Westonbirt Arboretum & the RSPB


I’m always looking into new ways of making the most of the camera obscura. During the Pinhole Pedallers project I toured the protected landscapes of the South West back, celebrating them and sparking conversations, creativity and collecting stories along the way. The obscura proved a fantastic way to celebrate the landscape. Visitors stepped inside and were shown the outside world in a completely new light. The obscura draws out the best of the landscape – vibrant colours seem more vivid whilst movement in the trees, sky and wildlife reminds us it is a live image.

Last week I took the camera to show staff from the RSPB who are working on the Futurescapes project – aimed at making landscapes more wildlife friendly through working with landowners and authorities, connecting up the mosaic of different habitats and land uses we have in the UK.

The setting was the beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum.Staff from the RSPB reserves across the South West bundled into the obscura in two groups. Whilst one were shown how it works and let free to experiment and play with the different screens, the other provided some entertaining subjects for us to view on the inside! As they ran forwards and back, left and right, we tried to follow their progress in the camera, moving smaller screens in an attempt to keep them in sharp focus. The team did handstands and stuck poses making the most of the upside down projections within.


It sparked lots of ideas – different ways to use the obscura to enrich visitor experience and achieve a higher level of engagement with individuals who may be visiting reserves.  Old and new ideas included creating collaborative drawings within the obscura and hanging fabric inside to highlight and point out different areas of interest within the landscape -isolating key features and even species with focussing the screen. There are more new innovations on their way – I have had some luck scouring charity shops for different optics, and so will be fitting different lenses to one of the walls and making the whole structure more interactive. Different screens with varied thicknesses and finishes will also add more and more uses to the obscura, and I’m really excited to get set up in some new places.

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If you wanted to hear how the obscura could be used at your reserve or event, get in touch or email sam[at]light-play.org

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