Per­cep­tions through a pin­hole

Don­ald Lawrence’s ob­ses­sion with the cam­era ob­scura

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Paul Wei­de­man

Don­ald Lawrence has a rig­or­ously eclec­tic ap­proach to his cre­ative ex­pres­sion. The Canadian artist and ed­u­ca­tor’s mem­o­ries of a for­mer light­house near Vic­to­ria, Bri­tish Columbia, are ex­pressed in draw­ings, maps, mod­els, and a gath­er­ing of sto­ries about is­lands dur­ing a tour he made of thrift shops and garage sales. Also on his ré­sumé are the cre­ation of a dio­rama based on a ship­wreck site in New­found­land, the de­sign of un­der­wa­ter cam­eras for use in his Un­der­wa­ter Pin­hole Photography Project , a body of work about com­mod­ity cul­ture in ur­ban man’s ap­proach to wilder­ness, and sev­eral pieces cre­ated around the cam­era ob­scura.

The ear­li­est cam­era ob­scura was an an­ces­tor of the pho­to­graphic cam­era, and there has been a re­newed in­ter­est in it in re­cent years — a no­table con­trast to the new dom­i­nance of the high-tech dig­i­tal cam­era. The sim­plest ver­sion of the cam­era ob­scura is a dark­ened room with a small hole in one wall; onto the op­po­site wall is cast, through that aper­ture, an up­side-down and reversed im­age of the world out­side. Lawrence, who presents a lec­ture and work­shop at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum on Sun­day, Feb. 15, is prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the Cam­era Ob­scura Project based at Thomp­son Rivers Uni­ver­sity in Kam­loops, Bri­tish Columbia. In Santa Fe, he will speak about his un­der­wa­ter pin­hole work and about the Mid­night Sun Cam­era Ob­scura Fes­ti­val.

For that mid-June event in Daw­son City, Yukon, artists, stu­dents, and aca­demics will gather to cre­ate on-site works and present public work­shops. Par­tic­i­pants in­clude Sven Dupré, direc­tor of the re­search group at the Max Planck In­sti­tute for the His­tory of Science in Ber­lin, and Pe­tran Kock­elko­ren, a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at the Uni­ver­sity of Twente in the Nether­lands. “They have their own fields of ex­per­tise, but both are in­ter­ested in, and write about, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween

learn­ing and play,” Lawrence said. “Although the cam­era ob­scura is the ob­vi­ous fo­cus of this fes­ti­val, there are sub­themes, in­clud­ing the re­la­tion­ship of learn­ing to play and also art­mak­ing in wilder­ness set­tings.”

Lawrence men­tioned two of the planned fes­ti­val works. One is by Dianne Bos, who will con­struct a black wall tent and cre­ate mul­ti­ple pin­holes that will ad­mit light in a star pat­tern on the in­te­rior and also func­tion as a clock. Lawrence will mount a cam­era ob­scura on the side of the Ge­orge Black Ferry that takes peo­ple across the Yukon River. Pas­sen­gers will be able to peer in and see a panorama of the river and the city.

“Most of us met last sum­mer to plan, ex­change in­ter­ests, and do public talks in Daw­son City. For the fes­ti­val, there will be off-site artist projects in lo­ca­tions around the city and the en­vi­rons. Those will be com­ple­mented by an ex­hi­bi­tion in ODD Gallery, which is the north­ern­most pro­fes­sional art gallery in Canada.”

Lawrence lives in Kam­loops and teaches in the vis­ual arts pro­gram at Thomp­son Rivers Uni­ver­sity. His ar­eas of fo­cus in­clude ex­plor-wilder­ness ing jux­ta­po­si­tions of ur­ban and cul­ture, in­ves­ti­gat­ing an­tique op­ti­cal tech­com­bine nolo­gies, and en­gag­ing in works that study and play. He was part of the 2008 ex­hi­bi­tion Ice

Fol­lies at W.K.P. Kennedy Art Gallery in North Bay, On­tario. One Eye Folly , con­structed in tune with the ex­hi­bi­tion theme of ice-fish­ing huts, was a cam­era ob­scura built around a small row­boat/shed that sat on frozen Lake Nip­pis­ing. His Ke­pler’s Klep­per (Kayak/

Cam­era-Ob­scura) is a work cre­ated dur­ing a 2011 res­i­dency in Tas­ma­nia. He con­verted a 1960s Ger­man fold­ing Klep­per kayak into a float­ing cam­era ob­scura, which was a fea­tured work in Tas­ma­nia’s bi­en­nial arts fes­ti­val, Ten Days on the Is­land.

