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I went to the Whitney Biennial a few weeks ago, and this week I went back. There was one exhibit I had to see again, created by artist Zoe Leonard. It’s a camera obscura… and it’s the size of a room. You can stand inside of a pinhole camera with the image projected all around you! It’s amazing.

When you step into the room, it takes a minute for your eyes to adjust. Once they have, you realize that you’re completely surrounded by the projected image, which hits all of the walls. Sorry about the quality of these photos, I didn’t bring a tripod. The room is about 50 feet long with ceilings 20 feet high. Here’s the image on the back wall.

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Here’s the view from the opposite side, now with people for scale. The projected image is upside down and flopped, as it always is in a camera.

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So this is what’s happening: the room is a light-tight space; all surfaces are painted matte black. The only source of light is the pinhole that’s been created on the window. The light concentrates through this aperture, then projects the light reflected by the buildings across the street into the room, replicating the living, breathing, moving street scene outside.

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Here’s a close up of the pinhole. It’s about six inches wide and four feet up from the floor. You’re seeing the view outside that’s being projected into the room.

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This is what it looks like from the outside of the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building.

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These people are standing right in front of the pinhole, facing the image.

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In this video below, on a little portion of the wall next to the pinhole, you can see the projected image well (remember, it’s upside down), and you can see the moving cars on the street below. It’s a pinhole movie! You might want to go full screen on this, the area in question is pretty small.

Many people think that in order to create a picture, you need a lens and a photosensitive surface. You don’t. You need light and a dark box. That’s it. This is just physics, and it works whether the space is the size of a walnut or the size of a room at the Whitney. It doesn’t matter if there’s film in there; there’s light, and that creates the image. The photosensitive surface just captures it; the image is there regardless. This is what all cameras do, but it’s magic to see it in action.

Here’s a link to info about the artist, Zoe Leonard, with brighter photos. This isn’t her first camera obscura.

The show’s up until May 25th. Run to this room! It’s on the 4th Floor. I sat in there forever, just staring. A once-in-a-lifetime experience! And only $20. What a thrill.

 

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