Jewellery Quarter Festival Outing

The Bham Obscura outing to the first Jewellery Quarter Festival was the first time I (Jenny) had done this without Pete. Last year, Pete took the camera to Warwick Bar Summer Fete without me, as I was on holiday, but other than that we have always taken the camera out together.


This was a great exercise as to how I would manage without him. We do try and work together as collaboratively as we can, and try not to be too prescriptive with our roles. Having said that, when it comes to lugging around large pieces of wood, much easier when Pete’s there!

The first challenge was actually transporting the kit, which Dan Burwood helped out with, with his large van. The second challenge was recruiting somebody to help out on the day, as a second body. Luckily Kerry Leslie, my good chum and sometimes colleague, eagerly said yes when I asked her a few weeks ago! Sorted.


Then came the day, we loaded up the van at Bom at early am and headed over cheerfully to the Jewellery Quarter Festival site. It was then, when unloading the van I realised I’d forgotten our brand new, shiny silver curtain: shucks. Rang Kerry and she brought it on her way into town thankfully, but in the meantime I used a tarp we always take out in case of showers! The corner I chose to set up on was extremely windy so there were moments when the sides of the camera were acting as sails in the wind. With a *little* help just lifting the heavier pieces onto the top of the structure, we were BUILT.



The festival had a lovely atmosphere and was well organised by the JQ Bid team. There was lots going on and a good crowd came through around lunchtime for several hours. We had some interesting conversations and also saw some familiar faces. We even had some coppers have a look, as well as the festival security. It wasn't as busy as CoCoMad as it was a very different event, but really glad we were invited along.



The new camera's debut: CoCoMad

Moseley Festival / CoCoMad

On the morning before CoCoMad, we installed two small camera obscuras in the garden of Maison Mayci on Moseley High St. This was quite a surreal experience, at pre-9am on a Saturday morning (Pete nor me are morning people) we asked the café staff it was alright to go through to the garden, and we just went and hung two mini cameras up! It was a beautiful morning and a very peaceful spot.


Then off we popped round the corner to CoCoMad.

CoCoMad was our first official outing with the newly built camera, shiny curtain and all! It is definitely a different setup process to that of the old camera. With this one, as it doesn’t have wheels, you really have to think about how you position the camera, in order to optimize the view, how visible it is to passing foot fall, and also so it’s safe (ie not on a steep hill so it slides off its tables base).


We had a HUGE number of visitors. We took 100 flyers with us and gave them all out, so we estimate 300 + people came to visit the camera. Friends and families all came along and peered in. Kiddies came and looked, then went and brought their friends back.


We had some fab conversations with people from all sorts of backgrounds, who gave us some interesting ideas, let us know about other cameras they had seen, gave us some tips on how we could improve it, advised us where to take it..etc..



We stayed for a good long day and left along with all the slightly sun worn visitors. A good day was had, thanks CoCoMad.

Also, big thanks to Fi for the photos of us doing our thing!


Open Call – one week to go

Our Open Call closes on Monday 6th July and we've had a number of good ideas through. It's not too late though, and now we've had a chance to discuss it and think more about why we're doing this, a recap might be useful.

The main thing to remember is we're not looking for perfectly realised ideas. We have to satisfy three needs – what you want to do, what we want to do and, most importantly, what the Arts Council are prepared to fund. As such we'll be taking the successful proposals and working them into the proposal, not using them as they come. This is just the start of the process.

Alongside this you're not limited to one idea. The camera can be quite inspirational so send us all you have. Sometimes the most simple, off-hand idea is the best.

Another important thing to remember is how this will help you develop your work. R&D is an investment, and that should apply to you too.

Don't worry about the technical aspects, or your lack of technical skills. Being based at BOM we have no problem making stuff work. What we need are the ideas to direct the tech, which is where you come in.

Finally, the Arts Council funded thing isn't the only stuff we want to do art-wise. Because the camera is crowdfunded we see ourselves more as protective custodians than owners, and as such we actively want people to do cool things with it. If your idea isn't suitable for the open call, it's not because it's necessarily a bad idea. It could be something we'd want to explore separately, so get it in.

