Anastasiya Kizima: What is a camera obscura?

Michael Solo: A camera obscura is literally a darkened room into which light can enter through a small opening. The name camera obscura is derived from the Latin meaning ( Camera – room, Obscura – dark ). When light enters through this small opening ( about a ¼ inch in diameter) in thin material (a blocked over window of a room) , an interesting phenomenon occurs. Whatever scene may be on the outside of this room will appear upside down and reversed when projected onto the walls, ceiling, and floors inside of the camera obscura. This is exactly what occurs in cameras that we all may use to make pictures. In fact, the devices that we all know as cameras are actually camera obscuras. The human eye works quite similarly.

Anastasiya Kizima: How did you originally get the idea of creating a camera obscura in the school?

Michael Solo: I became aware of the work of the photographer Abelardo Morell. This artist, in an effort to illustrate the optical principles involved with photography for his students, turned his classroom at the Massachusetts College of Art into a camera obscura. He later began to make photographs of the upside down and reversed images that were formed inside the rooms of his home, which he had turned into camera obscuras.

Anastasiya Kizima: What purpose does it serve? How can students benefit from this experience?

Michael Solo: The camera obscura provokes thought concerning how this natural phenomenon occurs. The students that enter the camera obscura are actually entering a functional camera. The experience allows them to see for themselves what actually occurs inside the cameras that they use to make pictures. In addition, and probably most importantly, the camera obscura enables me to create the circumstances that allows my students to have an educative experience that promotes further learning. They are learning because they have experienced, thought, and asked questions in order to satisfy their need to understand the phenomenon that they witnessed.

Anastasiya Kizima: What kind of reactions or comments do you receive from students that have just seen the camera obscura?

Michael Solo: Most of the students are initially in disbelief. I usually hear gasps of astonishment when the lights inside the camera obsbura are turned off and the image formed by the outside light entering the darkened room becomes visible to the students. Occasionally, some groups of students have the added benefit of witnessing a vehicle entering or leaving the school parking lot. Watching the image of an upside down vehicle moving on the walls and ceiling of a darkened room is quite a spectacle, especially when you cannot see the actual truck that is just outside the room that you are in. Until the phenomenon is actually explained by me to the students upon returning to the photography studio, many of those who see the effects produced by the camera obscura think that it is some sort of elaborate trick that I devised.


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