The Anteroom to the Exhibition
The museum viewer first encounters the anteroom, an important area of both physical and intellectual transition. The anteroom is actually a large camera obscura (dark room, in Latin) where visitors must pause while their eyes adjust to the very dim light of the total exhibition. During this quiet respite, the visitor has time to consider the mysterious, ephemeral nature of early photography and to prepare for viewing the installations, which are quite different from photography exhibitions we usually experience.

Knowing that photo means light and graph means writing, the viewer can appreciate that he or she is inside an instrument that is in the act of producing a changing image. This piece demonstrates the most traditional application of the camera obscura.

Inside the anteroom, the viewer becomes accustomed to the semi-darkness and sees a photograph come to life before his or her eyes. This image is projected by a telescope lens Torchia placed over the darkened doorway. Light reflecting off the Center's lobby and the people in it travels through the lens and forms an image upside-down and backwards on the freestanding wall just inside the gallery entrance.

Activities: Seeing with the camera obscura and human eye

  1. Ask your students to examine the diagram of the human eye and the camera obscura. Discuss how these are similar.
    Note that because our brains adjust, humans perceive the world right-side up even though light is cast upon the retina upside-down.
    Note also that viewing the installation is like standing inside an eyeball. The image is upside-down and backwards on both the retina and the back of the camera obscura.
  2. Make a lensless camera obscura, using a large box (a refrigerator packing box works wonderfully, but smaller boxes may be used). Stand the box upright. Leave the bottom open, and cut a flap door large enough to crawl through near the open bottom; cut a 1x1" hole at eye level in the same side of the cardboard. Use duct tape to seal all holes or edges in the box that might admit light. Cut a 3x3" square from a disposable heavy foil baking dish. Carefully poke a hole through the center of this piece of metal with a large sewing needle. Place the 3x3" metal square over the 1x1" hole in box, and tape the metal edges down, being careful not to tape over the pinhole. Position the box so that the pinhole faces a brightly lit out-of-doors scene. Allow one student at a time to enter the box through the flap door, telling the student to stand aside so as not to block light coming through the hole. The student should hold a stiff, bright white sheet of paper about a foot away from the hole and, then, peer at the sheet of paper to see an image of the scene outside cast upon it.
    Note: If a smaller box is used, it may be lowered over a crouching student.


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