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On the Camera Obscura. The obsession with capturing images is an exhibition curated by Montserrat de Pablo. It exhibition shows the work process followed in a research project carried out by Montserrat de Pablo at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin over the course of 2013-2015.

The idea sprang from her doctoral thesis La cámara oscura como prehistoria de la fotografía (The camera obscura as a prehistory of photography), defended at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) in 2014 and completed during her time at the MPIWG. This is a monograph thesis on the camera obscura, which provides a broad overview of its evolution by means of a timeline and a database of illustrations related to the camera obscura.

Working with the MPIWG’s camera obscura, the artist was able to verify the experimental and artistic dimension of the camera obscura in a practical way and to study its functions and different uses throughout history; from the old questions about how an image is formed through a small aperture (pinhole) and why the image appears round even though the aperture is irregular, to various innovations such as the use of lenses, diaphragms, mirrors, etc., and onto the early days of photography when optics and chemistry were combined and the image produced by the camera obscura was captured in a direct and mechanical way, allowing nature to replicate itself with all its lights and shadows, just as the forefathers of photography had dreamed.

When the light reflected off an object placed inside a dark space passes through a pinhole, an exact image of the object is projected upside down on the opposite wall. The scientist, artist and philosopher observe the image formed inside the camera obscura and try to hold onto it, to make it their own. Throughout history, the camera obscura has been used as a model for explaining human vision, as a scientific research tool, as a means of faithful representation, as a means of amusement and popular entertainment and as a philosophical metaphor. A technical precedent of visual culture, it evolved alongside the changing ways of seeing, representing and understanding the world.

The documentary section, which is on display in the library, features the timeline in an enlarged format and a selection of images from the database, in the form of a visual map that summarises the history of the camera obscura and shows the important milestones attained within each historical period, allowing the observer to see how they are interrelated. A selection of old books on the history of the camera obscura, which belong to the MPIWG library, are on display in the Rare Books section.

The purpose of this exhibition is to illustrate the whole work in progress, the practical as well as the documentary aspects. Drawings and photographs produced with the MPIWG’s camera obscura; internal and external perspectives, different variations of the same theme and a series of portraits of members of staff at the MPIWG, produced with the camera obscura in the form of a group portrait.

On the Camera Obscura. The obsession with capturing images
02 November 2015 - 31 December 2015
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin +49 30 226670
www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de

Download an information sheet here. 

Montserrat de Pablo. Ph.D. Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cuenca, University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain). Artist in Residence at the Max Planck Institute for the Hi story of Science
www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/content/Artists-Residence

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