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Navicula Obscura (Darkened Boat)
The Canal:The Leeds-Liverpool canal was a remarkable engineering achievement of the 18th century, designed to carry goods including coal, lime and wool from Yorkshire to Lancashire and the port of Liverpool, and to carry cotton and other goods to the growing cities of Yorkshire and the ports of Goole and Hull. The first part to open, in 1773, was the lock-free 18 mile stretch from Crossflatts to Gargrave. The technical feat of the Bingley 5-rise and 3-rise locks, which drop the canal almost 100 feet on its way to Leeds, were completed in 1775.
“Rahab” is a 45foot narrowboat with a cruiser stern and a 28hp Isuzu engine. We bought her in 2005 and have lived on board for two years.
The name was chosen because
a) it is short, and fits easily on the side
b) it is the only boat we have ever seen with this name
c) it is the same as that of a biblical character who started off messed up & then pulled herself together.
We discovered afterwards that in Hebraic tradition it means a great sea monster or demon of the deep. It is also easily mistaken for “rehab” which is terribly funny for some people.
I have been a keen photographer since I was about 12. I still think it’s magical, even though mostly now I use digital cameras. In my teaching I like to introduce students to the basics of photography by having them make a camera, and one of the things I like to stress is that you can make a camera from any light-tight container. Several years ago I conceived the idea of using the boat as a camera and left it at the back of my mind to germinate. The project title, “navicula obscura” is a back-construction from the the latin “camera obscura” – darkened room, “navicula” meaning boat – or so I am told.
The simplicity of the science and practice of the camera obscura, and the fact that as a technology it very popular as an entertainment at the time of the construction of the canal, made it seem a good match.
Images captured from the camera will eventually be printed using one of the earliest stable photographic technologies, the gum bichromate print. This is a process which I investigated and used extensively some fifteen years ago – it was originated in the mid 19th century in France and involves direct contact printing onto a prepared surface treated with a mixture of sensitive salts and pigment, the light fixing the pigment to the surface. Each print is unique, the surface being manipulated during development.
Simply, to capture images of the historic Leeds & Liverpool Canal and its surroundings using 18th century technology, and to reproduce them using one of the the earliest available stable photographic print media. Additionally it will provide the opportunity for anyone interested in the processes of photography to see how a camera obscura works, to assist in documenting the project, and to have a go at capturing an image themselves.
The project is in three parts:
- Setting up and testing the cameras
- Making a voyage and capturing images
- Assessing, printing and exhibiting the results.
The first part was completed on Monday 25th October at Rahab’s home mooring of Airedale Boat Club, and involved a test cruise a short distance to the top of the Bingley 5 Rise locks and back followed by assessment of the results.
Part two involved cruising between Stocksbridge and Shipley over three days, passing twice through the historic Bingley 3 rise and 5 rise locks and welcoming guest crew members who came bearing cake or biscuits. Ten people in all participated in the event, and several of them have given permission for their photographs to be included in this presentation.
Part three will be taken at a slightly more leisurely pace – gum prints can take a long time – but an exhibition will be produced in due course.
The project will be continued on further cruises as time and weather allows.