Category Archives: News

Finances!

One of the pledges we made in the Kickstarter campaign was to be transparent with the finances for this project. Six months after we received the funds and with the camera nearly ready, let’s have a look at where the money’s gone.

First the build of the camera itself, then the accounts for the project as a whole.

Camera Build

Income:

Kickstarter donations after fees £2,216.44
Other donations £75.00
Total £2,291.44

Expenses:

Budget Spent Remaining
Rewards £627.00 £288.74 £338.26
Contingency £50.00 £0.00 £50.00
Blackout £50.00 £0.00 £50.00
Wood £498.30 £498.30 £0.00
Carpenter £360.00 £360.00 £0.00
Painting £34.97 £34.97 £0.00
Lens £550.00 £200.00 £350.00
Focussing £32.00 £32.00 £0.00
Wheels / base £50.00 £24.50 £25.50
Mirror Housing £40.00 £17.80 £22.20

The astute amongst you will notice out budget is 83 pence over our income. We hope to iron that out towards the end of the build.

So, how does that break down?

Rewards

Reward Budget Spent Remaining
Mini COs £275.00 £275.00
Posters £75.00 £73.50 £1.50
Stickers + Postcards £102.00 £102.00 £0.00
Plaque £20.00 £20.00
Photo Prints £15.00 £15.00
Postage £140.00 £88.29 £51.71

As you can see, we haven’t produced the Mini Camera Obscuras, nor made the plaque or the photo prints, but the money for these is still in the bank. Once we have time we’ll get them done asap. There’s also £50 left for posting the cameras out. Postage for the poster was much higher than we anticipated so if this isn’t enough we’ll subsidise it with our own money.

Contingency

We haven’t needed this yet! If it’s not used we’ll hold for the inevitable repairs fund.

Blackout

This is the curtain on the front of the camera, which we’ll be working on this month. (If anyone has 3 metres of red velvet-style curtain they don’t want, we can use it!)

Wood and Carpenter

Matt Moore built and delivered the camera body to budget, and even did some extra bits for free. Thanks Matt!

Painting

We bought some varnish and black paint. We have plenty of black paint left over.

Lens

The lens that’s currently in the camera is a stop-gap, costing a tenner from eBay. It still creates a nice image, but we’re getting a much better one made. The £200 was a deposit and the £350 is payable on delivery. It will be made to fit the mirror housing and be hand polished by (we’re told) the last lens polisher for the hobbyist market in the UK. We’re hoping to have it this summer.

Focussing

This covered the hand-cranked scissor lift which holds the screen in place. If we have budget left we’re hoping to add a lever to make focussing easier, but as it stands it does the job fine.

Wheels / Base

When the camera body was delivered it was very clear our ideas for mounting it on wheels were desperately wrong. Since much of the budget is being spent on the lens we’ve decided to have the camera standing still and have simply bought some cheap IKEA coffee tables for it to stand on. Next year we hope to raise funds for some bespoke wheels so it can be moved around a festival field.

Mirror Housing

This was donated to us by Tim Norgate and cost him £1500 to get made a decade ago, which was very generous of him, but it still needed some money spent on it, specifically new batteries and wiring. We’ve got the batteries. We’re working on the wiring.

And that’s about it. As the realities of the camera knocked our theoretical budget around we had to make some adjustments, but we’re happy that we’re coming in on budget and have the camera we promised you. The big failure is it’s not on wheels like the prototype, but we can still have it up in 20 minutes, so it’s still technically pretty damn portable. We just feel we’d rather raise some more money for the wheels and do them properly than put the camera on something crappy.

Bham Obscura accounts

We haven’t had a lot of income yet. Our applications for Arts Council funding to develop the project as a resource were turned down which was intended to give us time to create income streams, but this just means it’s going to be a slower process than we anticipated.

The end goal is still that we’re able to make significant personal income from this project so we can dedicate more time and energy to getting the camera out. Volunteering our time for free is great in the short term but not sustainable.

So here’s what’s happened money-wise since December.

