Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Camera: not a Nikon

Sir Joshua Reynolds' camera obscura: no film, alas!
Sir Joshua Reynolds' camera obscura: no film, alas!

This camera obscura was once owned by the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). The mirror and lens mounted in the turret project an image onto the base of the instrument. No, no Kodachrome, even though the images were in natural color. In fact it didn’t have any film at all: they hadn’t invented film then. You had to look carefully at the image it projected, and remember it.

Reynolds may have used the instrument for drawing or he may just have studied the images it produced. He said in one of his lectures to the Royal Academy that an artist with powers of selection could make a superior representation of a scene to that produced by a camera obscura, in spite of its true picture of nature.

When collapsed and folded up this camera obscura looks like a large leather-bound book.

Acknowledgment: © Science Museum, London Science and Society Picture Library