Tampa art professor aims to collect world’s largest archive of used handmade solar eclipse viewers

Jason Lazarus’ latest lecture is about the eclipse, but it’s also not about the eclipse.

University of South Florida Photography Professor Jason Lazarus with participants in one of his eclipse workshops on March 18, 2024.
University of South Florida Photography Professor Jason Lazarus with participants in one of his eclipse workshops on March 18, 2024.
Ever since seeing 2017’s total solar eclipse with students, University of South Florida Photography Professor Jason Lazarus has been obsessed with handmade eclipse viewers. In April he turns that passion into a public art project. Lazarus’ goal is to create the world’s largest archive of used handmade solar eclipse viewers.

Lazarus’ passion for eclipse viewers started small. Watching the 2017 eclipse, he was surprised to discover that his interest in students’ handmade eclipse viewers nearly equaled his interest in the eclipse itself.

“There is a certain physical dance of movements to finding just the right angle to get the moment of illumination inside,” says Lazarus. “Like a photo developing in front of you in a dark room, a jolt runs through you when a growing eclipse suddenly appears.”

Part of being an artist, Lazarus now tells audiences across the county, is acting on these moments of inspiration.

For Lazarus, that meant collecting his students’ eclipse viewers, with their permission, and showing them alongside his own photography-inspired art in the 2018 Florida Prize Exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art.

Heiress Gallery in St. Petersburg hosts Jason Lazarus the weekend of April 5 to celebrate the upcoming eclipse, with a two-day exhibition of handmade solar eclipse videos and a free public workshop called “How to Make a Solar Eclipse Viewer” from 7 p.m.-8 p.m. on Friday, April 5.

As the 2024 eclipse approaches, Lazarus’ interest in homemade solar eclipse viewers only grew. Suddenly, every piece of cardboard that entered his life became sacred as he considered how it might be converted into a solar eclipse viewer—pizza boxes, cake boxes, COVID-19 test boxes. A small collection of student-made viewers was no longer enough. He wanted to turn the detritus of boxed mac and cheese dinners everywhere into the largest archive of handmade solar eclipse viewers.

It was a passion too large to keep to himself. So he prepared a lecture that he’s been giving at colleges and universities around the country via Zoom.

In “How to View a Solar Eclipse” Lazarus shares his passion for the eclipse and its power to inspire artists. It’s about the eclipse, but it’s also not about the eclipse. At its heart, the hour-long lecture is about finding what inspires you to make your own art. With the free lecture comes a challenge—to take an object from your everyday life and turn it into a solar eclipse viewer. Once you’ve done that, and viewed the April 8 eclipse through it, send it to Lazarus so he can assemble the world’s largest archive of used handmade solar eclipse viewers.

You can turn almost anything into a solar eclipse viewer. All you need is a pinhole for light to enter, a viewing window, and a small square of white paper for the image to project onto, much like a camera obscura. You could easily make one by watching YouTube videos online or following the instructions on Lazarus’s project website. But, as Lazarus will tell you, an awe-inspiring phenomenon like an eclipse is meant to be enjoyed with others as a shared cultural event.

We recommend heading to Heiress Gallery in St. Pete where Lazaris teaches a free public workshop on how to make a solar eclipse viewer on April 6, noon-2 p.m. Once you have your viewer, take it to one of the following Tampa Bay eclipse-watching parties where you can share the event with neighbors and tourists at the beach, a science museum, or a public library near you. Then send your used viewer to Jason Lazarus following the instructions on his website.

The April 8 eclipse begins at 1:43 p.m. Eastern time and peaks at 3 p.m. It’ll be another 20 years before the next solar eclipse hits North America. Florida isn't in the path of totality this time, but that doesn’t mean you should sit this one out.

In Tampa Bay, the sun will be 58% obscured, and that’s worth seeing, especially when you can see it someplace breezy and beautiful like a Florida Gulf Coast beach. In fact, Clearwater Beach, where the Sugar Sand Festival is in full swing, is having a party. Get details on it and other local eclipse watching events below.

Eclipse on the beach with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Pier 60, and the Sugar Sand Festival A two-week long Sugar Sand Festival allows for all sorts of special events, including sunset street performances at Pier 60, daily sand sculpting classes (at 2 p.m.), and free concerts. Here you can enjoy the April 8 eclipse alongside a tent full of professionally-made sand sculptures. The party starts at noon, and the first 2,500 guests to arrive get a free pair of collectible eclipse glasses. Noon. Festival admission $14. 1 Causeway Blvd., Clearwater. sugarsandfestival.com

Eclipse with an astronomer at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry The party’s on the beach, but the fancy sun-safe telescopes are at MOSI. Equipment wise, MOSI is set up to provide the best views of the eclipse. Here you can hang out with MOSI astronomers and learn the science behind the solar eclipse as it crosses North America. 1:30 p.m.- 4:00 p.m. General admission $14, eclipse glasses $5. Event included with MOSI admission. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. mosi.org

Eclipse in the park If spring break traffic has you avoiding the beach in North Pinellas, Safety Harbor Library offers an alternative waterfront eclipse-viewing party. They’ll be at the Waterfront Park in Safety Harbor handing out free solar film glasses and watching the eclipse. 1:30 p.m.-4 p.m. 105 Veteran’s Memorial Lane, Safety Harbor. cityofsafetyharbor.com

Great Explorations
Further south, Great Explorations Children’s Museum is setting up in St. Pete’s Crescent Lake Park. Bring your own eclipse viewer to this one. 2:45 p.m. 1320 5th St. N, St. Petersburg. greatex.org

UPDATED 04/01/24 11:30 a.m. Updated to show that Lazarus' free public workshop called “How to Make a Solar Eclipse Viewer” is from 7 p.m.-8 p.m. on Friday, April 5.

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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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