Date Item Income Expenses Balance
29/11/2014 Carried over from 2014 £70.00 £70.00
07/12/2014 Investment £100.00 £170.00
08/12/2014 Racking Shelving – studio £27.99 £142.01
08/12/2014 Cork Boards – studio £30.99 £111.02
19/01/2015 Company Registration £35.00 £76.02
30/01/2015 Mag Glasses for Workshops £19.80 £56.22
29/04/2015 Flatpack Installation income £200.00 £256.22
29/04/2015 Flatpack Installation fees £90.01 £166.21
29/04/2015 Flatpack Installation expenses £109.99 £56.22

We had £70 left over from running workshops last year and put in another £100 of our own money to give us something to work with. The shelving and cork board were for the studio at BOM. Company registration was necessary for the Arts Council application and was something we’d be wanting to do eventually anyway. Magnifying glasses are what we do our workshops with. The Flatpack Festival was our first paid installation / workshop of the year and after the costs we split the remaining £90 between us.

As you can see, Bham Obscura is not a particularly lucrative business and we need to develop more paid work through it for this to be a sustainable venture. We’re confident that once the camera has been out and people have seen what we can do with it this shouldn’t be insurmountable.

We decided the other week that all income from camera obscura related activities will be pooled and divided between us equally. Income in this case is money from appearances, talks, workshops and other things where someone pays us to be there. Other income, such as donations and fundraising, is ring-fenced for the development and maintenance of the camera itself. We intend to keep these very separate.

And that’s everything. Any questions, please do get is touch!

May update

Progress on the new camera has been slow and steady, with lots of small achievements that, in themselves, don’t seem worth reporting, because something else small will be done soon so we might as well wait for that before writing an update.

Is our excuse for silence. Let’s rectify that.

On Friday April 24th we met with carpenter Matt Moore to measure the optimal focusing length for the camera. With this figured out he set to work building the sides.

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The camera body was delivered to BOM by Matt on Monday 27th April. The pieces are an inch too wide to fit in Pete’s Ford Ka, which is irritating, but the Ka is due to fail its MOT this year so it’s not a huge problem.

As an aside, Pete’s wife occasionally tries to get him involved in looking for a new car, something he has no real interest in. And when she succeeds his only concern is the size of the boot. Will it fit the new camera in?

We built the camera on the stage at BOM and put the lens and mirror on it. It worked. Yay!

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Actually having the camera in front of us was a bit weird. It was exactly what we asked for but not exactly what we expected. Having an idea actualised by a third party is always an odd experience and this was no exception.

The next Friday we decided to stay away from BOM and the camera. We spent a few hours at the MAC, walking around the park talking about what the hell we were doing with this bloody big camera. The last year has been pretty momentous for both of us in different ways and we’re not the people we were when we first built a camera in Pete’s garden. Without going into details it was a good session and we’re ready to move forward.

Focusing was the next problem to solve and we spent a long time looking at jacks and lifts, none of which were suitable, until we stumbled across a Fisher Laboratory Scissor Jack on eBay for £30, not bad considering they cost £200 new. It’s wide enough to hold the metre square screen and subtle enough to enable perfect focusing. It’s a dream!

(In a camera obscura, where the lens is fixed to the roof, focusing is done by raising or lowering the screen. It’s much easier than raising the roof!)

Last Friday (you’ll notice we tend to do Obscura work on Fridays) we started painting the box. Matt black for the insides and varnish on the outsides. Having had the box built in Matt’s workshop it was good to be doing some “making” rather than planning at BOM for a change.

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With everything painted, and looking quite splendid, we put the box together again today and started working on the blackout. This is something we’d never figured out in the planning, deliberately waiting to see what the camera was like first. There are a surprising amount of options for this, from pleated curtains to shower rails to conical flaps. Eventually we went with a large sheet, currently of black plastic, which is fixed to the top of the camera and falls to the ground where it can be pegged in or left loose. We’re going to some advice from Matt on how to make it look as good as the camera itself (currently it’s a bit of a Pete special) and then we’ll be ready to go.

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You might have noticed we haven’t mentioned the wheels. One of the things we really wanted to keep was the portability of the old camera – to be able to wheel it around like a barrow and point it at anything. The new camera is just too heavy for the wheels we had in mind so were going to postpone this until we have the funds to get something made that will be stable and manoeuvrable, not to mention safe.

In the meanwhile the camera will be stationary. It’s still portable in the sense that it will fit in a car and can be erected in about 10 minutes, but once it’s up it’s up. True portability will be a 2016 project.

With the camera nearly ready we’re planning to give it a public test run at Digbeth First Friday on June 5th. Check the Twitter for our precise location.

Then throughout June we’ll be turning the camera into a spectacular attraction for all the family in time for its first professional appearance at CoCoMad in Cotteridge Park on Saturday 4th July.

And from then it begins! Birmingham will have a camera obscura! Woo!

