Camera obscura, 2007

On looking into Henry Fox-Talbot’s Pencil of Nature, one is inevitably intrigued by the early development of photographic processes and made to wonder how the character of photography – both in its execution and in its products (the photograph) – is affected by these processes. The modern technology of photography makes seeing easy. By mimicking the artifice of the human eye and brain – turning the image ‘right way round’ and ‘right way up’ – the modern camera insulates and isolates the photographer from the physical basis of image making in both the human eye and in the mechanical eye.

In the plate camera and in the camera obscura from which it derives, the basic character of the technology and the fundamental principles of photographic optics are to the fore. What impact does this have on photographic practice and picture making? How does it influence ways of seeing and working photographically?

These images are made my turning a room into a camera, recording the image projected into the room through long exposures using a conventional camera.

The work follows, to a degree, that of Abelardo Morrell http://www.abelardomorell.net/, who has undertaken similar work in the USA. Like Morell’s Camera Obscura pictures, these reference the pre-photographic history of the camera obscura itself. (Steadman, 2001; Hockney 2001).

Morell’s pictures are mostly (though not exclusively) obtained in locations to give views onto iconic architecture or scenes within major cities – often of noted tourist sites. Others of his pictures take place in more domestic and ordinary locations but his primary concern seems to be with the grand architectural statement and the effect that views of these structures have on the interior spaces of nearby buildings. These make for dramatic images – especially in black and white – with strong graphic qualities, making viewing of the camera obscura image easy. The more interesting images, for me at least, are those which hint at domestic details and the ordinary occupation of human space – rather than the anonymity of institutional spaces and hotels.

The images produced in this kind of camera obscura project are very distinctive. Their effect is partly derived from their ability to raise a puzzled question in the viewer about what they are seeing. The point of the project is to suggest relationships between the external and internal spaces depicted. The camera obscura technique provides a visually arresting means of doing this.

The work is concerned with visual complexity. But I am also interested in exploring the functional, cultural and psychological relationships suggested by this meeting of disparate spaces in a single visual field. Domestic spaces are pictured containing the image of their immediate visual and physical context – a street, a hillside, a roofscape. The details within these photographs are significant – but not because they have been placed or arranged for any particular effect. They reflect and describe the status of the space; they arouse interest or curiosity about the relationship between the outside and the inside, and about the nature and use of the interior space and its human occupants. What is this space? How is it used or occupied? How does it feel to be in that space, with that external view? How does the external view modify the internal experience – that is, the psychological and emotional experience of the interior room-space?


Hockney, David. 2001. Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Thames & Hudson. London.
Steadman, Philip. 2001 Vermeer’s Camera. Oxford University Press, 2001.


All images and content © Damian Hughes 2009