Written: 11th Nov 2004 | Last Updated: 11th Nov 2004
My son has had a lot of fun taking pictures with a Polaroid pinhole camera he bought in Osaka. What you get from this box bears no resemblance to today’s icily exact digital photographs – rather, its photos possess an ethereal quality and are somewhat impressionistic and vague. What makes them so wonderful to study is that they ask you to think quite philosophically about reality.
His camera is, of course, a modern commercial version of a camera obscura - a phenomenon of physics known since ancient times, as early as the 5th century B.C. in China. Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci and German astronomer Johannes Kepler are amongst those who used such a device in their work, and artists like Vermeer found it an irreplaceable technical aid to their painting.
In a camera obscura, light seeps through a small hole into a darkened room and projects a detailed, inverted image of the outside world onto the wall opposite. The image might be upside down, but in all other ways is exact - enabling artists or scientists to copy perfectly what the pinhole “lens” has captured.
The 19th century saw the camera obscura develop to the point where a picture could be accepted onto paper and kept as a permanent record. The images were like paintings of light and shade, but replicating reality.
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