Planning for the Spring

It’s suddenly spring, which took us slightly by surprise. The days are longer and the sun is shinier and it’s perfect for some camera obscura action.

The good news is we have a deadline and we’re very likely to meet it. If all goes to plan we’ll be out on the streets by the end of April. We’ll let you know where and when nearer the time!

Between now and then we have a few final things to do. Matt will be delivering the finished camera on Saturday 25th and we’ll be working on the finishing touches during the week of the 26th at BOM. You’re all very welcome to join us. Check the Twitter to see when we’ll be in.

And then, from May, Birmingham will have a camera obscura.

Yay!

The top and bottom of the new camera (sides to come) with Pete for scale.

The top and bottom of the new camera (sides to come) with Pete for scale.

We did have some bad news. We were turned down twice in our application for an Arts Council grant due, it seems, to there being too much competition for grant money at the moment. As such our ambitious plans to tour the camera have been put on hold. We will be taking it out as much as possible over the summer but won’t be able to invest as much time as we’d like behind the scenes.

This also curtails our ability to earn a wage from the camera (the application was to fund development of a sustainable business serving the community) so we’re going to change our focus a bit for 2015.

Our main objective for the year is to learn how our new camera works by taking it to local festivals and events,
and to experiment with other ways of building camera obscuras, large and small. We’re still thrashing out how we’ll do the latter but expect stuff like a DIY camera workshop or a giant camera made out of the fabric of the city itself.

In the meantime we hope to see you during the week of the 27th. Exciting!

First stage of the new build revealed/ Flatpack Festival Fun!

Last week we visited Matt Moore, who is building our new Portable Camera Obscura, at his workshop. He revealed to us the first glimpse of the new Portable Camera Obscura build which you can see below. So far he has build the lid and base pieces which will form the core structure which will contain the projected image,  the lens housing will sit on top of, and will be supported by the wheels. The new structure will be far more modular than the first build, the core structure will be simply detachable from the wheels and lens mechanism, so we can swap and change the pieces.

This will allow us to be far more flexible about how we show the camera obsucara. We could wheel it to a venue and then just sit the core box somewhere or make it into part of a larger installation. It also means that we could mount it onto different wheels or bases. There are many possibilities!

As you can see below, Matt has started with the top and bottom trays, which the side panels will then attach to, to form the core cube structure. Aren’t they beautiful?

Here’s Pete looking pleased.

IMG_1325 This is only the first part of the exciting new build, next up will be forming the side panels, fixing the lens housing onto the top (and the new lens once it has been made for us!) and then building the base and wheels which will make it portable.

The overall structure will be far stronger and more hard wearing. Once we have the new lens installed it will also be a far clearer image, and with the mechanised mirror, will be able to easily turn the mirror, allowing the viewer to control the view they look at.

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Flatpack Film Festival 2015

Flatpack Film Festival runs 19-29 March and we are chuffed to be a part of it this year, with an installation in Home Deli Cafe, as well as running two workshops alongside the installation. This is part of the first part of the festival called Film Bug which takes place in Colmore Business District 20-21 March. The festival then moves through the City towards Digbeth for the second weekend.

Our installation will comprise of a series of miniature camera obscuras, hanging in the window of the cafe. They will be there to see all day Friday 20th and Saturday 21st March.
Friday 7.30am – 7.00pm
Saturday 10.30am – 5.00pm

Workshops:
We are also running two free, drop-in workshops where you can make your own handheld cardboard camera obscura:
Friday 3-4pm
Saturday 3.30-4.30pm

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February news update

Well, it’s been an interesting month. We took delivery of a major donation – a motorised lens and mirror housing custom built for a camera obscura and worth £1500 – which forced us to revise our plans. And we’re going to tell you all about it!

First the lens housing. It was donated by Tim Norgate who was building camera obscuras in Birmingham a decade ago and had similar plans to establish a permanent one in the city. His didn’t come to fruition but he did commission the lens and mirror setup from Beacon Hill Telescopes and used it in temporary cameras in Cannon Hill Park.

It’s a fantastic piece of kit and we’re unbelievably grateful, but because it’s designed to be used in a room the lens has a throw of 10ft. Our camera will be about a metre tall. So we’re going to need a new lens.

We phoned Beacon Hill and spoke to the lovely Barry Watts, a 76 year old telescope builder and camera obscura enthusiast. While talking we discovered the guy he gets to make lenses is the only person in the country who serves the hobby market (the rest do scientific grade lenses which cost thousands) and he’s moving studios soon, so won’t be able to work quickly.

