Some Assembly Required: Maciej Markowicz’s Floating Camera Obscura

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Launch of the Moving Camera’s new mechanisms: the floating camera #Obscuraboat in Amsterdam, September 2017. Photo: Kevin McElvaney

Launch of the Moving Camera’s new mechanisms: the floating camera #Obscuraboat in Amsterdam, September 2017. Photo: Kevin McElvaney

Maciej Markowicz, Berlin, Germany

When visitors enter Maciej Markowicz’s floating camera obscura they can expect to enjoy a live projection of the river view outside. Since 2015, the Polish-born and Berlin-based photographer has mobilized camera obscuras to examine the everyday dynamics of water and urban life. The Moving Camera Project began with a two-year stint driving around New York City in a van-turned-camera. Since launching the floating camera in Amsterdam in September 2017, Markowicz has traveled 1500 miles through Europe, living inside it all the while. The “obscuraboat” is a functioning seaworthy vessel, camera, photo lab, and residence all-in-one. In these mobile cameras, Markowicz makes photographs by exposing imagery onto large-scale sheets of Fujicolor photographic paper, creating direct negative images for a unique art piece.

Markowicz first conjured the idea of the floating camera in 2012 while swimming. “The idea of seeing what’s beneath has always inspired me.” He says, “There is something utterly beautiful about being in the pitch black and after a few minutes to start to see something you wouldn’t think it was there.” And so, while floating in the water the idea of the obscuraboat was born.

Artist living studio space on the floating camera with photographs from the project hanging on the walls.

The boat’s camera room measures 13 x 13 feet with an eight-foot ceiling height. It has a focal length of up to 13 feet that can be adjusted by moving the focusing screen towards or away from the main lens, which is mounted on the side wall. Another lens specifically designed to photograph the clouds is mounted in the side wall. The camera renders paper negatives up to 8 x 13 feet in size. Markowicz built the floating camera in his hometown in Poland with the help of his brother and best friend—none of whom had any prior boat-building experience. After three months of production in Poland, they loaded eight tons of pre-fabricated boat pieces onto a truck and transported them to Amsterdam where they spent another four weeks assembling the obscuraboat.

Botel, Amsterdam projected upside down inside The Moving Camera’s large 7 x 13 foot focusing screen.

An eye-catching work of art in its own right, Markowicz occasionally gives artist talks inside the vessel. Next month, the camera will actively patrol the waters in Berlin and will offer river tours open to the public. As an ambassador of the Hamburg Triennial 2018, Markowicz will sail to Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin before returning to Hamburg in June 2018 for the Triennial where an exhibition will be held of photographs made during his year-long journey inside the floating camera.

Motiongraph #109 N 48°51'29.77", E 2°17'23.15", Current 5 km/h, (Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Paris)
3:02PM, November 19, 2017, 90 x 80 inches, triptych, unique chromogenic paper negatives.

View more of Markowicz’s work on his website.

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