The project was first inspired by the unique walk-in Camera Obscura in Mitchell Park in Greenport. I have always been fascinated by early photographic technologies that challenge our ways of seeing. I’ve been inside several camera obsucas and always found them absolutely magical- the way can engage your whole body, sometimes placing you inside the image itself. I had the chance 5 years ago to enter the one in Greenport. It is unique in that it has a lens attached to a periscope in the ceiling that can be rotated, changing focus, and projecting the landscape outside in 360 degrees onto a central disc. I was able to revisit the camera again at the Maritime Festival this year and it was even more transfixing than I had remembered.
“A camera obscura is a darkened room into which light enters through a small opening, projecting a live picture onto a screen. In a modern version, the view outside is reflected by a mirror through a lens, which projects it onto a viewing table. Looking down at the table one sees a living, two-dimensional image of the outside scene, in full color. The mirror can be rotated, so that, as it turns, one sees the view in all directions. The vibrant image promotes a feeling of serene detachment, reveals details otherwise overlooked, and enhances one’s appreciation of the scenic beauty. Many viewers find the experience deeply moving, and almost all are fascinated by this magical new way of seeing.”
Once I knew my public sculpture would be a response to this unique feature of Greenport, I wanted to play with photographic imagery and invite a different way of seeing. My inclusion of the eyes, imagery I’ve incorporated before, would this time be printed in negative so that the viewer would be able to see the landscape through the pupils. Camera Obscuras were a precursor to the the modern photograph and eventual development of the negative. I also wanted my sculpture to be circular and rotate, another reference to the round building and revolving periscope (as well as the park’s nearby merry-go-round.) And finally, I imagined individuals standing in this same position over centuries, gazing at this very landscape, both the same and changed.
The Camera Obscura in Mitchell Park, exterior view.
Close-up of periscope with lens, rotating in full 360 degrees.