In short, because the throw we need is so short, the new lens is going to cost £550 and it probably won’t be ready before the summer. We hadn’t expected it to cost that much, so that was an interesting moment.

We’ve dealt with this by shuffling the budget around. The lens housing has upped the game substantially and means we’re going to have professional standard optics. But it does mean some of the things we’d hoped to do will be postponed, specifically the fancy wheels, focussing mechanism and paint job. These will be good enough and we’ll look to making them fancy in 2016.

We’ve decided the important thing is that Birmingham has a world class camera obscura. Thanks to Tim’s donation we can do that now. It just might take a little longer to get all the pieces together.

Most importantly the delayed lens won’t slow us down. We’ll be using the same cheap lens as last year (£7 from ebay!) in the interim so as soon as Matt the carpenter has built the box we can be on the road!

Here’s the revised budget:

Rewards: £627.00
Carpentner & Wood: £870.00 
Lens: £550.00 
Wheels / base: £150.00 
Lens housing extras: £100.00 
Contingency: £50.00
Painting: £50.00

Total budgeted: £2,417.00
Total raised: £2,291.44

That takes us £125 over budget, so we’ll be doing a bit of extra fundraising. This shouldn’t be a problem though as we’ve already had an extra £100 since the Kickstarter from people who missed out and wanted to contribute. And we have merchandising plans. So it’ll all be fine!

In Other News

We’ve confirmed an installation at the Flatpack Film Festival in March. We will be making lots of small camera obscuras which we’ll be hanging in the window of Home Deli on Church Street. We’ll also be doing workshops where people can make their own. More details once they’re completely ironed out!

We are now a Community Interest Company! In the short term this doesn’t mean much but in the long term it helps us ensure this project is for “the community” and not just us.

The summer program is starting to come together. So far we’ve confirmed the CoCoMad festival and the Family Fun Day at Edgbaston Cricket Ground. If you’d like us to come to an event you’re involved with, or have ideas of places we could take the camera, please do let Jenny know!

Our new mirror and lens housing

We had a visit today from Tim Norgate who runs Pinhole Solutions and is based in Bearwood. A few years ago Tim was making camera obscura in Cannon Hill Park with large tents but always wanted to build a permanent camera obscura in Birmingham. Sadly he never did, so when he heard about our efforts he immediately got in touch.

To cut to the chase, he’s very generously donated his mirror and lens housing to our cause, and it’s amazing. Here’s a video of it in action:

You’ll notice immediately that it’s motorised! There are two switches, one for the angle of the mirror and the other to rotate it. This means it can point up and down in 360 degrees.

The lens has a throw of a 8 feet, which is too long for our portable camera but will be perfect if we were to install it in a room. And we can swap it out for a shorter throw lens with ease.

The mirror is top quality – the same sort you’ll find inside a DSLR – and won’t give any ghosting that normal mirrors do. Excellent optics all round.

Our plan is to fix it to the portable camera but have it easily detachable so we can use it for other projects. One issue is going to be weather proofing, so on Tim’s suggestion we’re looking into a glass enclosure, similar to a bell jar, that could sit over the mechanism and keep it dry, while also looking amazing. So if anyone knows where were can get a custom made glass (or clear plastic) bell jar like this please get in touch!

But for now we’re just happy to have such a wonderful piece of kit. Here’s some more photos of it:

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January Update

(Edited version of Kickstarter update)

Hope you had a good Xmas break. We’re now ready to get back to it, so here’s a quick update on what’s been happening.

We met with our carpenter, Matt Moore, last week to talk through our plans. We chose Matt because he can bring an artistic sensibility to the project along with being a competent chippy, so the camera should look great as well as be a hard-wearing contraption. We’re hoping he can start work next month.

We also had a generous donation of some lenses from Tim Norgate at Pinhole Solutions in Birmingham who we met last year. Tim become obsessed with the camera obscurae a few years ago but his kit has been in the attic. It’s now being put back to use. Thanks Tim!

Immediately after the Kickstarter ended we put in an application to the Arts Council for funding to develop Birmingham Obscura into a sustainable resource for arts and education through an enhanced program of events this year. We’ll hear if we’re successful on Feb 5th but even if we’re not (arts funding, like everything, has been cut to the bone in recent years) we’ll be out and about a lot.

The first thing we’ll definitely be doing is an installation for the Flatpack Film Festival. The exact location is still being negotiated but expect a giant tent camera somewhere in Birmingham City Centre in the last week of March.

