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Camera Obscura

Just Jaq Art Projects – My inspiration and motivation

I am interested in the Camera Obscura as an interactive art object for exploring ideas around perception and reality in a constantly evolving age of digital technology.

Since 1997 I have used the Camera Obscura- known as “Uniquely by Perception of the Mind”, to challenge viewers to consider the way they perceive their everyday environments and draw attention to our consumption of visual imagery on a day to day basis.

The Camera Obscura references an observation by Descartes. In the Second Meditation, Descartes asserts that “Perception or the action, by which we perceive, is not a vision …… but solely an inspection by the mind.”  For Descartes one knows the world “Uniquely by perception of the mind” and the secure positioning of the self within an empty interior space is a precondition for knowing the outer world. Descartes likened the experience of the penetration of light rays through the single opening of the Camera Obscura to the flooding of the mind by the light of reason.

(Techniques of the Observer- on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century – Jonathan Crary)

I am fascinated by the idea that we see our environments in different ways according to our own life experiences and cultural identity and feel that the Camera Obscura provides a unique experience that can act as a catalyst for creative thinking and discussion.

What is a Camera Obscura?                                   

The name is translated from Latin as a darkened chamber or room.

‘Uniquely by Perception of the Mind’ is a hexagonal shaped building measuring 2m39cm from point to point. The over-all height of the device is approximately 3m 60cm. It has a rotating lens house with a 3.5 inch achromatic doublet lens, with a focal length of F 15. This projects beautiful live colour images of the outside world onto a viewing table inside. Visitors are able to change the view by rotating the lens house and by altering the angle of the mirror.

What happens inside?

As the Camera Obscura is the precursor of film and digital photography and is the earliest form of surveillance, once inside the device viewers automatically become voyeurs and take pleasure in viewing. This action provokes a dialogue between the observer and observed and this often results in interaction, performance and discussion.

How does it work?

The mechanics of the Camera Obscura are a cross between a giant pinhole camera and a periscope. At the top of the structure there is a small tower which houses an angled mirror which reflects light downwards, through a lens; this lens projects a colour, moving image of the outside onto a white table within the room.

The table-top is slightly concave to compensate for the effects of achromatic aberration from the lens. The table is mounted on a counterbalanced framework that enables it to be raised and lowered to alter the focal length of the lens and focus the image.

Where has the Camera Obscura been exhibited?

“Uniquely by Perception of the Mind” has toured many locations around the country including: Harewood House (Leeds) The Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester) The Wolsey Art Gallery (Ipswich) The Zion Centre, (Manchester), Trentham Gardens (Staffordshire) and to heritage venues and parks in Stockport as part of an arts development creative consultation marketing project.

Where can I visit the Camera Obscura now?

The Camera Obscura is currently on display in the gardens of the Minories Art Gallery in Colchester.  A self-led experience, members of the public are able to visit this intriguing work for free.

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