Camera Obscura: Adventures Inside a Giant Camera

For all of those parents out there looking to do something with their kids (or anyone looking to kill some time with some creativity), here’s an idea that will keep them occupied and teach them a little bit about photography…..turn one of your rooms into a Camera! (A camera obscura to be correct). I did it yesterday and it was pretty cool.

Essentially, you are making your living room, bathroom, or, in my case, bedroom into a giant camera. This is nothing new. This technique has been used for centuries. In fact, it’s believed that the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer  used a camera obscura to help make his masterpieces.

So what in the world is a camera obscura?  It’s a darkened box with a convex lens or aperture for projecting the image of an external object onto a screen inside. So what does that mean and how the heck do you do this?

I started out by covering all of the windows in my bedroom to block out all of the light from outside. I used tinfoil and electrical tape, but any material like black poster board, will work as long as you can block out ALL of the light.  Then, make an aperture. Wait, what the heck is an “aperture”?  The aperture  is basically a hole that you cut out of the black out material that will let in a small amount of light.

Mine was about an 1.5” in diameter but you can make it smaller.  Once you have all your windows and doors blocked out, turn off the lights in the room.   Look at the side of the room opposite your aperture.  It will be pitch black, but give your eyes a chance to adjust. Soon, you will start to see an image of the outside world appear on your wall.  It will be upside down and backwards.  

Beams of light from outside is filtering into the room from that hole you made and reflecting everything going on.  You are now sitting inside a giant camera.  How cool is that?  

I had my digital camera set up on a tripod, set it on a very long exposure, about 20-30 seconds (depending on how bright it was outside), and was able to take photos of the room and with the image of the building next door projected onto the far wall and closet doors.  A smaller hole or a convex piece of glass (aka a lens) would have sharpened the image, focusing the light.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a great view from our New York apartment, but you get the idea.  

Here is the final image that I made.  (It also helped to have a cat who is content to sit still.)

For more inspiration, check out one of my favorite photographers of all time,  Abelardo Morell.  He does a lot with camera obscura and his work is pretty amazing.  

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Would love to know if you tried it and if it has inspired any future photographers.

Have fun!

Where is Cher When You Need Her?

At the end of last year, I was offered a solo exhibition at a cute little cafe in Washington Heights.  The opportunity couldn’t have come at a worse time. Christmas and New Years were quickly approaching, my in-laws were due to arrive from England for a 10 day visit, and my mother was in the hospital.  Despite all of this, I said yes and got down to work.  It was a stressful, sleepless, and ultimately joyous month preparing my show, “Beyond the Sea”.  When it was finally hung and living in the space, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and a sense of accomplishment washed over me.  I did it.  I made the deadline with some time to spare.  I broke the tape crossing the finish line and the theme from Rocky played in my head.  This contentment lasted a few days and then I thought: 

“Now what?”

Those two words sent shivers down my spine. Trying to ride the wave of creativity and on an emotional high, I got back on that horse.  But looking at my camera in my hands, seeing that corner in my living room where I do my work, I thought my ideas would flow like a river.  Instead I heard the sound of drip……drip…………….drip.  

Where did my mojo go?  Where is my creative spark and how do I get it back?  I’m frozen.  Feet stuck in thick mud that’s been mixed with quicksand and concrete.   It’s the dreaded ”dry spell ”.  I’ve gone through this before.  When inspiration is replaced by doubt.  It’s like learning to walk again after you’ve run a marathon.  Legs collapsing under you, arms motionless, the will to move is there but the body is telling you, “No way, José”.  So you lay there, like a wad of chewed gum on the sidewalk and you wait to gain your strength.  Wait until the ideas start flowing. Until you find your center again.  Wait until the desire to make art is like a lightening bolt buzzing through your body.  But you wait…..and wait…..and wait. No buzz, no yearning. Just uncertainty.  Everything becomes day old oatmeal.  Bland and colorless.  Where is Cher when you need her to slap your face and yell “SNAP OUT OF IT!”

I take walks to get out of my own head, watch documentaries about artists, or read quotes by other creatives looking for some insight or wisdom. I work on other projects that need less brain power. All to no avail.  I think I really just need Cher or at least some sort of metaphysical version of her in that famous scene.  I’ve gotten over the block before and I’ll get over it again.  Until that happens, I will read, work, grumble, walk, rip up ideas, and come up with new ones.  

Cooking, The Spice of Life

As we enter into the holiday season, I wanted to talk a little bit about….what else….food.  In recent years, I have found myself drawn to photographing food, people that make it and the surroundings they fill.  From picking fresh veg at the farmers market, prepping, plating, serving, and eating.  There is a method and purpose to it all.  Cooking can be basic or complicated. It is an art and a gesture of giving love.  How many of us have a fond memory of a mother, grandmother, spouse, or friend making homemade sauce or baking a birthday cake and how it tasted but more importantly how it made you feel.  A simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich can take on more meaning when it’s made with love.    

From simple street food to home cooking to high end gourmet meals, the feeling is still the same.  It’s the art of creating a dish that is intended to be consumed, to nourish the body and, when done right, the soul.  I love the visual flavor of a dish well plated. The color of a grapefruit, the curve of a pepper, the way cheese can crumbles to mimic a tiny mountain range or black olives glistening in a vintage dish.  It’s the art of creating with food and the pride when these tasty morsels are set down in front of you. Cooking is edible affection.

My appreciation for the art of cooking is nothing new. But it’s expanded greatly since I met my husband.  He loves food.  He loves shopping for it, reading recipes, planning meals, finding strange ingredients from other parts of the world to experiment with. He loves cooking. It is his way of expressing himself, his way of giving to others. It’s his moment of zen, his yoga, if you will.  When guests come over for dinner, he pulls out spice mixtures and urges them to smell and taste these strange powders.  When we travel, we search for out of the way markets and spice shops.  I watch as his eyes light up like a child at Christmas at the prospect of a new flavor. He loves to cook and cooking is love.