The camera obscura phenomenon, at once simple and magical, never ceases to fascinate me. I have worked with it intensely since 1996. Camera obscura is a method by which to survey the living environment and mental landscapes, summoning unconscious feelings into the light of day.
In camera obscura darkness, silence and slowness compel one to contemplate the world in a novel way, from new angles. When the space transforms into a “dark room” it conjures up the core and magic of photography again and again. That is when I feel most acutely that I am working with light.
The idea in embarking on the Interior/Exterior project was a nocturnal inspiration after seeing some black-and-white images of Abelardo Morell in a photo magazine. In the room converted into a camera obscura I could capture an image of a person and at the same time that person’s room and the view from the window – what an all-encompassing method by which to photograph a person’s living environment!
The originally documentary idea soon expanded in a new direction. The pictures began to form not only a person’s living environment but also to constitute an excursion into the mental landscape: reflections of memories, reveries, fears and dreams.
Working on this series was for me like taking photographs for a family album: visitations to people and also to myself. To take the pictures I transform people’s rooms into camera obscura by covering the windows of the room with blackout plastic and placing on top of the hole cut in it a simple convex lens. Then the view outside the window is reflected upside down into the room forming a dreamy layered space. This and the occupant of the room I then photographed with a conventional camera.
At first I used roll film cameras, nowadays a digital camera. The printing techniques also changed in the course of the project: from the chromogenic color prints of the early years to the present prints on rag and fibre paper with permanent pigments.
Interior/Exterior is the most extensive and long-lasting project accomplished with the camera obscura method. So far I have photographed this series in Finland, Norway, Italy and France, and the work continues.
For more camera obscura inspiration: photographer Abelardo Morel was one of the first serious art photographers to create camera obscura interiors. See Morel’s stunning interiors in LensCulture. Also, Charles Schwartz and Bill Westheimer explore the wonders of the camera obscura in modern upper Manhattan — playing with perspective, surface, the effects of the sun — and capture the results with digital photography. If you like this work, you’ll love these other artists, too!
We discovered Marja’s work at an exhibition curated by Liz Wells for the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) in 2014.