A camera obscura is an optical device, and is the prototype of the photographic camera we know today.
It consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced and rotated 180 degrees.
Camera obscuras were an important part of the visual culture of previous centuries and hold a continued fascination for artists today.
The Midnight Sun Camera Obscura Festival — June 17 to 21 — is the main event of the Camera Obscura Project, a five-year long venture of researching and testing camera obscuras and other optically related ideas. The project brings together an international group of artists and researchers. The theme revolves around the meeting of art and science, what happens when art is situated in a remote wild setting, and the relationship between learning and play.
Donald Lawrence is the principal investigator of the Camera Obscura Project and an organizer and participant in the festival. A visual arts teacher out of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, he first became interested in camera obscuras while completing his BFA studies at the University of Victoria. “This festival is an opportunity to come back to those interests,” says Lawrence.
In 2004, Lawrence found himself in Dawson City showing his latest work, The Underwater Pinhole Photography Project, at the ODD Gallery. Mike Yuhasz, the programmer of the gallery, was so taken with the whole idea, he arranged a 48-hour pinhole photography workshop and had an actual camera built on Front Street. “Afterwards, we were all sitting at Bombay Peggy’s and lightheartedly and jovially talking about what kind of interest there would be in starting a festival,” says Lawrence.
But the idea stayed dormant until 2010, when Lawrence asked for funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He received the funding in 2012 and along with a Canada Council grant, started forming partnerships with such institutions as the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC), the ODD Gallery, the Yukon Arts Centre, the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, the Dawson City Museum, Parks Canada, the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA), and the Robert Service Secondary School.
Now, the idea has come to fruition. From June 17 to 21, the city will be hosting the Midnight Sun Camera Obscura Festival.
The festival will host 13 artists and four research assistants, all from various parts of the world and with different backgrounds in art, science, and academia.
Projects around town will be complemented by an exhibition in the ODD Gallery, the SOVA gallery, and the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse. Festival events will include tours of the artists’ projects, workshops, and public presentations.
Many of the participants are already in Dawson and have chosen the various sites where they will be setting up their work. These include the George Black Ferry, the lawn of the Dawson City Museum, the Recreation Centre, the dyke, and a mobile van.
The four research assistants, who also hail from Thompsons River University, will be displaying some of their work at the exhibition in the SOVA gallery.
Regarding whether there will be another festival in the future, no one can say. Lawrence plans to put together a booklet of this festival as part of the project. Research will continue until the funding dries up, in 2018. After that, says Lawrence, “We’ll keep the possibilities open.”
For more information on the Camera Obscura Project and the Midnight Sun Camera Obscura Festival, please visit www.midnightsuncameraobscura.com