Mobile Photography (no, not telephones)

This coming week, as part of the new Wave season we have two blog posts about organisations that run mobile photography facilities (Fotonow and Photomobile). They both mentioned Daniel Meadows and some other pioneers in this field but were apparently unaware of one another. So, with the help of Twitter here is a cobbled together list of mobile photography projects from the UK and Ireland. Have any more to add? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook.

We have to start off with Roger Fenton who took this 'photographic van' to the Crimean war in 1855. Colin Harding has a blog post about Fenton in the Crimea, or better still here are his letters. Harding says the van 'took the form of a converted wine merchant’s wagon which, unfortunately, also proved itself to be a very tempting target for Turkish artillery.'

In a direct line from Fenton is Daniel Meadows, the inspiration for many subsequent photo vehicles. He drove his 'Free Photographic Omnibus' around England in 1973.

The following year saw the Photography Workshop Mobile Darkroom hit the road. A refitted ambulance it operated from 1974 to 1979. Terry Dennett has sent me pictures of it from outside and with the darkroom in use. Terry writes that the ambulance was operated by 'Me and Jo [Spence] and a few student helpers we picked up along the way, we toured adventure playgrounds, community projects and squats that existed at the time and often set up in various inner city streets – here today and gone today before the police could see us off. At weekends we used the ambulance /darkroom as a camper traveling out to the countryside to give ourselves a break.'

The ambulance was mostly a darkroom but the bus was also a gallery (pictures were displayed in its windows) which allows us to link it to the Caravan gallery.

The mobile darkroom has a contemporary counterpart in the Photomobile. Laura Guy has been to speak to David Eaton about the Photomobile and we will post that interview on Friday.

Then we return to the nineteenth century with the recent trend for employing antiquated photographic processes in the back of vans and caravans. Sebastian Edge has has created 'Darkvan' which 'is a traveling darkroom, capable of Ultra large format photography with the Wet Collodion process'. He has used this to take a picture of the band Radiohead and start a (non-mobile) darkroom in North London.

Meanwhile Sam Cornwell has made a film about taking a caravan to Lacock Abbey to make collodion prints (it's quite long, you'll get the gist of it from the last couple of minutes).

Which brings us on to the other main type of transportable photographic vehicle, the travelling camera obscura. Jesse Alexander has been to speak to Fotonow who said they were inspired by a man called Derek Swindley who converted a caravan into a camera obscura in the 1970s. Would be glad to find out any more information about Mr. Swindley's caravan, it looks like fun.

This was part of the inspiration for Fotonow's own 'Camper Obscura'. Hear Jesse's interview on Tuesday but here's a picture of the Camper Obscura in Plymouth in 2011, apparently on the site of the city's former fixed camera obscura of the 1800s.

Then there's Alasdair Gordon's Phenomera, a big pinhole camera built onto a trailer.

And I also discovered this film about Willett and Patterson's 'Amazing Portable Camera Obscura' which you can hire.

and this Camera Obscura in a Yurt owned by Canterbury Christ Church University. In fact there seem to be a number of Yurt Obscuras out there. But do they arrive and depart on a horse? Probably not.

And finally... Most of these projects are about inviting the public in to experience photography as some form of wonderment. Google Street View is no less a cause for wonder, but it doesn't care what you think.


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