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A Mobile Camera Obscura Lives Inside This Hippie Van

Inside 'The Moving Camera,' images get turned into abstract color negative photographs.
Phillip Reed © 2016

Drill a small hole in a wall, and the exterior scene gets projected onto the interior wall opposite the hole as an inverted and reversed image. This is the optical phenomenon known as camera obscura. This past weekend for Bushwick Open Studios, New York-based photographer Maciej Markowicz parked a 1973 Volkswagen Bus on a street corner and prepared to exhibit his own camera obscura. It wasn’t a box, though—it was the van itself.


Markowicz simply opens the van’s backdoors and drops down a couple of drapes to create a dark room. Then, like a carnival barker, he invites people inside to have a look at the camera obscura image, which gets projected onto the van’s left wall from a hole on the right. But staring at the spectral image is only one part of the process: Markowicz also fixes sheets of chromogenic paper to the interior, creating color negative camera obscura prints which are vibrantly colored and abstract.

Williamsburg Bridge, 8:10am, Brooklyn, NY, November 2015. All images courtesy of artist. Maciej Markowicz © 2016

Markowicz tells The Creators Project that his journey with camera obscura began in London back in 2008. At the time, he’d turned his darkroom into a camera obscura, exposing the window view of the garden onto a grid of nine 8x10 sheets of black-and-white paper. Later that year, Markowicz learned that Monet painted his popular series of Rouen Cathedral from a window of the building facing the cathedral, which now belongs to Tourist Information Centre.

“I proposed to turn that same room into a camera obscura, which I did,” says Markowicz says. “The project budget was just enough to cover windows with plastic bags and it was on display for only two days. Since then I have always wanted to go back there to do an art installation that will last for a whole summer and will be open for public.”

Brooklyn Bridge, 3:40pm, Manhattan, New York, November 2015

In 2010, as part of his graduation show, Markowicz turned a shipping container into a giant camera obscura that people could enter and explore. Called Power Obscura, the real-time camera obscura projection on the inside could be watched while viewers spoke to those on the outside through a microphone.


Markowicz had a few days before he had to dismantle the installation, so he experimented by directly exposing the image onto color photographic paper. After some trial and error, Markowicz produced a 30" x 127" photographic negative that he turned into a direct contact positive print. This process soon became close to Markowicz’s heart and the direct inspiration for The Moving Camera.

Phillip Reed © 2016

“When exposed directly, chromogenic paper has a unique ability of capturing the light as it is,” Markowicz explains. “The process it also unforgiving—whatever gets exposed appears on the chromogenic paper as a negative image… The actual exposure is the final result of the process. No post-production is taking place.”

After moving to Bushwick a few years later, Markowicz found a 1973 Volkswagen Bus. This “bucket of rust” with a “Virginia is for Lovers” bumper sticker and an engine in the back seat took three years of work on every Saturday to restore. In the middle of the restoration process Markowicz found himself looking at the van’s empty interior and realized it would make a great camera obscura. It took another year to make the van roadworthy, and by September 2015, Markowicz began transforming it into what he calls a “big camera on wheels.”

Columbus Circle, 10:14am, Manhattan, New York, May 2016

Before shooting, Markowicz prepares the chromogenic paper at his studio in complete darkness, before placing the sheets into 30" x 50" light-proof bags. Because shooting with The Moving Camera generally becomes a journey, Markowicz usually starts shooting before sunrise, driving towards the area he wants to photograph. He follows the motion and the rhythm of the city, observing the light and its interaction with the landscape through which he is driving.


Markowicz says that he always driving while exposing, and only stops to change the photographic paper. He says the speed at which the camera moves adds another dimension to the images captured, but it also makes him hyper-sensitive to light and its reflective behavior.

Phillip Reed © 2016

“I want to capture the unseen glimpse of light, of life, of the city that I live in,” Markowicz says. “And every time I process the exposed paper I realize it is not there, at least not all of it, so I keep moving and shooting.”

Union Square, 9:16am, Manhattan, New York, November 2015

Flatiron Building, 9:45am, Manhattan, New York, December 2015

Park Avenue, 2:38am, Manhattan, New York, December 2015

Click here to see more of Maciej Markowicz’s work.


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