In “A Treatise on the Camera Obscured,” Lewis Bush recounts his experience of building a portable camera obscura, for use as a drawing aid. It’s an interesting story about a modern deployment of the centuries-old predecessor of every modern camera and image-recording device…

I’m not going to go in to the history of the camera obscura. If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know what it is, and if not, Wikipedia can tell you all about it. 

Post 9/11, we’ve all become more suspicious, especially those of us in minor, nominal positions of power and/or authority (see, for example, Security Guards). This poses (or posed) a problem for some photographers.

On a Photowalk in Dallas some years back, for example, a group of us passed a bank/apartment block thing with some interesting windows and a bit of a moat around it. The security guard came and shouted at us that photography was not allowed, not even from the public sidewalk or even across the street. (I have a picture of him eyeing us suspiciously through the glass somewhere, but I’m not even going to bother).

It’s gotten better, somewhat, in recent years here in the US, but as of 2014 (or whenever Bush undertook this project), it was still a problem in London, so Bush decided to do something…

He built a camera obscura drawing aid from a magnifying glass objective, a ground glass or mirror, and some plywood, and went around making drawings of sensitive places: banks, communications, transit hubs. 

The book covers all aspects of this project: the security apparatus in London, history of the camera obscura, constructing a camera obscura, and performing the action, with reproductions of the drawings he made…

As a political statement, it seems to me a bit juvenile, though I respect the effort and thoroughness. I was never one to confront, and preferred more passive approaches to conflict: feeling a smug sense of superiority being high on the list.

The booklet itself is a slim, Blurb-type book, text heavy, with some good black & white reproductions. I’m especially interested in the construction and early photographic tests, as well as the Appendix, where Bush used tinfoil to construct a camera obscura in a classroom. As he says, “There are not many better ways to understand a camera than to stand inside of one.” (Appendix) 


Overall, I’ll give it 3 stars.

I picked this up as part of my kickstartering of Bush’s Shadows of the State book (review forthcoming). It appears to be back in stock now, but you might be able to find copies on the used market, and you can view some pages from the book and get a good overview of the project on his website.

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