How to Turn a Building into a Giant Disposable Camera

As Vancouver photographer Joel Nicholas says, artists are always documenting history, whether they’re trying to or not. When an old storage building was slated for demolition, Nicholas found a pretty profound and timely way to honor it. The building, which was over 100 years old, had seen so much change in the city and was about to become part of that change as it came down to make way for something new. To see the city through the eyes of the building in its final days, Nicholas turned it into a giant disposable camera to capture an almost 360-degree cityscape:

Actually, Nicholas transformed the building into four different camera obscuras by drilling tiny holes in four walls, facing north, east, south, and west. He and a team built blacked out rooms inside the old storage facility, then made 1/8 inch diameter apertures in the walls to create the giant cameras. Each camera captured different views of the surrounding city.

camera obscura photo

He exposed the projected images onto lithographic film, then developed them using traditional darkroom techniques—with a few variations to accommodate the massive negatives. Nicholas then used the developed negatives to make cyanotype contact prints on watercolor paper. The final images consist of 14 ultra-large format film negatives and blueprints.

blueprint photo

The photo series is called “Blueprints for Observation.” This short documentary not only shows the process of creating the camera obscura and developing the massive prints, but touches on the building’s history, the rapid changes and growth in Vancouver, and the opening exhibition of the photography project.

giant film negatives

“There’s always going to be historical documentation in art, as it’s a reflection of the time that the artist is living in or speaking about.”

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