The Birmingham Camera Obscura is the official title for the second device to come out of the Bham Obscura project, run by Jenny Duffin and myself. After our proof-of-concept proved the concept and got a fair amount of attention, we decided to crowdfund to pay a carpenter and lens-maker to help us make a proper camera that would last a bit longer than 2 months.
We raised £2500 on Kickstarter in November 2014 and had the camera ready for the public by summer 2015 launching at the Cocomad festival in Cotteridge. The body was built to our specs by Matt Moore and the lens hand-polished by an elderly gentleman near Hull who does not have a website. The lens housing was donated by another obscura enthusiast who had it made a decade previously. The project of making and running the camera was a residency at Birmingham Open Media for two years.
The camera is designed to flat-pack down and fit in a hatchback car (specifically my Hyundia i20). It can be taken anywhere and set up within an hour. The lens and mirror are astronomy-grade and produce an incredible clear and sharp image, though the wide aperture (5 inches) and relatively short focal distance (cameras like this are usually on towers - ours is on the ground) means the depth-of-field is dramatically narrow. The end result under bright sunlight is a image that is beyond high-definition but does not seem quite real due to the narrow focus. It is quite uncanny.
While the Bham Obscura project was active we took the camera to numerous public events and worked with four artists to produce new works specific to the camera. Our intention was to build a business around this device but that proved too much and, as other work took over around 2016, we reverted it to being a hobby.
The camera lives in my shed and I try to take it out in public at least once a year, making small modifications and improvements along the way. Camera obscuras are a large part of my artistic practice thanks to the work done on this device and I am keen to revive the project at some point in the future. In the meanwhile if you’re interested in working with it, please get in touch.