Report: National Photography Symposium, June 14th


In a move that might become a regular occurrence, Pete decided to overhaul the Portable Camera Obscura two days before its next outing in an effort to speed up construction. The result is we shaved a whole 75 minutes off the build time!

The main change is actually quite sensible. The camera part is now a self-contained pyramid which is hung inside the frame, similar to a pop-up dome tent. Other improvements included a new bright white screen at the bottom and a means by which the wheels don't fall off, both of which were appreciated. Finally, you no longer look down into the box but stick your head right in, allowing the viewer to get right up close to the projection. It's a much more immersive experience.

We were cheekily piggybacking the Redeye National Photography Symposium at the Library of Birmingham and they graciously welcomed us with enthusiasm. And while we learned that the public squares of Birmingham are not quite as free to use as we first thought (you need permission to set stuff up on them) which caused a bit of a kerfuffle (big apologies to those sucked in to it) we seemed to get away with it, we think. Lesson learned and we know who to ask next time.

We were outside the library from 11am to 4pm and the experience was quite different to wheeling around Digbeth last week. When you set up in the city centre people automatically assume you're selling something, thanks to all the incessant marketing that goes on. It's a shame, really, that anyone trying to do something non-commercial (or just for the hell of it) is automatically tainted by the intrusive behaviour of the marketeers and is treated with suspicion, but them's the breaks.

That said, around 150 people had a go and all of them enjoyed it. Our plans for bigger and better Camera Obscurae over the next few years went down well too which was great confirmation to get from random members of the public. Lots of people were already familiar with the concept and gave us tips and ideas which are always welcome.

A big deal was meeting Tim Norgate who runs Pinhole Solutions in Birmingham and who has lots of experience in building Camera Obscurae. He answered a load of questions we had and offered his expertise for future builds. The team grows!

Of course the main reason we chose that place and time was to meet people attending the Photography Symposium during their breaks and we had some wonderful chats with the lanyarded throng, from local photographers to the Director General of The Royal Photographic Society and heaven knows who else. Again, feedback was positive. warm glows all round.

With these two trial runs under our belt we're going to withdraw for a bit and plan for a big offensive in August when we'd like to take it out at least 10 times. If you have an event that could use a Camera Obscura please let us know.

In the meanwhile, here are the photos from Saturday!

Inspirational Obscurae Midlands Obscurae

The Decagonal Pyramid Obscura of Ingestre House

Another Camera Obscura in the West Midlands! Once you start scratching the surface they're everywhere!


This beauty was built by Aaron Chetwynd Architects as part of the Ingestre Follies heritage trail at Ingestre Hall near Stafford. The architect's photos are from 2010 and it popped up in my Instagram feed today so it's definitely still there.

Midlands Obscurae

Did you know Dudley Zoo has a Camera Obscura?

During out maiden voyage on Friday someone (I annoyingly forget who) told us that Dudley Castle at Dudley Zoo had a camera obscura at some point. This article in Dudley News from 2010 tells us that yes, there was!


Artist Laurence O'Toole designed and created the camera obscura, which is housed in a turret of Dudley Castle. The turret camera was created in 1993 as part of a creative arts festival and provides visitors with a breathtaking view over Dudley town and beyond.

Back then it was "undergoing maintenance work, which is hoped to be completed by next season" but there's nothing on the official website.

Here's a photo taken by Gary Jones in 2011:


Is it still there? Can we go and visit it? Questions that must be answered!


Report: Digbeth First Friday, June 6th

Well, that was a lot of fun!

The Portable Camera Obscura had its maiden outing on Friday, touring some of the arts venues of Digbeth which were all putting on special events for the First Friday thing. We parked it up, pointed it at something interesting and turned confused glances into big grins when people saw the wonders within.

Thanks to all the people who had a go and the many who had thoughts and ideas about what we might do with this box on wheels. While we have a clear idea of what we want to do, it's all going to be driven by the support of, for want of a better word, the community, and that support felt pretty enthused.

But primarily this was our chance to test-drive the camera, to see if it actually worked in the field. As a camera obscura it worked perfectly, but we definitely need to speed up the build (2h30) and takedown (1h00). The wheels also turned out to have a fundamental design flaw and fall off unless you rotate the camera around every 100 metres or so. Push, then turn, then pull, then turn… But considering we knew nothing about building a barrow from scratch we're happy with how it went.

Weather permitting, the camera will next be out next Saturday during the National Photography Symposium at the Library of Birmingham (which, I hasten to add, we're not affiliated with and are just cheekily glomming on to, although Jenny is speaking at it on Friday), probably in Centenary Square. As before, watch the Twitter for updates.

And so, here are some photos we took on Friday. If you took any photos yourself, please let us know as we really didn't take enough.


Our plan for Digbeth First Friday, June 6th

Today the weather is lovely and we'll be wheeling the camera obscura around Digbeth, cheekily piggybacking the First Friday events that the various arts organisations there have organised.

This is the first time the camera will have left Pete's garden so it's a combination test-drive / world premier. Exciting!

We'll be updating exactly where we are on Twitter but here's the rough plan.

We'll be setting up around Curzon St Station from around 3pm. Where exactly depends on parking.

We hope to have the camera ready by 5pm and will take it on roughly this route:

Google Maps

We'll pack up when the light starts to fade, probably around 9pm.

If you're in Digbeth for the First Friday Fun please do keep and eye out for us. We'd really like to know what you think of this thing we've built.

Inspirational Obscurae

Inspirational Obscurae: Chris Drury's Hut of the Shadows

As we discovered last year, once you start looking for Camera Obscuras you find them everywhere. We're going to start collecting notable ones on this blog.

The Hut of the Shadows is a nice one to start with because it's not in the traditional style. If anything it's in the prehistoric style and looks like a sacred pagan site.



Rain postpones play til June

We've spent this weekend watching the weather forecast jump from one prediction to a completely different prediction and back again. "Unpredictable" seems to be the rule of thumb and so we decided on Sunday to press pause on this project for a few weeks until the sky gets its house in order.

We're looking at Saturday June 14th now, which happens to coincide with the Redeye National Photography Symposium at the Library of Birmingham. Which is handy!

In the meanwhile we'll continue to tweak and might do some test runs along the River Rea in Stirchley, where Pete lives. Watch the Twitter for alerts when we take it out.


Postponed by rain

The weather forecast for Saturday is dreadful and Sunday looks a bit ropey, so we're putting this off until Monday 26th. It's a bank holiday so those of you with normal 9-5 jobs should be free. Take a break from the shopping and come and look in our magic box!

As before, keep an eye on the Twitter to see where we are. The fun runs from 10-5ish, weather permitting!


We need a space in Birmingham to build this thing

All sorted now – thanks to Edible Eastside for offering some space!

On Saturday 24th we're wheeling the Portable Camera Obscura around Birmingham City Centre, but before we can do that we need to construct it. To do this we need a space.

It doesn't have to be large or fancy. The camera is approx 2.25m x 1.25m and 2m high. It's very light and can be carried down stairs. It will take about 2-3 hours to construct.

We need somewhere to construct it on Friday and store it overnight. It'll be collected by 10am on Saturday and that'll be it.

We'll mostly be pointing it at buildings around Centenary Square and the Cathedral so somewhere within a mile from there would be perfect.

Can you help?

Please call Pete on 07775 690 106 or email