The Gizmo that Revolutionized Western Art

Unfinished History

by Dr. Weirde


Camera Obscura at the Cliff House


Photos: Chris Carlsson

Camera Obscura, on the terrace of the Cliff House. This contraption used to wow 'em at the amusement park Playland by the Sea. For a mere buck you can still see a magically radiant image that ebbs and swells like the surf breaking on the rocks below, projected onto a slab of plywood. Though cameras obscura like this were once popular diversions, hardly any remain, and the whole concept of the camera obscura has fallen into ... well, obscurity. Hardly anyone these days realizes that it was the camera obscura that revolutionized Western art during the Renaissance, by allowing painters to copy an image projected in single-point-perspective. Even fewer know that the device was invented for mysterious uses in magic and alchemy.

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