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the
CAMERA 
OBSCURA

Lesson Plan prepared for Concord Academy
May, 2021

An exploration of the foundations of photography through the creation of camera obscura and the work of Abelardo Morell.

Using prior knowledge of pinhole photography and the work of Abelardo Morell as inspiration, students are challenged with creating a large camera obscura in order to explore the inner workings of the camera as well as to create original photographs using either the camera obscura as camera, or as setting.

This lesson serves as a bridge between the skills learned from previous exploration of the pinhole camera and a larger study of light, exposure and composition using more sophisticated cameras. The lesson gives student artists’ the ability to see the inner working of the camera from the inside while offering the opportunity for authentic photographic work. The process will offer insights into the students’ picture making processes, specifically into how the understanding light behavior and camera design can inform the creative process.

1

Teacher will review, in depth, the basics of how the camera works using an existing pinhole camera and various (eye, camera, camera obscura) diagrams:

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2

Through discussion and demonstration, teachers and students will explore the rectilinear light theory and demonstrate understanding through hypothesis of light behavior using simple experiments using flashlights, combs and mirrors.  Teacher continues the discussion of rectilinear light by applying it to the camera obscura, its history and past uses in media other than photography.

Experiment
Experiment

Rectilinear Propagation of Light

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Camera Obscura 1887
Camera Obscura 1887

Camera Obscura as drawing tool

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Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura as landscape tool

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Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura as Portrait tool

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3

Following a real-time teacher demonstration, students will create a quick camera obscura tube using provided materials and toilet paper rolls. Building on concepts learned through the Camera Obscura tube exercise, teacher and students discuss how they would translate with a larger scale camera.

4

Through the following video and selected imagery, teacher introduces the work of Abelardo Morell. In depth analysis of his process and pictures will take place while continuing to make connections back to the practical issues regarding the construction of a working camera obscura on campus. Teacher will review, as needed, the basics of focal length, aperture diameter and f-stop calculations. If applicable, experiments with a lens/prism will be considered.

Courtyard Building, Lacock Abbey, England, March 16, 2003
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Manhattan View looking South in Large Room, 1996
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La Giraldilla de la Habana in Room With Broken Wall, 2002
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Image of Mill Alley in Room with Desk, Lawrence, MA, 2002
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Tuscan Landscape, 2000
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Umbriam Landscape in Empty Room, 2000n Shot 2021-05-11 at 12.22.46 PM
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The Empire State Building in Bedroom, 1994
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Image of the Eiffel Tower in the Hotel Frantour, 1999
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Times Square in Hotel Room, 1997
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5

Students have approximately a week to plan, gain permissions, and execute their camera obscuras, either in groups, pairs, or individually. Cameras must be on campus, and all permissions must be collected by the students. Students will have an additional week of class time for picture making and documentation.