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Camera Obscuras - The Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection Go into a very dark room on a bright day. Make a small hole in a window cover and look at the opposite wall. What do you see? Magic! There in full color and movement will be the world outside the window — upside down! This magic is explained by a simple law of the physical world. Light travels in a straight line and when some of the rays reflected from a bright subject pass through a small hole in thin material they do not scatter but cross and reform as an upside down image on a flat surface held parallel to the hole. This law of optics was known in ancient times.
The development of the camera obscura took two tracks. One of these led to the portable box device that was a drawing tool. In the 17th and 18th century many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura. Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi, and Paul Sandby are representative of this group. By the beginning of the 19th century the camera obscura was ready with little or no modification to accept a sheet of light sensitive material to become the photographic camera.
The other track became the camera obscura room, a combination of education and entertainment. In the 19th century, with improved lenses that could cast larger and sharper images, the camera obscura flourished at the seaside and in areas of scenic beauty. Today the camera obscura is enjoying a revival of interest. Older camera obscuras are celebrated as cultural and historic treasures and new camera obscuras are being built around the world.
On a trip to Edinburgh in the late 1970s we discovered the magic and joy of the camera obscura on a visit to Outlook Tower. We visit working camera obscuras whenever we can. On several trips to Britain and around the US we have visited as many of the historic and newly built camera obscuras as possible and plan more trips in the future.
Our interest in the history of the camera obscura has led us to collect stereo cards, books, cartoons, postcards, objects, and encyclopedia pages that show a camera obscura as well as a number of vintage instruments. These range in age from the 18th century to contemporary. Here we will share some of these images.
Jack and Beverly Wilgus