Monday, 3 December 2012

Inside The Camera's Belly

Untitled, from Mythologies, 2012 © Esther Teichmann
 A giant camera stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Its blue and yellow exterior echoes the city's pastel hues of fairground nostalgia. She expects it to be shut, but finds a sleepy man wrapped in a blanket behind the box office entrance. Handing him a dollar, he springs into action, reciting its history, taking her through black double doors into the camera's belly.

Untitled, 1932  and The Phenomenon of Ecstasy, 1933 © Brassai / Prayer, 1930 © Man Ray

The woman walks into darkness, eyes adjusting to the change in light whilst the man describes the apparatus' mechanisms. The lens in the centre of its conical roof focuses the image that is thrown onto the mirror, that rotates in a slow motorised movement, projecting upon the concave circular dish in the room's middle. By the time his automated explanation is complete and he has left her alone, her eyes have adjusted.

Untitled, 2012 © Christopher Stewart

The eggshell lacquered projection bowl now holds the most exquisite image-tiny crystalline waves break silently over jagged cliffs, water droplets spray in minute detail. It is more perfect, more breath-taking and so much more mesmerising than the harsher landscape outside. She wants to climb up into the dish, its circumference fitting a curled up body almost exactly. She could sleep here, waves crashing over her skin, dancing on her eyelids, covering her with its continual circular motion. She realizes once again that she could happily never leave, would prefer to live inside a camera, inhabiting the secluded intensity of the pro¬jected spectral image.

Untitled, from Mythologies, 2012 © Esther Teichmann

She will come back here one day and he will stand behind her. Together they will inhale the image in silence, breath suspended, waiting for that moment when the late afternoon sun hitting the water, dances across the mute waves, flooding everything inside her in an overexposed glow of too much light.

Esther Teichmann 2012 (Foam Magazine issue #32/Talent)


In David Knowles novella, The Secrets of the Camera Obscura*, the giant camera nestled on top of Point Lobos in San Francisco, is at the centre of a tale of love and obsession**. Returning always to the special powers of the camera obscura and its ability to both focus more clearly whilst simultaneously transforming the world beyond it, we are taken on a journey through history which links vision to desire and murder***.

San Francisco Camera Obscura, 2012/ Life Magazine, March 1st 1954
"The fog rolls in from the ocean and the camera screen goes gray…. Of course, the stories always involved the giant camera.

Her body was discovered by a tourist at Lookout Point nearly one month ago, lifeless on the concrete path, decapitated, only a few hundred yards from the camera. What's even more disturbing is the fact that I saw her on the cliffs the day she died. Only hours, as it turns out, before the crime took place. I watched her through the camera obscura.

…The only clues are the black letters, GIANT CAMERA, painted on the east wall. In those words lies the  key to understanding the machine, for when you pass into the small dark chamber you have entered the insides of a camera, a camera in which you are the film, or more precisely, your memory is.

…The difficult part comes in describing the emotions which gazing down at the screen evokes. I'm not sure one could adequately write down this phenomenon. Really, it falls under the category of you have got to see it for yourself."

Untitled, 2012 © Christopher Stewart

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* David Knowles, The Secrets of the Camera Obscura, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1994, extracts from p.11-13.
** www.giantcamera.com 1096 Point Lobos, San Francisco, CA 94121.
*** Detailed Close-Ups of Far-Off Scenes Life Magazine, March 1st 1954.
"The camera obscura is a centruies old invention, often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Some years ago an encyclopedic description of the device caught the eye of Floyd Jennings, a San Francisco businessman, who built one as a tourist attraction on a cliff overlooking Seal Rocks. Basically , his camera obscura is a 20x20-foot darkened room with a 150-inch focal length lens through which light from the outdoor scene enters to form a lifelike image on a white-topped table. The effect is startling… And since there is no extraneous light, the colours are revealed more visivdly and faithfully then they normally appear outside."

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