Date December 13, 2023
Media Contact

Photos: The world turned upside down: Brown students experience room-scale camera obscura

Using a technique that preceded the photographic camera, Brown Arts Institute staff projected a live image of the outside world, including the University’s stunning new Lindemann Performing Arts Center, inside a darkened room.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Members of the Brown community experienced the sensation of stepping inside a camera in the University’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, where a studio was temporarily converted into a room-scale camera obscura on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Created by Kelly Egan, DJ Potter and Leo Selvaggio, staff members at the Brown Arts Institute, the camera obscura projected a live image of the outside world on the walls, ceiling and floors of a third-floor studio in Granoff, offering a unique activity for students to drop in on and take a break during reading period.

Egan, Potter and Selvaggio wanted to create a peaceful, darkened space where students could enjoy the relaxing, magical experience of watching the clouds float by, see passersby on the sidewalks and take in the ebb and flow of people visiting the University’s new Lindemann Performing Arts Center. 

To create the camera obscura, which means “dark chamber” in Latin, the team began by turning the studio into a black box.

“The better we could eliminate light leaks, the clearer the image from the camera obscura,” said Selvaggio, a senior specialist for creative technologies. 

They built a cardboard insert for one of the windows and placed a lens in it to concentrate the light, and thus the image, from the outside onto the surfaces of the room. The image is reflected upside down, allowing the viewer to take in a familiar scene in a new way. 
The technique is simple, but its effects are powerful.

“It’s about being present,” said Potter, a technical coordinator. “What you’re watching is never going to happen again, and it’s never happened before, so to experience it in real time with other people is fascinating. Just being in the moment with it can have a calming effect.”

Video: Camera obscura at Brown's Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. By Nick Dentamaro.