Exposed: The Camera Obscura Project

In an age where we all have a camera phone, we take a look at the latest developments of a project going back to basics…

On August 18th 2010, a disposable camera was left in the middle of Covent Garden, London. It was labelled with instructions for the person that found the camera to ‘take a photo, relocate the camera, leave for someone else and post when the camera is finished’, with a PO Box address on the back and a stamp included. The Camera Obscura Project was born, and embarked on its trip around the UK. Its aim? “To test the good nature, trust, and creativity of the world.”

43 days later, the camera had made its way back, safe and sound into the hands of the people behind the brilliantly simple scheme. We had to check first to make sure it was okay to mention them by name, as we sensed there may be some kind of Banksy-style contrivances at play. Thankfully though, Mark (J Winter) and Jamie (Malcolm), aren’t into that. The guys, both 25, met at school and maintained their friendship. When Jamie came up with the idea, Mark says he “pretty much just went along for the journey”; being a fan of the likes of Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure and I’m Dave Gorman, “Jamie’s project stood out as … pretty cool”.

Last month, a batch of 10 cameras were left in secret locations (one of them, you may already know and have taken some shots yourself, was Liverpool), and on Saturday it was announced that 5 Camera Obscura Project followers would be given cameras to start journeys of their own, putting the onus of the project in other’s hands, thus further testing that ‘good nature’ of the people. But what, we wonder, was the motivation? Mark: “We wanted to create something that people are interested in and can engage with in both the real and online world. After we saw the first set of pictures from the test camera back in 2010 we knew straight away we wanted to take this onto a larger scale.” And for Jamie, it was really interesting to see “the juxtaposition of it starting with the old-style camera and ending with all our snazzy social media limbs”.

It’s a simple enough experiment, testing the goodwill of the people who stumble across the cameras. It could be anyone; just because the idea comes from a genuine place doesn’t mean the finder will reciprocate. For Jamie in particular, it seems that the most interesting factor is that juxtaposition he mentions: for this to work and for us to see the results, people have to use something they’ll first most likely have to reacquaint themselves with: the humble disposable camera. A technology not really of this century overcoming that in itself, Jamie thinks, would be “a great achievement in this age of megapixels”. For Mark, it’s a little more vicarious, and something we can all relate to: “I’ve said from the start, I just like the thought of this making people smile, it’s a great feeling. Since we got the first camera back I’ve shown the pictures to loads of people and they’ve all been genuinely interested.”

Just as with the cameras, the idea has come a long way relatively quickly; we wonder if this has prompted the guys to think about what might be next. “Definitely. We can’t say too much at the moment as we try to keep as much secret as possible. But we can tell you there’s a trip to Holland in the pipeline after interest from a Dutch group on Facebook. We’ve a few other ideas penciled in for later in the year and both have our own personal places we’d like to take this; it’s just a question of whether we’ll get there.”

In an age where vast amounts of our time is spent online, being funneled by search engines and AI down all the familiar pathways, it’s reassuring to know that people like Mark and Jamie exist and are introducing chance into the equation. More reassuring still, is that people are willing to accept the tantalising gauntlet thrown down and respond in equally interesting ways. Already coming to the attention of the likes of the BBC’s Click, we’re willing to bet that, just like those disposable cameras, they’ll get where they need to go.

Posted on 18/04/2012 by thedoublenegative