Havana’s camera obscura sits three floors above the Plaza Vieja, the Old Plaza, and overlooks the entire city. Stepping inside its viewing room was one of my favorite moments during my trip to Cuba last spring. Even non-photographers marveled at the live-action view of the city that we witnessed.
Of the 70 or so giant camera obscura around the world, Havana’s is the only one in Latin America. Consider it a must-see if you visit the city.
First mentioned some 2,300 years ago by Aristotle and Euclid, a camera obscura is essentially a box or a room with a relatively small hole that projects an inverted image onto the wall opposite. During the Renaissance, the camera obscura became a tool explored by artists as a means of projecting an image onto a canvas or paper. Later designs, as shown above, used a rotating periscope with an angled mirror to project the image down onto a flat surface.
Havana’s camera obscura uses a rotating turret atop the building to provide a 360-degree view of the city. The camera operator rotates the turret and changes the angle of the mirror with one hand while pointing out sights near and far with his other hand. His humorous narrative is bilingual–switching seamlessly between Spanish and English as you will hear in the video below. The magic of the camera obscura experience is that you think you are looking at a still photograph–until you notice the motion of flags waving in the breeze and people walking on the street.
I look forward to visiting Havana’s camera obscura again in April. If you would like to experience it for yourself, a few spaces are still available for my April 15-23, 2014 trip to Havana and Viñales. Click here to get more info on the Santa Fe Photo Workshops site. The window to register will close in the next week or so. So don’t delay.
Spend a couple of minutes inside Havana’s camera obscura with this video on YouTube.