The camera obscura is among the earliest and most primitive photographic instruments. In an age in which most Millbrook students walk around with astonishingly high-resolution cameras in their pockets, Lauren Duffy’s Darkroom Photography built a temporary time machine on the top floor of the Flagler Memorial Library.
A camera obscura is essentially a darkened chamber with a tiny hole in one end to allow light to enter. Rays of light travel in one direction until absorbed, interrupted, or reflected by an object. The redirected rays of light create a visual representation of the object upon which they fall. Human eyes and brains process these renditions into the objects that we can see and photograph. Light registers on a light-sensitive material like film or the charged sensor of a digital camera. In essence, the handheld camera is a smaller version of a camera obscura, fine-tuned with lenses and a shutter.
Students darkened the windows and doors of the library attic and light-sealed the round window over the front door of Schoolhouse before creating a tiny hole to use as a lens. The snow-covered quad and a bright sunny day made great subject matter. The scene captured through the window aperture and projected on paper was vivid and colorful. Students took turns observing the effect of moving the paper to different distances.
Starting at the beginning, photo students are simultaneously learning about the nature of light and the history of photography. As they move into working with more contemporary cameras and developing film and prints in the darkroom, the basic ideas about the nature of light and photography gleaned from the camera obscura will underpin further exploration.