Something magical is happening in a dark, cramped gallery space at the Brookline Arts Center. Swaying trees, bicyclists and passersby dance across a blank wall, in the dark empty room. It’s like watching a movie — except everything is upside down.
Something magical is happening in a dark, cramped gallery space at the Brookline Arts Center. Swaying trees, bicyclists and passersby dance across a blank wall, in the dark empty room.
It’s like watching a movie — except everything is upside down.
“As they walk in, your eyes adjust and you gradually begin to notice there is an image there,” said photography teacher Sarah Gaw. “It’s a process of observation.”
This is a camera obscura, an ancient illusion that uses the principles of light to project moving, living images through a small hole into any darkened space. Performed on a smaller scale, it is sometimes called a pinhole camera.
The discovery of the camera obscura is credited to a Muslim scientist working around the year 1000. More recently, art historians have suspected that some painters in the 16th and 17th century used the devise to give their work a greater sense of dimension.
The center’s 10-by-18-foot camera obscura, part of the “Walk Inside the Camera” exhibit that opened Aug. 21, would normally have a view of nearby Monmouth Park. Now that image is now reflected, upside down and strangely colored, on the gallery’s rear wall.
The idea was conceived a year ago by center director Susan Navarre, who in college came across a similar image shining through a crack in an old door. It was an accidental camera obscura.
“Running across something like that was very exciting,” Navarre said. “I thought of trying to do it before, but I only made the connection that our gallery would be a good space for it a little over a year ago.”
Navarre approached Gaw, who regularly converts the center’s bathroom into a darkroom for her classes, about the project. Gaw researched the phenomena and decided she could get everything she need at the hardware store.
Gaw blacked out the windows of the gallery using tape and construction-grade tarps. She spent the last week chasing down light leaks.
“The process of making a camera obscura is actual very similar to making a dark room,” she said, “until you get to the point of making the actual aperture.”
To make the aperture, which determines the amount of light allowed into the room, Gaw attached washers to an aluminum pie pan. Rotating the pie pan changes the aperture, which in turns changes the brightness and clarity of the image.
“We have multiple apertures so people can play with the physics of the light,” Gaw said.
The center plans to invite experienced photographers to bring their own photo paper to the camera obscura to try producing photographs using photo paper. The camera is opened to the public, but Gaw plans to use it as an educational tool for her own students.
“This is an opportunity for people to experience what is happening inside a camera,” she said.
“Walk Inside the Camera” will be on display at Brookline Arts Center through Sept. 14. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
BAC is at 86 Monmouth St. For more information, visit www.brooklineartscenter.com.
Neal Simpson of The Brookline (Mass.) TAB can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.