As part of our lockdown Summer engagement programme we worked with St Matthew’s Church of England School in Nechells, Birmingham on a Camera Obscura workshop. This was a fun workshop that enabled students to enjoy the practicalities of making the camera and then capturing images of trees and nature on their homemade camera’s.
We had worked with St Matthew’s Primary School back in February when we planted 10 trees in the local area. It was a lovely morning with children full of enthusiasm, curiosity, smiles and an impressive knowledge and understanding about trees so we couldn’t wait to revisit the school.
The workshop was run by Jo Gane, photographic practitioner and was funded by Matthew Murray Landscape Photographic Artist and Arts Council England and in collaboration with BTfL.
Jo’s specialist area of knowledge is the practice of early photographic processes and translating these difficult techniques into engaging hands-on workshop activities.
Matthew Murray is an award winning photographic artist working on an Arts Council of England project around the landscape of Arenig, North Wales.Matthew is working on an Arts Council of England project around the landscape of Arenig, North Wales.
As part of this project Matthew Murray developed an engagement programme working with artists, practitioners, charities and inner city schools, focusing on communities who may not have the opportunity to participate in these programmes in other circumstances.
Matthew Murray choose BTfL as the project he was interested in collaborating with because of our great environmental and community based work and we are very grateful for that.
Building small cardboard camera obscura is a simplistic, but magical way of understanding how light travels to project an image and a great way of exploring the world though a camera lens.
Camera Obscura is like the pinhole camera used in the 1800’s, camera obscura means, ‘dark chamber’ and is a photographic practice illustrating beautifully how photography is all about ways of capturing light.
In our fast-paced technological world where our phone cameras are an extension of our hands and are used to document every part of our lives, using images that can be manipulated until virtually unrecognisable from the original photograph – it was quite refreshing to go straight back to basics. Seventeen students from years five and six took part in the workshop over Zoom in two class bubbles, overseen by patient and hands on staff!
Running a school’s engagement workshop over Zoom was new to all of us. But within a couple of minutes we’ all settled in and listening intently to Jo’s instructions.
It was a proper Blue Peter inspired moment, as each student was given a cardboard box, masking tape, a lens and some tracing paper. It was clear at first the students weren’t convinced that a camera could be made from such simplistic bits and pieces.
But within half an hour we were well on the way to having the camera’s finished and ready to use.
Students and staff had worked exceptionally hard with Jo and produced their own camera to work with.
As Jo illustrated how to put the tracing paper in the cardboard box with the lens and the children and staff suddenly saw the magic of the images appearing in the box there was a joyous intake of breath and smiles all round.
It was a great opportunity for students to take their cameras and capture images all around school. The camera obscura works well when there is lots of good natural light, the only downside on that day was that it was a dull rainy day. But it didn’t stop students getting up and off around the school grounds using their camera to capture beautiful images.
The students then took their cameras home and no doubt shared the images with their friends and family capturing images of their home environment and all of nature around them, the flowers, the trees and the trees we planted with St Matthew’s Primary School last tree planting season!
If you would like to make a camera obscura, please click the link and watch the workshop online on BTfL’s YouTube channel.
Testimonial from Mrs. Tracey Adams, Deputy Headteacher at St Matthew’s Church of England School, Nechells, “The project to create pinhole cameras came at the right time, for St Matthew’s – a real ray of creativity during this new way of teaching It was an opportunity for children (through zoom) to learn a new skill; interact with an expert and also to be inspired to explore the world of photography. Our Year 5 and 6’s, and their teachers absolutely loved the experience. We can’t praise this project enough, and want to thank Jo and Justine for getting us involved and Matthew Murray and Art Council England for funding it.
If you capture images you would like to share, then please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to showcase them on our social media channels.
If you would like to view the photographs taken during the workshop, please view, here
We would like to say thank you to Jo Gane and Matthew Murray for making this happen.