Keyhole Photography _”Desier in dormer” circa 1987?
I had the strange luck while living in New Orleans of discovering three different, naturally occurring camera obscuras.
The first was the double parlor of my first apartment, a ground floor, streetfront apartment on Bourbon Street. (I didn’t know any better and it was cheap) The shutters on the front window had been painted over so many times that only one tiny sliver of a gap remained for light to pass through. Early in the morning, when the sun would drench the opposite side of the street, we were treated to the entire scene, crisply sharp, upside down and backwards, of people walking down the sidewalk…for us along the ceiling.
The second occurence was when I had an assignment to do a portrait of two professors of architecture who took their classes on field trips to a large Sugar Mill and warehouse on the riverfront. This building is now the arts magnet high school NOCCA. While we were walking through the dark and cavernous rooms in search of a good location to shoot them, I started to get a feeling similar to being seasick. I stopped walking and stood still, and that is when I realized the floor was moving. Far overhead, a skylight that had long ago been covered in soot and dirt, had a tiny hole in the surface. What I was seeing on the floor were the briskly moving clouds in the sky outside, sweeping along underfoot and almost making me dizzy!
The final camera obscura was in my next apartment, an attic space in a grand old building on Royal Street in the lower quarter that I shared with my new girlfriend Desier. Our bedroom in a tiny eaves had an old door with an old-fashioned skeleton keyhole. The key was long gone and directly opposite was our kitchen, which was tucked into the tiny space by a dormer window. I noticed vague shapes on our bedroom wall whenever the door was closed. Hmmm. I found some electric tape and made the hole a bit smaller. The shapes got a bit sharper. A bit more tape and the window frame almost came into focus. I can work with this. I created a shutter/hinged flap that completely blocked the hole. Then I taped up two sheets of photo paper to the wall and my my ever-willing model Desier stand in the window. I made my first test exposure, put the paper back in a box and walked over to my tiny, sweaty darkroom in the adjoining eaves (more on that another time) and developed the paper. A few more tests and I had a mildly fuzzy image with Desier, our houseplants and even the Mardi Gras beads hanging in the window.