We’re settling in nicely at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) in the centre of Birmingham. The studio has been cleaned up and kitted out so we can do whatever we need to do in there. We’ll also be running a series of events over the spring in association with BOM. Some will be about the project sharing our learnings, some will be more like workshops. Once these are scheduled we’ll let you know.

Moving in to BOM

As you’re probably aware, we’ve been running a Kickstarter for the last twenty days to raise money to build the new camera and it’s going tremendously well – on target for £2,000 and maybe even more – so it’s time to start seriously planning for the future. 

One of the major changes for the new year is we’re actually going to have a base to build the camera and run what is most definitely by now a business. That base is Birmingham Open Media, aka BOM, a new space for art and technology in central Birmingham.

BOM is run by Karen Newman, a curator who’s previously worked at the Open Eye and FACT galleries in Liverpool. BOM’s focus is photography, but not in the usual sense. Certainly there’s a darkroom (one of very few in the city) and a professional studio for hire in the basement, but BOM is for people who want to explore the fundamentals of making images in more depth, be it new developments in digital imaging or the basic technologies that gave birth to the medium in the 19th century. 

When we’re thinking about our camera obscura, and what we want to do with it, this overlap between art and technology is pretty much where we want to be. It’s art because it makes people see the world in a different way and challenge their preconceptions. And it’s technology because we’re working with optics and light, literally putting people inside a camera so they can experience how it works. Everything we do over the next few years will try to respect this balance. 

Or to put it more simply, we want to be here. 

And BOM also wants to be here. So it makes sense for us to be at BOM.

There are other, more practical, reasons for being based at BOM. The first is access to space. We’re going to be in Studio 1 which is on the ground floor next to the cafe, which we’ll be kitting out to suit our needs, such as they are. 

Feel the potential! 

We chose this above a larger space downstairs because it’s easy for people to visit. Whenever we’re working on the camera you’ll be able to knock on the door and say hi. This is important not just because of the way the camera is funded but because we value your input and, in many cases, skills. 

Which is the third reason for being based here. We’ve been quite open about how were figuring out a lot of this as we go along, particularly the optics and carpentry stuff, and BOM is one of those spaces that encourages openness. We’ll be able to tap into the pool of expertise here, and the networks that spread out from it, rather that just get frustrated when things don’t work.

Today was spent clearing out the room and thinking about how we’ll use it. We’ll be fitting it out over the next fortnight. 

We officially start building the camera in January and will post the dates we’ll be in on this site and, of course, to Twitter. Hope to see you there! 

Report: Fun Palaces Weekend

A few weekends ago on 4th and 5th of October, we were at Fun Palaces (I say ‘we’, Pete was honeymooning and then teaching, so my brother came up to help me out). It turned out to be a particularly interesting weekend, mainly due to the wide range of individuals whom we introduced to the Camera Obscura.

For those of you who don’t know, Fun Palaces is an National Arts Council initiative new this year, but based on an old idea. You can find out more about it on their website.

On Saturday morning, we started off at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It was a difficult location at first, as it was the first time we had been at an indoor event, and on a dull, rainy morning the light was not ideal. However, as the sun came out, the room brightened a lot and we began to get a clear image.

We had some intriguing comments, especially from some younger children, one saying that they could ‘see a house’ – referring to the selection of windows, another said ‘I can see the eyes’ which didn’t make any sense until we looked into the box again. Do you see them? Can you also spot the ‘ghost’ window?

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The day also involved a series of visits from some Buddhist monks, as there was a series of Buddhist celebrations in relation to 150 years since the Buddha statue was offered to the museum. We also had a fantastic encounter with a visually impaired lady, who patiently waited for the image emerge, and as the sun came out brightly, we could hear her explain from inside, what she could see. Her guide dog seemed curious/concerned about what was going on!

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On Sunday, we moved to outside The Rep, by wheeling it through the Paradise Forum. This was a far quieter day, as we were in a rather large, open space. Although there were far fewer people, we got an equally wide cross section of people. With it being quieter, we did get to play around with the camera, adjusting the focus and trying different distances from buildings.

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A big thank you to Lousie Alden and Kenny Webster, especially for helping us manoeuvre  the camera through the museum and carry it down several flights of stairs; to Katerina Pushkin and Jenny Smith for inviting us to The Rep’s Fun Palaces and for providing us with free tea and coffee, and of course our temporary glamorous assistant Tom:

IMG_9348p.s. apologies for the delay in posting, it had been sat in drafts for a couple of weeks!