Camera Obscura work by Charles Schwartz & Bill Westheimer

Visions In The Dark
Visions In The Dark

The landscape format paper bound book is 8.375″ h x 10.25″ w x 0.2″ It includes 20 images selected from the voluminous body of work. An essay by Gail Buckland discusses Schwartz & Westheimer’s work in the context of the history of art. The book design is by Beverly Joel of pulp, The images can be seen at

These pictures reveal the city through the unique viewpoint of the camera obscura and record the images digitally.  The camera Obscura’s location is fixed, yet it provides an ever changing view of the city’s architecture and landscape. The images use a pre-photographic technology combined with post-photographic digital capture to create a timeless view of New York.

Bill Westheimer has been a photographer since the mid 1960’s.  His work has been shown in galleries around the country and is included in numerous private collections. Charles Schwartz has been involved with photography and the photographic community for over thirty years, as a photographer, a collector, and as a dealer.   Together they are exploring the city of New York on the upper east side of Manhattan using a Camera Obscura.

From the Charles Schwartz Ltd website:

The camera obscura, literally “dark room”, is a device that makes use of an optical phenomenon in which light rays reverse themselves when they pass through a small aperture. At its most basic, light rays pass through a tiny hole and recreate themselves upside down on a screen that is placed parallel to the hole.

As camera obscura technology improved in the 16th century, camera obscuras became portable boxes which incorporated lenses and mirrors, so that the image was reflected onto a viewing surface which was visible outside the box. Portable camera obscuras were used as aids for draughtsmen and painters. The camera obscura became the prototype for the modern day camera, invented in the first half of the 19th century, which uses light sensitive papers and films in order to preserve the image that is projected.

As lens technology improved, the size of the surface on which the image was projected was able to be increased. Entire rooms were made into camera obscuras, in which images were projected onto tables and walls. These camera obscura rooms were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By the end of the 20th century, the popularity of the camera obscura had decreased; there are now few room size camera obscuras remaining in the United States.

In 1997, out of a fascination both with photography and its techniques, I decided to build a camera obscura in my home, which is situated on the top floor of a 17 floor apartment building overlooking the Central Park Reservoir. I was lucky enough to find George Keene, an astronomer and former NASA engineer, who had built his own camera obscura at his home in Southern California. While Keene used his camera obscura mostly for observing astronomical phenomenon, I was more interested in making use of it for experimenting with different types of photography. Keene was eager to take on the task, and designed a camera obscura that made the best use of the opportune location. The device includes a lens that rotates both horizontally and vertically, and can focus from 100 feet to infinity. A chain drive rotates the lens on a massive ball bearing, with three other bearings built in to constrain the rotating turret against the wind.

The location, and the revolving lens provide endless permutations of visual stimuli, all projected onto a table in the light sealed room. Airplanes, rippling water, cyclists, joggers, seagulls, sparrows, apartment windows, the moon, the setting sun, all pass across the smooth surface of the camera obscura table.

The possibilities for experimentation are vast, as the photographs presented here will show. Some of the techniques I have used include placing photographic paper, both color and black and white, directly upon the surface of the table, which creates unique, negativeless prints. I have also used a traditional camera and a digital camera, experimenting with distortion by emphasizing now one angle, now another. I have also created some intriguing photographs by placing various objects on the surface of the camera obscura table, emphasizing the visual paradox the cameral obscura creates by transmuting the outside onto a tabletop.

Visions In The Dark

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