Madison Square Park Art; Topsy-Turvy Camera Obscura Installation

Topsy-Turvy Camera Obscura Installation at Madison Square Park looks like a big round white box

Want to see the beautiful, historic Flatiron building in a new/old light? Just last week the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s excellent public art group Mad. Sq. Art opened the latest large-scale installation to grace its grounds, a giant Camera Obscura which visitors can enter and marvel at the old-timey magic this simple device delivers.

Created by local artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder and on view for only about a month in the southern end of the park (hard by the Shake Shack, by the way, in case you want to combine some burger-eating with your optical-engineering and culture), Topsy-Turvy: A Camera Obscura Installation makes for a nice diversion if you're in that part of town.

Someone walking into the 10-foot by 10-foot Camera Obscura Installation and closing the door at Mad. Sq. Park

How Camera Obscura Works

The principle behind the Camera Obscura has been around for centuries. Basically, the device is nothing more than a box, of any shape or size, that's completely closed except for a single hole in one wall, or side. When external light passes through the hole, it somehow carries with it the scene from outside, reproducing the color, outlines, and perspective of the image onto the facing wall (or piece of paper, or whatever), everything the same, but upside down. Hence: Topsy-Turvy. There's no tricky lens involved; it's just a hole. And recent scholarship seems to indicate that the camera obscura was used by many of the great masters of Renaissance-era painting, who "cheated" by tracing their work directly from these projections. 

Inside the Camera Obscura you can spot the Flatiron building, the leafless, spindly tree branches at Madison Square Park

Flatiron Building Turns Topsy-Turvy

We stopped by Madison Square Park for the opening of Gibson and Recoder's Camera Obscura Installation, and though it's probably more effective on a sunny day, and with blue sky (and almost certainly more photogenic from the inside), even on a gray afternoon it's still pretty amazing how much detail gets projected onto the 10-foot by 10-foot structure's walls and floor. Right away you spot the iconic outline of the Flatiron, of course, and the leafless, spindly tree branches. But the longer you stay inside the otherwise unlighted camera obscura, the more clear the moving image becomes. Let your eyes adjust and you can see the cars driving by on 23rd Street, and people walking through the park, and architectural details of the buildings. A friendly Madison Square Park Conservancy volunteer is stationed inside Topsy-Turvy: A Camera Obscura Installation, and, at least when we went, was more than happy to answer any and all of our questions. 

The Flatiron building standing tall behind the leafless trees and the Topsy Turvy Camera Obscura Installation at Madison Square Park

Mad. Sq. Park's Topsy-Turvy: A Camera Obscura Installation

Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder's Topsy-Turvy: A Camera Obscura Installation will be in Madison Square Park through April. The Camera Obscura Installation is located at the southwest end of the park, and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information about the artists and the Camera Obscura Installation, please see the Madison Square Park website.

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