Portable Camera Obscura

I invite you to collaborate with me in an art installation, Portable Camera Obscura, in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, between August 3 and August 11, 2009. This art project is part of my PhD image-based research investigating the relationship between photography and national park landscapes in Canada. All park visitors are welcome to participate.


The installation Portable Camera Obscura (2009) is a walk-in, room-sized camera. The tent structure is a lightproof environment that projects an image of the outside view onto the back wall of the tent with a simple lens. Positioned in the exact location of popular photographic views in Waterton Lakes National Park, AB, viewers are able to enter the tent to see the landscape projected onto the wall of the structure. The experience of ‘being in the camera’ offers viewers a novel in to the ‘photographic’ moment.

In August 2009, I will set the tent up in several Waterton locations, which hold a continual presence in the photographic record since the 1880s. Invitations will be extended to the general public, stakeholders, cultural producers, artists, and scientists – those who speak for nature - to join me in the camera for an exchange about the role of photographs and vision in the making and understanding of national parks in Canada. I will be present in my multiple roles of artist, anthropologist, and official photographer for the duration of the installation. The tent forms an experiential foundation for communication – conversations with stakeholders and with the general public that transpire from the tent – a site for loitering and for looking differently at a classic moment.

As the camera is a portable structure, the work extends to both front and back country experiences. This summer, an expedition style journey will be mounted into the backcountry traveling to those views that are persistent in the photographic record but that might not see the same visitation as the popular front country locations.

This work is a site-specific and nomadic temporary architecture that both references the history of mobility in national parks (impermanent residences such as tents and trailers, and expeditions) as well as the history of photography in national parks (found as postcards, professional photographs, and tourist accounts) and offers an alternative encounter of places.


I am interested in iconic landscapes and how they intersect with the history and present of photographic acts. In particular, this work is part of my PhD research wherein I investigate the space of Canadian National Parks and the ways in which they form the subject of images – whether in postcards, tourist snaps, promotional images, or government documents. Over time the continual enactment and re-enactment of photographic moments mean that certain images form the mainstay of how we imagine iconic landscapes. I bring anthropology and art into a shared ethnographic space for a greater understanding of not only the photographic object itself, but of the experience of the photographic moment, including the location where we make photographs. A significant interest in my art production is to understand how photographs are entangled in subjective, sensorial exchanges and to place emphasis upon the idea that there is no observation without participation. As such, I am interested in focusing on the photographic act and in ways of creating space for conversations about local photographic acts. This work takes the form of gallery installations, performance, site-specific interventions, and online at trudilynnsmith.blogspot.com.


Trudi Lynn Smith is an interdisciplinary PhD student in the Departments Anthropology and Visual Art at University of Victoria, Canada. Bringing together anthropology, art and curatorial practice, she has conducted image-based research in Jasper, Banff and Waterton Lakes National Parks since 2002, investigating the relationship between photography and national park landscapes. She is particularly interested in bringing together the methods of social research and art practice. She has published articles on repeat photography as method in visual anthropology (2007) and has upcoming exhibitions at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (Lethbridge, AB), the Crane Art Centre (Philadelphia, USA) and will install site specific work in Waterton this month (August 2009).

Collaboration opportunities daily from August 3-5, 2009 at the Prince of Wales Hotel Hill and locations in the Waterton townsite. Overnight from August 10-11, 2009 into Riggall’s Meadow (Aug 10 departing from Cameron Lake up the Carthew Alderson Trail, overnight at Alderson Lake, Aug 11 hike back to the townsite).

To track documentation of Portable Camera Obscura and for project details please visit trudilynnsmith.blogspot.com or email me at trudi.smith@gmail.com.

Photo: Trudi Smith


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