So far we've had ideas from a singer, a gypsy jazz band, two playwrights, an experimental photographer, a video artist interested in Sigmund Freud's use of the camera obscura, and someone who wants to fill the camera with programmable LEDs and turn it into a projector, with many more promised as the deadline approaches.

If we had to sum it up, keep it simple!

The camera will be at Many & Varied at The Bond in Digbeth on Friday 3rd July from all afternoon and into the evening if you'd like to have a look at it. And then at Cotteridge Park on Saturday.

The full Open Call text is here. Send your ideas to and we'll make out decision within a couple of weeks.


Deadline Saturday!

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 16.45.20

This Saturday we'll be bringing the new camera obscura, crowd-funded through Kickstarter in December, to Cotteridge Park near Bournville, to meet the public for the very first time at the CoCoMad festival. It's been quite a rollercoaster of a half-year but here we are with a fully functional portable camera obscura. Yay!

As we write this on Tuesday we have a couple of things left to do. The electrics for the mirror rotation motors are functional but a bit of a mess, so we'll be breaking out the soldering iron and tidying them up. We also need to collect the banner which Gareth finished yesterday. So if you're at CoCoMad look out for this:

Bham Obscura Banner

It's three metres wide and designed to work in thirds when wrapped around the camera or, if we have a stall or something, as a backdrop. And the text explains the history, science and art of the camera obscura along with a bit about this project.

Of course, like anything important the launch day is simply the beginning. Now we have to give the camera the audience it deserves and get it out as much as possible. If you can help with this, either by giving us contacts and referrals for busy public events or simply hosting the camera yourself, please get in touch with Jenny.

And while getting people to look inside the camera and seeing their big grins when they come out is amazing, it's important the camera does not become a novelty. We have many thoughts on using the camera obscura as a 21st century artistic tool but we need more. Our current Open Call is the start of this and we're always open to ideas. Contact either of us if you have a good one.

But for now we look forward to seeing some of you at Cotteridge Park from 12 noon on Saturday 4th July, showing you the camera you helped build and thanking you very very much.



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


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


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?


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.


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


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!


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


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.


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!


Call Out for Artists

Open Call for R&D proposals using the new Birmingham Camera Obscura

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Birmingham Camera Obscura is an ongoing project by Jenny Duffin and Pete Ashton to explore new ways to use the camera obscura. The camera obscura is a device that predates modern photography by over 1000 years.

We are putting together a funding proposal to commission new work made using the new Birmingham Camera Obscura which will be touring the region from July 2015.

The camera is a 1x2x1 metre wooden box with a lens and mirror which projects a sharp image from outside onto a white screen. It flat-packs down and can be installed anywhere in minutes.

We want artists / technologists to help explore this tool in the development of new work. While we welcome photographers we particularly want to encourage people who do not usually work with "traditional" photography. Musicians, illustrators, dancers, etc.

We anticipate a budget of £1000 per work, to cover fees, and costs. The camera is based at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) where the R&D will take place.

Proposals should be sent to and can be any length you like but please address the following:

  • How the work will aid your personal artistic / technical development.
  • How the public might experience your work.

Remember no funding exists at this stage so please just send an outline of your intentions and some links to previous work.

The deadline is July 6th (but we're not going to look at them before Thursday so if you missed the deadline get in now!). We will chose 4 proposals and, with your help, work them into an application which will be submitted during July. Subject to approval, the R&D will take place between October to March and will help inform our program for 2016.

The camera will be undergoing final testing through June at Birmingham Open Media (BOM). If you'd like to see it, Pete can arrange a visit. For more information see

Pete Ashton
Jenny Duffin


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.



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!


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.



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.

2015-05-22 16.21.17-1


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.


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!


Flatpack Workshop Photos

While Matt the carpenter is building our new camera we've kicked off the year with an installation and workshop as part of the Flatpack Film Festival. Today was the first workshop, and we're running another on Saturday at 3:30pm. Here's some pics!

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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.



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

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