UPDATE: Community-built Mobile Camera Obscura lets in the light!

Camera obscuras have been used for centuries by astronomers, scholars and artists to view the sun, to demonstrate how light travels and to create drawings with perfect accuracy and detail. The camera obscura is also the device from which the modern day camera evolved. Now a team of Calgary based artists from the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) are turning a thirty-five-year-old camping trailer into a mobile camera obscura.

The work in progress was on display at Beakerhead 2015  and will hit the streets again in September 14 - 18, 2016.

Conceived of by Mitch Kern, associate professor in the School of Visual Art at ACAD, the project aims to use what he calls "the contraption" as a vehicle for education and outreach in the city of Calgary. The goal is to allow ACAD faculty, students and alumni to connect with the community to teach and learn about photography. Funded by the Beakerhead Creative Society and the Calgary Foundation it will take approximately one year to complete before it takes to the road to fulfill its outreach mission. 

Kern, who has 25 plus years experience working as a photographer, wrote the grant and is leading the project. He and his team of volunteers have the camera obscura about 20% built. They've gutted the inside, removed all external hardware, and filled all of the windows, vents and holes with new fiberglass. The next major steps include fabricating a 360 degree screen-like surface inside, laying a hard wood floor, finishing the exterior with paint and graphics, and retrofitting the side of the trailer with a special apparatus that will allow light to enter in a controlled manner.

"It's exactly how the human eye works. It's exactly how a camera works," says Kern. "This is part of what the camera obscura reveals. It is on the one hand incredibly simple, but on the other hand, incredibly complex. When the conditions are right it is a sublime experience that changes the way people see and understand light and how it operates."

"I've been using camera obscuras in my teaching for nearly two decades and have had the great privilege of seeing my students awed by the experience. But the camera obscuras I've used in my teaching at ACAD are rooms in the college, meaning they always see the same view. This is what got me thinking, what if I could take this show on the road? It would allow for a constant influx of new images as well as the ability to deliver the experience to new audiences."

"The great thing about the camera obscura is that it not only reveals a lot about light and photography, some things I obviously teach about. But it also reveals a lot about vision, perception and art, things I also teach about. When people walk away from it with a deeper appreciation of these things, the mission of the project has been fulfilled." 

This is the image that inspired the project:

Here is a shot of the trailer in progress:

And here is the current prototype. The is just a first generation prototype so it subject to change:

Lens board flange installed, with alumni, students and faculty getting ready to let the light in:

Ready for our first look inside.

First images! (A dangling Mr. T courtesy of Chris Cran)