“Who would believe that so small a space could contain the image of all the universe?” Leonardo da Vinci wrote in 1500. He was praising the camera obscura, a photographic instrument that was, by then, nearly 2,000 years old. Most of us know how it works: light penetrates a box or dark room through a hole, strikes a mirror or some other surface, then crisply projects the outside landscape onto a canvas or wall. Though scientifically explainable, it seems almost magical.
Marja Pirilä has been fascinated with the camera obscura process since the 1980s, when she worked extensively with pinhole cameras and even built a few cabin-sized contraptions. “Light for me is the most important thing in photography,” she told Hyperallergic. “I never get tired of observing it.”
In 1996, while reading Aperture, she came across Abelardo Morell‘s black-and-white photographs made using the method. The Cuban-born photographer had set up his large-format camera inside various New York City apartments, covered their windows in perforated black plastic, and focused his lens on the pictures spilling in. The otherworldly images, some of which took up to 10 hours to expose, simultaneously captured the apartments and the views from their windows.
Seeing Morell’s work inspired Pirilä to attempt a similar series of color portraits, now on view in a retrospective at the Kuopio Art Museum in Finland. Since models can’t sit still for so long, the photographer figured out a way to shoot using a simple lens that reduces exposure time to mere minutes. Over the years that followed, she traveled throughout her native Finland, as well as in Norway, Italy, and France, taking ethereal photographs that record, in just one shot, an individual, his or her bedroom, and the scenery outside.
Though Pirilä’s images capture people and their physical environments, she views them as gateways into subconscious realms — somehow conjuring both the Surrealist paintings of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte and the psychedelic creations of the 1960s counterculture. She explained that the more she works in this vein, the more the process begins to feel like an excursion into a mental terrain filled with memories, reveries, and fears. Human beings are, after all, walking camera obscuras: we all spend our lives making sense internally of our experiences in the external world. As Pirilä suggested, “I think the landscape seen from our window is not only outside, but also within us.”
Marja Pirilä’s Carried by Light continues at the Kuopio Art Museum (Kauppakatu 35, Kuopio, Finland) through April 25.
Bobby Wilson Combats Indigenous Stereotypes Through Humor
The artist-performer’s career undulates, ever so gracefully, across multiple mediums and registers of generational pain, healing laughter, and Indigenous joy.
Rare 19th-Century Silhouette Album’s Secrets Unlocked
Traveling portrait artist William Bache’s album depicts famous figures like Thomas Jefferson as well as people whose identity was previously unknown.
Nevada Museum of Art Presents Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity
For the first time in nearly 60 years, the innovative yet under-recognized artist is the subject of a retrospective exhibition. On view in Reno, Nevada.
Artists Show What They Can Do With a Google Phone’s Camera
Works by 20 photographers are now on view in Manhattan for the seventh season and 100th project coming out of the Google Creator Labs.
Met Museum Kicked Me Out for Praying to My Ancestral Gods
My danced prayer to looted Cambodian antiquities was too much for the New York museum.
The Public Theater in NYC Presents Plays for the Plague Year
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s theatrical concert chronicles the 2020 lockdown and the hope and perseverance that emerged from it.
A Museum Guard’s Ode to the Healing Power of Art
In All the Beauty in the World, Patrick Bringley revisits the many ways that art meets life, and life art, and how death is often the bridge between them.
UK Extends Export Ban on Coveted “Portrait of Omai”
London’s National Portrait Gallery was given a few months to acquire the work, which depicts the first Polynesian visitor to the UK.
Mondays at Pratt Institute: Weekly Openings of Work by Graduating Artists
Free and open to the public, Pratt Shows celebrate the school’s graduating students. MFA and BFA work on view this spring in Brooklyn, New York.
The Sculptor Making Art With Loved Ones’ Ashes
Inspired by the three-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Julian Stair’s exhibition honors the lives of eight people with cinerary jars.
Art Institute of Chicago Under Scrutiny Over Sacred Nepali Necklace
The 17th-century object remains on display at the Chicago museum despite Nepal’s calls for repatriation.
LSU School of Art Grants Highest MFA Stipends in the Southern US
With funded assistantships, full tuition waivers, and generous stipends, Louisiana State University helps students lay the groundwork for a successful lifelong art practice.
Art Problems: How Do I Get a Public Art Commission?
Want to leave a mark on your city or town, but don’t know where to start? Paddy Johnson has some tips.
Rose B. Simpson Embeds Ancestral Histories in Clay
She has taken clay and used it to recall its ancestral roots in Pueblo culture and address the present history of postcolonial recovery and ongoing trauma.