Camera Obscura

According to Wikipedia: “A camera obscura (Latin; “camera” is a “vaulted chamber/room”, “obscura” means “dark”, camera obscura = “darkened chamber/room”) is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved.”

According to me, a camera obscura is one of the fun, wacky, quirky things I discovered in my first tentative days living in the Bay Area.

Down at Ocean Beach, over by the Cliff House, there is a really wonderful camera obscura that was installed in 1946.

Just for whimsy, it’s actually shaped like a camera (the camera obscura was a precursor to pinhole cameras and the beginnings of photography).

Photo by Karen Fayeth, Copyright 2011

The camera obscura at the Cliff House used to be right next to the Musee Mechanique, a mesmerizing collection of vintage penny arcade games. The Musee Mechanique moved to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2002, but the camera obscura lives on at Ocean Beach.

The little triangle mirror apparatus at the top spins slowly, so you get this really enchanting 360-degree view of the beach, Seal Rocks, and the surroundings. It’s all reflected onto this white dish shaped table in the center of the small, dark room.

Between the camera obscura and the Musee Mechanique, I could get lost for hours. Fresh off the highway from New Mexico, it was some of the coolest stuff I’d ever seen in my life.

When The Good Man and I paid a visit to the Cliff House this weekend, I was so excited to see the camera obscura is still there. It wasn’t open that day, but it’s there. And that makes me happy.

It was added to the National Register of Historic places in 2001, and is now under the conservancy of the National Park Service, so hopefully it will project on for many years.

The camera obscura makes me so nostalgic. I adore it!

That’s me. My purse was under my jacket, so that’s why my jacket tails are sticking out at such an angle. That and the fact that I’m simply a dork of epic proportions.

Photo taken by The Good Man, Copyright Karen Fayeth 2011

Photos Copyright Karen Fayeth 2011, and taken with an iPhone4 using the Hipstamatic and the Camera+ apps.

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  • Don

    When I lived in the San Fran area, I was never able to go in, as the place was always closed. I always wanted to go in, and every time I would go by that area, I would stop, even if I really didn’t have the time, to come over to it and check it out to see if it was open.

    If that is a recent picture, it has been cleaned up since I lived there, and it looks MUCH better now than then. (1996-2000ish)

    Would love to come check it out when I get out that way next!! :)

    Thanks for the memories!


    • Karen Fayeth

      Hi Don – Yeah, I think they’ve cleaned the camera obscura up a bit. Fresh coat of paint and all that.

      They’ve also totally redone the Cliff House. You totally wouldn’t even recognize it…which makes me sad.

      C’mon out this way! ;)

  • Scott

    How well I remember the day you took me out there…the nostalgia, the “ghosts of the past” whispering from every corner you turned, the damp air and wind even though it was nice out…how the locale for the attraction just sort of “appeared” in the middle of the drive we were on, like something fae coming out of the mist. And then of course the thing itself was kind of oddly miraculous to me–I saw it with my own eyes and I STILL don’t know how the damned thing works. We had one happen accidentally here at work, light came through a pinhole in the garage warehouse area and was projecting what was outside on a packing box inside, it was incredible and reinvigorated my faith in the mysteries of life. :) Nice post, could be an article for local attractions!

    • Karen Fayeth

      Scott – Oh yes, I recall that amazing day too. One of many magical happy fun days we’ve spent together.

      I believe the most recent was in October……;)

      (and the earliest was….when? I believe I was 7 and we were on the beach in Depoe Bay, Oregon)

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