The artist has a par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion with prepho­to­graphic op­ti­cal ap­pa­ra­tuses. “In Santa Fe I will talk about those, be­gin­ning with cam­era ob­scuras of the 16th and 17th cen­turies, which were very sim­ple room­like de­vices, then enough of an over­view his­tory to see the move­ment to de­vices that were more por­ta­ble and were used by artists and trav­el­ers. Those were small, tent­like de­vices that you stepped in­side, and that ef­fec­tively rep­re­sented the ori­gin of photography.”

The next ma­jor step in the evo­lu­tion of that tech­nol­ogy was the devel­op­ment of film; now the user could cre­ate a per­ma­nent im­age in­stead of sim­ply view­ing through a de­vice. Adding film evolved the tool to what we think of as a cam­era. “Next in the story of the emer­gence of photography comes the be­gin­ning of tourist cul­ture and a leisure econ­omy. Just as the cam­era ob­scura be­comes a bit ob­so­lete as an op­ti­cal in­stru­ment, it be­comes very popular for en­ter­tain­ment at sea­side re­sorts, say. I will also talk about my own work, look­ing at the in­ter­est in the pin­hole cam­era and the cam­era ob­scura and how that meets up with my in­ter­ests in wilder­ness ac­tiv­i­ties, pri­mar­ily sea kayak­ing.”

Fol­low­ing his New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum lec­ture, Lawrence will as­sem­ble par­tic­i­pants in the Palace of the Gov­er­nors court­yard. “We’re plan­ning to have peo­ple con­struct a shel­ter and have suspended within that a kind of ap­pa­ra­tus that will hold a lens that we can swap out for a pin­hole. So part of the ex­pe­ri­ence is build­ing a cam­era ob­scura and an­other part is a lit­tle bit of a les­son about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween lenses and pin­holes and how they work dif­fer­ently: fun­da­men­tal ideas about op­tics as well as an in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­ity. My talk will be about wilder­ness-based art­mak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that I use in my work, so the work­shop will be kind of akin to build­ing shel­ters out in the land­scape.”

Lawrence has been to Santa Fe once, at­tend­ing the 2014 open­ing of the Po­et­ics of Light: Pin­hole Photography ex­hi­bi­tion. Fea­tur­ing more than 200 pho­to­graphs and 40 cam­eras, the show hangs at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum through Jan. 10, 2016. “Dianne Bos is in Po­et­ics of Light , and I have a piece that comes from the Un­der­wa­ter Pin­hole Photography Project . For that I was con­struct­ing com­plex pin­hole cam­eras and used them to pho­tounder­wa­ter graph sea life, ei­ther from shore or from a kayak. The whole body of work re­volves around th­ese po­et­i­cally sim­ple pho­to­graphs and th­ese elab­o­rate con­trap­tions; there­fore, the ‘ur­ban wilder­ness’ idea that I en­joy ex­plor­ing.

“I’m in­ter­ested in wilder­ness and sea life, but as an artist I’m also in­ter­ested in so­cial ideas, so it’s on the one hand sim­ply a play­ful ac­tiv­ity and on the other a bit of a com­ment on all the tech­nol­ogy we use to go into na­ture — my­self in­cluded. That’s about as po­lit­i­cal as my work gets.”

Don­ald Lawrence: pre­lim­i­nary drawing for Quidi Vidi Cam­era Ob­scura , 2014; right, Quidi Vidi Cam­era Ob­scura , 2014; top, Com­mon Pur­ple Starfish For­ag­ing , 2002; op­po­site page,

above, Un­der­wa­ter Pin­hole Cam­era, B/W Model III , 2002; be­low, One Eye Folly , 2008; all images cour­tesy the artist

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