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Camera Obscura 8.22.21

Camera obscura from the Latin meaning ‘dark chamber’ is a device that has been around for centuries. Our local library is back in business and I had the chance to revisit the works of Edgar Degas via books. I have visited exhibitions of Edgar Degas’s work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, New York City, New York, and Paris, France as well. While it is the scenes of the ballet Edgar Degas is most celebrated for, he produced hundreds of images of women bathing. All composed as if seen through a keyhole, Degas’s own words.

Edgar Degas’s images of the ballet stage and lights seem to glow as if lit from within and yet he withdrew from these distinguished works to focus on women in the bath. Most are modest enough not to shock and yet that is what he liked to do; to stimulate the viewer.

Contrary to other Impressionists that flocked to the outdoors to paint en plein air with open sky above them; Degas was a creature seeking the dark. Edgar Degas was like a living camera obscura; sitting in the dark waiting for the image to be transformed in his mind. His ability as a draftsman is renowned and yet the hundreds of his tracings, the tracing paper augmented and enlarged to fit his final vision seem to suggest that the physical world did not contain the image he unyieldingly sought.

While we wait for herd immunity so that we may once again enjoy the society of others, theatre productions, and crowded musical venues we may feel as if we’re still living in our bubbles, our solitary dark chamber. This additional wait can be irritatingly like the film Groundhog Day and yet as that film explores the cosmic change that took place in Bill Murray’s character, we too can make a change for the better.

My re-acquaintance with pastels, specifically oil pastels is engaging, and challenging, and in the end I am rewarded for stepping away from my watercolors I enjoy on sunny days. The dark is not all gloomy because that is what draws out the glow of lightning bugs, our faces lit by candlelight, and even the luminous glow of the full moon. Summer is fleeting quickly by and we would do well to remember to savor it before the long nights of winter close us off from our solar star.      

My nocturnal bathing beauty is drawn on Fabriano Tiziano Pastel and Charcoal Paper with Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils and accented with Sennelier Oil Pastels.   

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