Camera Shy

Vera Lutter to present camera obscura photos of LACMA before demolition

The images produced with Vera Lutter's camera obscura reveal LACMA's original buildings in a timeless, ethereal light. Shown here: Rodin Garden, I: February 22, 2017 (Courtesy of LACMA)

While the future of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) still hangs in the balance and a local nonprofit attempts to undermine its redevelopment at the ballot box next year, New York-based artist Vera Lutter has been quietly documenting the campus in its current state over the last two years. A selection of her photographs will soon be on display in the Resnick Pavilion, one of two Renzo Piano-designed gallery spaces on the LACMA site set to be saved from the wrecking ball.

Lutter was invited to work in residence at the museum from February 2017 to January 2019 in order to create Museum in the Camera, her new body of photographic work focusing on the original campus architecture, gallery spaces, and individual pieces. To produce her photography, Lutter used a camera obscura, a box with a small hole on one side that filters light through its hollow interior to project an image onto film hanging on the opposite side. As one of the oldest optical technologies ever developed (first described in the 4th century BC), the camera obscura and the images it made under Lutter’s careful watch turn the original LACMA campus into what looks like a centuries-old historical site.

Vera Lutter’s camera obscura was set up in various spaces throughout LACMA’s sprawling campus. (Courtesy of LACMA)

The project was sparked by an early working relationship between Lutter and LACMA director Michael Govan while he was serving as director of Dia:Beacon in New York. Throughout Lutter’s LACMA residency, the artist’s room-sized camera obscura was craned around the campus while being as minimally-obtrusive as possible.

“Moving a camera for Vera Lutter is a very big deal,” explained Govan. “Museums aren’t [usually] so welcoming to giant wooden boxes.”

The conversations between Lutter and Govan resulted in work that seeks to document the four LACMA buildings set to be demolished in 2020: the three original 1965 structures by modernist architect William Pereira, and a street-front building erected in 1986 by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates.

Museum in the Camera will be on view from March 29th to July 19, 2020.

Related Stories