GALILEO had one so he could safely look at the sun.
Now schoolchildren are following in his footsteps by having their very own camera obscura – but on a much grander scale.
This octagonal white building, pictured right, is in fact a pin-hole camera and is one of just 12 of its kind in the UK.
It works by projecting light and reflections of the surrounding landscape via mirrors through a large lens in the roof, creating a moving image onto a white table below.
Youngsters at Wicor Primary School in Portchester have been using the £10,000 camera obscura – which means ‘dark room’ – to complement art, science and history lessons.
Alexandra Birch, 10, said: ‘The first time I went inside it was so exciting.
‘I had never seen anything like it before, it was almost like stepping inside a time machine or a different period.
‘In my class we’ve been using it to draw trees and it has really helped me with my artwork because the quality of the image it reflects is so accurate.
‘It’s not just great for art, it also gives you an amazing sense of history and all the great people in the past who have used the camera obscura from the Greeks to famous painters.
‘We are very lucky to have it.’
As well as helping Galileo study the sun, the invention – which led to modern cameras – was also used by Dutch artist Vermeer to paint his intricate canvases and Josiah Wedgwood to sketch English countryside scenes for a 900-piece dinner service.
Elizabeth Harbridge, 10, added: ‘It is incredible to think we have just one of 12 camera obscuras in the whole country.
‘It’s a huge privilege.
‘I love using charcoal to trace over the image reflected onto the table.
‘You get a three-dimensional effect because there is so much detail and it’s better than standing outside and looking directly at objects because you can zoom in and out.
‘I’m amazed to learn how it works and can’t wait to use it again. Galileo used it as a telescope because he wanted to look at the sun without hurting his eyes.
‘I hope we too can also look at the night sky and draw constellations and make our own observations.’
Wicor Primary is welcoming local groups and schools to hire their camera obscura.
Louise Bryant, a local artist who will be running camera obscura workshops at Wicor, said: ‘What the children are seeing is exactly how the masters themselves would have done.
‘They are using modern art methods like charcoal, collage, painting and photography to reproduce the projected images and they are thrilled with the process and the results.
‘Our setting is unique and looks out onto a variety of landscapes including fields with horses, school buildings and Portsdown Hill.
‘We’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities.
‘I’m hoping we will be able to use it as a photography base to produce negatives of the projection.’
To hire the camera obscura – which was funded jointly by Creative Partnerships, the William Price Trust and the school’s Parent Teacher Association – contact the school on 01329 237412.