The Camera Obscura

January 12, 2008

Illustration of the camera obscura phenomenon
of naturally projected images
a small opening in a dark interior


The optical and physical aspects of the phenomenon of the camera obscura were known, and speculated about, since Antiquity. But it was only in the Renaissance, with the development of optical science and technology and the demand for accuracy in visual representation, that it became the subject of more systematic investigations and was, according to art historians, adapted for practical uses by painters.

Camera Obscura, Reinerus Gemma-Frisius, 1544
Gernsheim, H., The Origins of Photography

“Reinerus Gemma-Frisius, observed an eclipse of the sun at Louvain on January 24, 1544, and later he used this illustration of the event in his book De Radio Astronomica et Geometrica, 1545. It is thought to be the first published illustration of a camera obscura…” Hammond, John H., The Camera Obscura, A Chronicle

The camera obscura apparatus was developed at this time and it is in fact the “father” of the photographic camera: it was indeed the search for a way to make permanent the projected images of the camera obscura that led to the invention of photography by Daguerre and Talbot in the 19th century.

“Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) (alt: Anastasius) in a book written in 1646,
described one [a camera obscura] which consisted of an outer shell with lenses
in the centre of each wall, and an inner shell containing transparent paper for
drawing; the artist needed to enter by a trapdoor.”

Transportable Camera obscura by Johann Zahn, 1686