Friday, November 26, 2010

Camera Obscura in Palisades Park

The phrase "camara obscuratio" is Latin for “dark room,” but the technology goes back to Greece, when Aristotle noticed how, when a pinhole of light entered a dark cave, it projected an upside down and reversed image from outside onto the interior cave wall.

Santa Monica’s historic example is one of only three located in California. Originally it was housed in a small building up on stilts (see photo) and donated to the North Beach Bath House in 1899 by Robert F. Jones.

In 1907 it was moved from the beach up to Palisades Park, when ownership was transferred to the city of Santa Monica. The relic is reminiscent of a class of novelties known as “pinhole cameras” that sprung up along boardwalks and popular tourist destinations at the turn of the 20th century. In the 1950s it was moved into the recently completed Senior Recreation Center along Ocean Avenue, north of the Santa Monica pier, at the southern tip of Palisades Park.

To experience this relic from the past, all one has to do is stop at the desk of the Senior Center, drop off a driver’s license, obtain a key, then take the stairs up to the dark, cramped room that houses a round display disk onto which the camera image is projected. The lens is located within a small cupola type turret atop the building (photo at top of post). A ship’s wheel controls the position of the camera, which affords a 360 degree view, and visitors can change the position of the disk manually to control the focus. The following photo shows an image of the Santa Monica Pier projected through the mirror/lens of the Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura
1450 Ocean Avenue (Senior Recreation Center), just north of the Santa Monica Pier. Access to the camera obscura is free, but is available only until mid afternoon (currently until 3:00 pm, but hours are seasonal; call first 310-458-8644).

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