Camera obscuras are literally older than Jesus — but a pair of filmmakers named Romain Alary and Antoine Levi have managed to reinvent the optical trope thanks to the magic of timelapse. Their “pinhole movies” capture the passage of time across apartment-sized camera obscuras all over the world.
For the uninitiated or confused, here’s the gist of what’s going on in these videos. The concept behind the camera obscura is almost too simple to be believed: It’s a pin-sized hole made in either a darkened box or room. Bright light from the outside pours through the pinhole and lands on the opposite wall of the dark space — creating a perfectly-preserved image of the scene outside. The resulting image is upside-down, but Renaissance painters discovered that a simple mirror flips it back (an insight that helped them achieve perfect scale and perspective in their paintings).
That’s the same basic principle at work in in Alary and Levi’s films, which they collect at their website, Stenop.es: The Pinhole Movie Project. The effort began a little over a year ago with a camera obscura that turned an entire kitchen into a screen, projecting the scenes from the street outside onto the grimy walls and cabinets inside. Using a DSLR, Alary and Levi turned it into an unusual animation, capturing the passage of the sun, clouds, and people outside. Next, they did the same thing to a bedroom in a bustling Indian neighbourhood. Then in an abandoned building, then in a boat cabin. Their latest movie, which hit the web this week, shows the view outside a chic Parisian apartment.
Alary and Levi are asking for suggestions of where they should film their next pinhole movie, so if you know of a particularly cool bedroom, let them know. But in the meantime, creating a camera obscura is dead simple — so why not just make your own?