Camera Obscura, Cheverie, Nova Scotia
It’s not everyday you come across a functioning camera obscura. Similar in concept to a pinhole camera, the camera obscura is a chamber that lets in light from a single point (here from a skylight in the “egg,” or chamber) and then rotates and projects the image seen from the hole onto the opposite surface. When a lens is fitted over the hole as it is here, a larger area can be viewed because the aperture is increased which lets in more light without loss of focus. Because the function of the camera depends on light being present from only a single source, the chamber of the camera obscura must be kept dark; in Cheverie you thus step into the egg and close the door behind you. The image of the Bay of Fundy then appears on the floor beneath the skylight in real time. Watching the water move or a car drive past on the road along the floor was pretty amazing. My favorite photographer, Abelardo Morell, happens to use the camera obscura so I loved coming upon this. Incidentally, I was fortunate enough to see Morrel’s retrospective at The Getty just last fall but unfortunately was unable to take photography of the gallery for the blog since his work is privately owned.
Another interesting aspect of this camera obscura was the use of Guastavinian construction to create the three brick shells surrounding the chamber that houses the camera. Graduate students from Dalhousie University worked on this project which, in addition to honoring the restored marsh system at Cheverie, provides a chance for them to move beyond the theoretical and practice actual construction techniques. Using timbrel vaulting techniques, the students layered bricks to create the three overlapping catenary arches, which are (extremely stable) inverted versions of idealized forms created by hanging cables.