Texas Tech University :: School Of Art

12/7/2007
School of Art asks you to step into the light of the Camera Obscura
by Daniel Horsch

Art works adorn the Texas Tech campus like delicately placed brushstrokes over canvas. Usually it’s the most aesthetically pleasing works of art that get attention, but rarely do they look right back at you.

The Camera Obscura is not just a dark room, although its Latin origins reveal otherwise. It’s an experiential space born from artistic ideas; the Camera Obscura invites audiences to explore and see the world through an unfamiliar vantage point.
Two years after the idea was conceptualized, the Camera Obscura, located between the English and Art buildings, has evolved into a fully functional 360-degree pinhole camera. Robin Germany, associate professor of Photography and Digital Imaging for the Tech School of Art and Rick Dingus, professor of photography in the School of Art, have worked with the Camera Obscura from its inception. Dingus said that although the camera is experimental, it will serve as a guide to build a permanent structure in the future.

Dingus had toyed with the idea with Germany for several years until he revised a class that covered the various formats and mediums of photography throughout history. Dingus then got in contact with Stephen Ekwaro-Osire, director of graduate studies and graduate advisor in mechanical engineering, who enlisted his class to help with the project. Ekwaro-Osire said he was excited from the very beginning, “I was intrigued by the idea.” Ekwaro-Osire said. “It gave my students a great opportunity to cross disciplines.”

In collaboration with fellow faculty and students from the art and engineering departments, Germany have seen this project come full circle. “It all started as just an idea in the fall of 2005.” Germany said. “Then a few of us sat down and said ‘lets do this’.” Funding was secured from the Ryla T. and John F. Lott Endowment for Excellence in the Visual Arts, which propelled their idea into motion. It took two years to complete the project, including the hours dedicated to making sure the camera worked to their highest standards.

Created by trained hands, the Camera Obscura blends a mix of subtlety and accurate detail to attract curious eyes. “I would like this to become an experience for people." Germany said. "It’s elegant . . . for just hole in a box." The Camera Obscura is like a periscope on a submarine, but on land, which gives viewers a rare opportunity to catch the world from the outside and see a perfect reflection projected at your feet.

The Camera Obscura has been used for thousands of years, having probably been first used in China around the 5th century BC as Mo Ti, a Chinese philosopher recorded the phenomenon. The principle of projecting an image through the use of light can be traced back to Aristotle (c. 300 BC). Even the writings of Leonardo da Vinci made reference to the camera in his notebooks. Daniel Barbaro, a 16th century Italian optical scientist, mentioned the fine quality in one of his recorded artistic endeavors. “You will see the whole view as it really is . . . the clouds, the water twinkling, the birds flying.” The Camera Obscura was a technological masterpiece in the eyes of history’s intellectual elite.

Now Tech has the chance to explore, create, and look through the lens of history. Tech students first got a glimpse of the camera in 2006, when the camera was put into place, but students were not able to actually use it until this fall. Kelli Cancio, a communication design major from San Antonio, had the chance to see how the camera works while walking to class one afternoon. “You know I’ve seen it sitting here for a while now and have always wondered what it was." Cancio said. “The camera is really neat. I never would have guessed this is what it did.”

The collaboration of ideas has turned into an experience that Dingus hopes everyone can enjoy. Dingus said work is currently underway, which would allow the Camera Obscura to stay on campus for at least another three years. Unlike a traditional camera, which is hand-held, Dingus wants people to understand the presence of the untraditional Camera Obscura in contemporary life. To capture the essence of the Camera Obscura, Dingus said one must, “experience the magic of standing inside the camera.” The Camera Obscura is not just a thrill ride, however, it serves as a historical time machine, which allows viewers to see fluid motion and natural colors.

Considering that it’s just a hole in a box, the Camera Obscura begs us to put our cameras down and experience the world around us.

The Camera Obscura will be available for viewing on select days during the spring semester - these will be posted on the Camera and TechAnnounce.