Camera Obscura

Thank you to my friend Penny, who reminded me how much I love the public art at Madison Square, just about my favorite park in the city.

Bird rearSo with the temperature hovering near 50 degrees, I decided to walk over today to see what there is to see.  You can’t miss the huge bird made out of gigantic nails.  You can see the construction pretty clearly from this picture of the rear (you can also double click it to enlarge it).  The front of the bird is in the slide show below.

People were much more attracted to this obvious piece of art, juxtaposing the manmade and the natural, nails and bird, that to that little, white, round canister, sitting by its lonesome.

Camera Obscura ext 1


You  can probably see why.  The door to the canister is open in this shot.  I liked the minimalism of it.  Penny had told me what to look for, so I wonder if I would have wandered over if she hadn’t.

I’m so glad she did!

The canister is an art installation by Sandra Gibson and Louis Recorder, two film artists.  It’s a camera obscura, the precursor to today’s camera.  A camera obscura works the same way the eye does.  By creating a darkened chamber, with a hole to admit light, an image is projected upon the chamber wall, upside down.

Then artists like Vermeer, reportedly, could trace the outline of the projection to get proportionately accurate buildings, landscapes, rooms, etc.

This installation is small, and the day was moody.  The sun kept going behind clouds, then reemerging, which made the projection ever changing.  The artists said they wanted to “do a film piece without technology,” according to the docent, who let us in and monitored how long we could stay.  I would say the results are mesmerizing, like a good film.

The docent pointed out hard to see changes in the scene–cars going by, pedestrians, the traffic light changing from red to green.  None of those details turned out in my pictures, but the results of the famous Flatiron Building look suprisingly similar to Edward Steichen’s atmospheric 1905 photograph (below right), only upside down and bent where the wall met the floor.

Camera Obscura Flatiron BldgSteichen









The graininess is similar anyway.  I took a few pictures to show the effects of the changing light, which you can catch in the slide show below.  I think they’re eerily beautiful.

Of course, there’s also the mind-bending idea of a camera inside a camera.  I’ll leave you to ponder that one…


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