Get acquainted with Camper Obscura
Published on 31. 8. 2012 at 1:55 pm
Have you heard of the Camper Obscura photographic movement? Choose Film interview Matthew Pontin and Jonathan Blyth, Creative Directors at Fotonow CIC and the guys behind theproject itself,to find out more.
Please introduce yourselves:
Sure. We’re Matthew Pontin and Jonathan Blyth, photographers and founding directors of Fotonow (CIC). Fotonow is a community interest company based in Plymouth developing photographic projects that engage new audiences and create social change.
We both graduated from University College Falmouth with Masters degrees’ in Photography and established the organisation in order to grow opportunities in the South West region. Over the past three years or more we’ve run a large number of diverse projects; that see exhibitions on ferries and bridges, workshops in communities alongside new commissions and publishing projects. One such quirky project is our mobile camera obscura, that we ‘pun-tastically’ named Camper Obscura.
Can you tell us a bit about Camper Obscura?
Camper Obscura is a 1986 T25 VW Camper Van that we purchased in 2010 and converted into a camera obscura in order to work on a long-term residency in Devonport. The experiential nature of the project enabled us to work over 50 days across a community gathering images and stories whilst revealing the wonder of photography (through the obscura).
What sparked your interest in the art of Camera Obscura?
As well as being photographers, both of us had a background in education, Matthew in working with young people away from traditional school settings and Jonathan through secondary school education. When we established Fotonow we often returned to the obscura and pinhole camera as means to engage young people with photography.
We both lecture in Higher Education, currently at Plymouth College of Art, and we’re increasingly aware of a generation studying the medium that have grown up around digital processes. This has seen a resurgence in enthusiasm for traditional processes and indeed the past endeavours of photography, so the Camper Obscura seems to really captured the imagination of those that have been aboard (so to speak).
How did the idea for Camper Obscura develop?
The simplicity of the camera obscura in explaining photography led to us developing Fotonow educational work that saw temporary obscuras installed in various heritage centres in Cornwall. During one of these sessions an amateur enthusiast called Derek Swindley popped along and showed us a photograph of his late 1970s caravan obscura.
We were completely inspired by the notion of being able to move away from fixed spaces and work from anywhere – that ignited our determination to develop Camper Obscura (which houses one of Derek’s old lenses). Sadly Derek passed away this year, and we’re proud to continue to work with a similar community ethos that he did.
What would FOTONOW like to achieve through the Camper Obscura project?
Camper Obscura has been on the road for two-years now and over 10,000 people have experienced its camera obscura. We try and photograph everyone that has been on the Camper using Fuji Instax cameras, which are superb means to enhance what is already a magical experience, these portraits are scanned and added to our on-going archive which perhaps sit as a study of the various communities we’ve had the pleasure to work with.
We hope to continue to take Camper to photography festivals as well as delivering solid educational projects, currently we’re in the process of writing an Arts Council England application to develop a two-year schedule for Camper which will see us upgrade some of its features (the vehicle is a classic over 25 years old) and to be able to offer artist residencies and means to work across the region.
The next big step is to use Camper Obscura to make photographs and this will feature more prominently in the next two-years, if all goes to plan.
In the work we do at Fotonow CIC we are aware that analogue photography still has a significant space to operate, the hands on nature of working with film provides a level of thoughtfulness that sometimes wanes with the ease of digital. We’re seeing individuals investing in film cameras, shooting film, and with quality scanners being more accessible there appears a new freedom emerging for analogue.
Fotonow are increasingly working with archival images (to inspire new work and to tell new narratives). Recently we’ve published ‘It’s About Time’ which was a year long project working with photographer John Curno’s archive dating back to the late 1970s. We hope to stumble across more past studies of the South West and forge new relationships with some of these historical works.
Where can Choose Film fans find Camper Obscura next?
Camper Obscura will be appearing at the Zed Shed in Bristol on the 17th November as part of a networking event Fotonow CIC are involve with, so if you’re passing hop on board. To have a look at the project visit; www.camperobscura.co.uk and Fotonow is at www.fotonow.org.
© Matthew Pontin and Jonathan Blyth