Spending time in his mother’s camera shop is what first got artist Ross den Otter interested in the science and history behind photography. Growing up with the smell of darkroom chemicals at the tips of his fingers, he was practically born with a fascination and propensity for the trade.
As an adult, his passion for the medium has survived. At Vancouver’s Capture Photography Festival, den Otter paid tribute to his own roots as well as the roots of photography as a whole by creating a camera obscura for all the public to see and interact with:
Latin for dark room, the idea of the camera obscura had been developed well before the technology to record photographs came into existance. Using a small opening, the camera obscura projects light bouncing off of subjects from the outside world onto the darkened wall opposite the pinhole. For years, artists would use the camera obscura to sketch and study perspective. To this day, the camera as we know it is nothing more than the original camera obscura of old scaled down to a manageable size.
After constructing the 4x8x8 foot box, den Otter locked himself into the tiny room with only a single lens as access to the world outside. From there, he used an adjustable platform to focus reflections of curious festival goers and record their likenesses onto paper negatives. The excitement of images forming instantaneously from the simplest of tools evokes the wonder that many young photographers experience in the darkroom, watching images magically formulate in chemical fixer.
In the end, the day long project served as much more than a personal experiment. The camera obscura teaches photographers young and old about the function and science behind their gear, providing the leg up necessary to embrace and understand the art itself in its fullest.
“The idea of image as language is important. A photograph can communicate an idea without a language barrier. Understanding that sort of universal language is really important.”
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