pinhole camera workshop – photography & related media

Looking out the pinhole Image Credit: Lara Baladi 2016

looking through the pinhole

Photography & Related Media (4.344/345)

Instructor: Lara Baladi


The ACT Advanced Photography & Related Media course (4.344/345) took a field trip to Hull, MA. The students transformed the historical structure of Fort Revere into a camera obscura.

Camera obscura, Latin for “dark room,” is the precursor to our understanding of photography and exploits the phenomenon of the pinhole camera. When a small aperture is installed in a lightproof box or room, light from the exterior passes through only a single point. Because each point outside the box maps to only a single point inside the box, an inverted image is projected on the wall opposite the aperture.

Students chose one room of the ruin of the Fort Revere, which used to be a prison. They constructed two temporary walls lined with thick black vinyl to block off any incoming light. To one of these walls, they added an aperture. As our eyes adjusted to the darkened space, the scenery outside of the cell began to reveal itself. The graffiti on the outside wall, flipped upside down was projected onto the graffiti on the interior wall.

The class experimented with placing a white screen and capturing this image by photographing the projection from within the camera obscura with a regular DSLR. The students then also exposed a 4’x8’ light-sensitive photo-paper taped on the inside wall. The room acted as the body of a camera, the aperture as a lens and the large format photo paper as film transforming the Fort Revere into a massive camera.

While modern photography really began with the discovery of how to chemically fix images in the 19th century, the phenomenon of the camera obscura, was known for many centuries. An early discoverer —and inspiration for our installation, was Arab scientist, mathematician, and philosopher Hasan Ibn al-Haytham who observed the pinhole phenomenon and developed an entire theory of optics while living in Cairo, Egypt, under house arrest for a decade.

Since then, many artists have exploited the almost magical quality of the camera obscura, from renaissance painters, who used the tool to develop linear perspective, to contemporary photographers like Abelardo Morell, whose surreal images collapse distinctions between inner and outer spaces.

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