Visit the Grill and become a part of a six-month experiment

People who visit the Grill at St. Thomas may have noticed a small, six-inch cylinder tape on the far wall of the dining area. But what they may not know is that all who enter the Grill, whether they know it or not, are part of a six-month experiment.

Ilya Natarius, a sophomore engineering student, designed, created and planted his pinhole camera experiment in the Grill at the beginning of July and will take it down in January. The final image will be a photograph representing a human timeline of movements and light during the six-month period.

Natarius said he chose the Grill because of the high traffic required to make the experiment work. He also said that having it in the Grill is a way to involve St. Thomas students in the making of the final product, even if they don’t necessarily know it.

“I thought it was kind of a community project, because everyone that comes into the Grill is sort of directly involved in the project,” he said. “Whenever they walk by a little trace of them gets left behind in the room, so it’s kind of like time capsule of every single person that’s been in this room.”

The six-month period is pivotal for a positive result on the final image. The light sensitive paper lining the inside of the camera reads any light entering through the pin-sized hole on the front of the film canister. Behind the hole is a small piece of tin from a pop can that also has a hole and reflects the light onto the paper.

“The only thing the camera is doing is basically letting light in and it is just being still,” Natarius said. “So the camera itself isn’t doing a whole lot, it’s more [the] St. Thomas [students and staff] that come here that are doing their part to help out.”

After the six-month duration, the image is developed in a dark room and Natarius hopes to display it somewhere, possibly in the Grill, for everyone to see. Although the original photo will only be the size of the canister itself, he said he will be able to enlarge it enough for people to discern what is going on.

Natarius placed this pinhole camera on the wall in the Grill so St. Thomas students could be a part of the experiment. (Matt Linden/TommieMedia)
Natarius placed this pinhole camera on the wall in the Grill so St. Thomas students could be a part of the experiment. (Matt Linden/TommieMedia)

Natarius came up with the idea for his experiment after viewing a solargraph, an image typically made using pinhole cameras that tracks the movements of the sun. Because there is no direct sunlight in the Grill, he considers his test truly experimental in nature.

“I kind of wanted to do put my own spin on it,” Natarius said. “I’m trying to see if it will happen if I can capture the movement of people and have the Grill as a still background.”

Although the image relies on the movement of people walking, eating and interacting in the Grill on a given day, Natarius said the St. Thomas community should not be concerned about having their specific image, figure or face in the photograph.

“There shouldn’t be actual figures because over a six month period of time no figure will be discernable enough on the actual picture itself because of the time it would be in here,” he said. “The only things that should be discernable are things like tables, chairs, walls [and] light sources.”

Natarius’ main goal with the pinhole experiment is to show the progression in a fixed area.

“I hope to create a final image that will show progress,” he said. “It’s kind of a conceptual image, a progress over the past six months. It’s kind of life as it is except in one frame.”

Matt Linden can be reached at

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