|Some Wooden Box Camera Obscuras from our Collection
We have a number of box or portable camera obscuras in our collection. These devices are the "archeology" of photography. It was the magical, fugitive images that appeared on the ground glass of the camera obscura that inspired the search for a way to fix these beautiful, perfect images of the world. The first photographs were made with artists' camera obscuras adapted to take light sensitive material. On this page you will see several of our box camera obscuras made of wood.
The classic mahogany sliding box camera obscura above came from England and appears to date from the early 1800s. It could well predate photography. When closed it is 10 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 6 3/4 inches high. The lens is 2 5/8 inches in diameter. The wooden lens cap has a screw thread and "Camera Obscura" is written in ink on the inside of the cap. Perhaps an earlier owner was concerned that it might be separated from the camera. The camera is about 13 inches long when the inner box is extended for focus. The lens image is projected with a mirror onto a 4 1/2 by 6 inch ground glass.
We have noticed a mahogany box camera obscura with the same style of hinge and very similar in appearance on the web site for the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford in England. That camera is identified as early 19th century.
|This 19th century instrument is the first box camera obscura we purchased. It was found on Porabello Road in London around 1980. It is 9" X 4 1/4" X 4 1/4" and focus is achieved by sliding the inner section of the box in and out. The image projected by the lens is focused by a mirror up to a glass under the hood where it can be traced on tissue. Someone cut out a window on the back wall of the box. If the mirror was removed this would project an image straight through to the back of the box. We like to imagine that this was done for early photographic experimentation but have no proof.
|The exterior view below is of a wooden box camera obscura of the style shown on this page. It is a detail from an 1817 encyclopedia page in our collection.
|Below is a cutaway view of the inside of a wooden box camera obscura from the Saturday Magazine, 1838.
A US photographic material dealer, we have know for many years heard we were working on a camera obscura project and offered the rather sad looking collection of parts you see on the left. Jack accepted the challenge, took the pieces, and with glue and patience was able to put them together to make a nice functioning camera obscura.
The only additions he had to make were the side pieces on the door and a brass knob to lift it. It is 6" X 7" X 4" and the dovetailed box appears to be an amateur construction of unknown vintage. The appearance is a little rough but it focuses a very sharp image.
Stepping forward in time, the wooden box camera on the right was built by Jack in 1982 for a gallery exhibition. It is 22" X 12" X 12" inches with a sliding brass lens for focusing. It projects a bright, sharp image on the ground glass with a fresnel screen and works very well for drawing. This is the camera he takes to his history of photography class and is one of the cameras we use at workshops and demonstrations.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Camera Obscura (please check this page before sending email questions)
Links and a Bibliography about the camera obscura
Map and illustrated diary of
Map and illustrated diary of
Images of camera obscuras from our collection.
Images from our collection
Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Bright Bytes Studio Home Page (Jack and Beverly's Home Page)
© Bright Bytes Studio. Do not use images without permission.