The Sculpture in Context Exhibition 2015 at the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin finishes on 16 October. Before it does, it’s worth popping in to see Gerard Erraught’s Camera Obscura.
Erraught’s piece, which he believes works as a stand-alone sculpture, is also a working camera obscura, the only one on public display in Ireland.
The camera obscura is an ancient optical device, a precursor to the photographic camera. Latin for “dark chamber” the obscura consists of a dark box, room, or chamber, with a hole or a lens in one side. Light from a scene outside the hole flows into the dark box and strikes a flat surface, where an inverted image, with colour and perspective preserved, of the external scene is reproduced.
The technology stretches back more than 2,000 years. Aristotle was familiar with its principles. Euclid touched on them in Optics, as proof that light travels in straight lines; this is the reason the image reproduced is inverted.
A controversial theory, highlighted in the 2013 documentary Tim’s Vermeer, suggests that works by great Dutch masters such as Johannes Vermeer, known for their incredible ability to capture the details of landscapes, might have been traced with the help of a camera obscura.
Erraught’s sculpture is an unusual design.
It’s about ten feet tall, grey, and has a tiered, accordion shape, which tapers towards the black box at the top. One side of the black box is the lens, which can be rotated 360 degrees, capturing the surrounding landscape of the Botanic Gardens outside the glass house.
The image from this lens is reproduced on a white disk inside the chamber, and can be looked at from flaps on the four sides of the sculpture.
If you open a flap and peer in at the white disc and see no image, don’t worry. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness and it will come.
Erraught, who worked as an electronics technician for 20 years before becoming a visual artist, says the piece was constructed in his home studio, over the course of a year.
The sculpture was made to fit the theme of the exhibition, he says. “A camera obscura heightens your visual experience of the gardens.”
With the exhibition closing Friday week, the future of the camera obscura is uncertain. Go and check it out. You might never see the like of it again.
Gerard Erraught’s Camera Obscura is on display in Teak House in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin until 16 October.
Editor’s Note: Erraught’s son Terence works with Dublin Inquirer, curating the Curios About column.