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A new look at nature with the Camera Illumina Experience in Mission

Brenna Maag will show off her camera obscura collection behind library as part of Culture Days
Mission’s Brenna Maag will host the Camera Illumina Experience from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 23 at the ravine behind Mission Library as part of a “Culture Hub” on 2nd Avenue. /Dillon White Photo

When Mission’s Brenna Maag began experimenting with a camera obscura, she would take it to the ravine behind the Mission Library.

“I spent a lot of time in there walking my kids back and forth to school. So I brought this crazy cardboard camera into the ravine and I would spend time looking at the ravine, at the creek, at the trees throughout the seasons,” she said.

Maag spent almost two years experiencing seasonal changes at the ravine. On Sept. 23, the public will have an opportunity to experience the ravine in the same way as Maag as part of Culture Days 2023.

The Camera Illumina Experience will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. as part of a “Culture Hub” on 2nd Avenue with other activities available through the museum, library and community archives.

“I think that ravine is such a treasure,” Maag said. “The people in the neighbourhood know about it and use it a lot but a lot of people don’t know it’s even there, and it’s beautiful.”

A camera obscura is a construction where an outside image is projected inside. Maag has constructed several camera obscura, including a bigger one that a person can stick their head in and several smaller ones made from cardboard.

The public had a chance to use them at the ravine last year for Culture Days, in addition to events elsewhere in Mission, Abbotsford and Burnaby. Maag is hopeful that others can experience the ravine in a new light.

“It’s so nice for me to hear how it makes people feel. If they’d like to share, that’s always nice. Because when you’re an artist, you don’t always get to know if your work touched anybody or impacted them or helped them see something differently,” she said.

Maag first started experimenting with camera obscura after she was struck by the idea of a reciprocal relationship with nature.

“I’m gonna try to make art about being in more of a relationship with the land where there’s a bit more of me giving and learning, and not just always taking,” she said.

She started puttering around and the idea of a camera obscura came into her head. After watching a YouTube tutorial, Maag got started. She built her first camera obscura out of cardboard, duct tape, screen and a magnifying lens in an afternoon and brought the camera outside.

“It was the softness of the image and that it just focused right in the centre on one area. I couldn’t see everything like you can when you look around with your eye,” she said. “I thought, okay, I’m gonna follow this and see where it leads because there was something interesting.”

The process of constructing a camera obscura takes a lot of time. Maag finds that the more time she gives, the more layers and richness come into the work.

“There’s lots of experimenting and lots of failure and that’s why I build a lot of things out of cardboard, because it’s cheap building material,” Maag said.

“I really think of the camera as a tool to help us give our attention and see something different than we don’t see when we just sort of go about our lives and are busy.”

Brenna Maag has shown off her camera obscura collection to the public several times at events in Mission, Abbotsford and Burnaby — including last year’s Culture Days. /Rick Skerry Photo

Dillon White

About the Author: Dillon White

I joined the Mission Record in November of 2022 after moving to B.C. from Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
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