinhole Edun, a website that showcases Christiansen’s work along with the work of other fine art photographers, and markets lensless photography supplies.

I reached out to Christiansen to learn more about pinhole photography, his Iconic Wisconsin images, and his other love:  acrylics. For more details on pinhole photography, visit

“Chairs at Alice’s Garden,” pinhole image by W. Joseph Christiansen.

Alyssa Skiba (AS):  Describe how pinhole photography works.

Joseph Christiansen (WJC):  A pinhole is basically a very sophisticated light leak. An image is produced because it is a minute portal, one of the two “natural” systems that will form an image. The other system is a lens, as in our eyes. Any light, tight container that can hold a sensitive piece of film or photographic printing paper, or a digital sensor, can be fitted with a pinhole to make photographs.


AS:  What tools do you use to manipulate your photos?

WJC:  Basically computers, scanners, printers and editing software, such as Photoshop. Imagination also helps greatly.


AS:  Two of your photos were accepted into the Cedarburg Art Museum’s Iconic Wisconsin exhibit:  “Visitation” and “Visitor.” How did you create each, and what about them makes each photo iconically Wisconsin?

WJC:  The two pieces selected for the Cedarburg exhibit are lens-generated digital photographs. I feel the local Wisconsin botanical subjects speak for themselves, and, what could be more Wisconsin than deer antlers?

“Soon,” acrylic on hard board by W. Joseph Christiansen.

AS:  Your artist statement indicates you are also a painter. What type of painting do you do?

WJC:  I am not a realistic artist; I attempt to paint “hard edge surrealism.” I cannot take a camera to the Orion Nebula to record star formation, but I can try to render what it might look like with acrylic paints.


AS:  Who or what inspired your interest in surrealism?

WJC:  I’ve always enjoyed Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy. I guess it all revolves around the mostly impossible dream scenes. I desire to paint destinations I can’t yet visit.


AS:  How has living in Door County informed your art career?

WJC:  With the economy falling in around 1980-81, we [he and his wife Ricki] decided to move to Door County and renovate an old general store that was made in 1902. So, building a gallery in part of the house seemed an option. With so much natural beauty in Door County to enjoy, along with so many talented artist friends, the dream lives on.

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