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LACMA Obscura

Photographer Vera Lutter Documents the Museum's Works and Transformation

August 27, 2020 by Greg Herbowy
A black and white gelatin silver print of Rodin Garden by Vera Lutter

Vera Lutter, Rodin Garden, I: February 22, 2017, 2017, unique gelatin silver prints, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, promised gift of Sharyn and Bruce Charnas. © Vera Lutter, photo courtesy of the artist.

A solo exhibition, three years in the making, that features the work of Vera Lutter (MFA 1995 Photography and Related Media) was slated to open this past spring at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in California, before the museum shut down due to the outbreak of COVID-19. “Vera Lutter: Museum in the Camera” features 44 large-scale images of LACMA’s holdings, galleries and campus grounds, all made with Lutter’s signature camera obscura technique. (You can currently view installation images of the exhibition and see a video about the artist's process on the museum's website.)


One of photography’s oldest technologies, a camera obscura, also known as a pinhole camera, is a box of any size made light-tight with the exception of a tiny aperture. Images are made directly onto photo-sensitive paper, which is exposed over long periods of time to the low levels of light that are projected via this opening. Lutter, who began working with pinhole cameras while at SVA, has used them to photograph Egyptian pyramids, trees in Manhattan’s Central Park, shipping yards and airfields, often creating large-scale images with custom-built cameras that are the size of a small room.


Lutter first conceived of the LACMA project as an opportunity to make images of select paintings in the museum, but it also captures the institution at the edge of a great change. This year, LACMA began an ambitious renovation that will ultimately see four of its campus’ buildings razed and a new, single building for its permanent collection constructed in their place.


A version of this article appears in the spring/summer 2020 edition of the Visual Arts Journal.

A black and white gelatin silver print of the inside of an exhibit by Vera Lutter

Vera Lutter, Art of the Pacific, II: September 21, 2017–January 5, 2018, 2017–18, unique gelatin silver prints, commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through an artist residency supported by Sotheby’s. Vera Lutter, photo courtesy of the artist.

Vera Lutter: The Museum in her Camera Obscura | Artist Profile
New York-based artist Vera Lutter uses the camera obscura to create photographs with an ethereal, otherworldly beauty. Before the invention of photography, it was known that if light traveled through a tiny hole into a darkened room, an image of the external world (off which the light rays had reflected) would re-form upside down on a wall opposite the tiny opening. By building room-sized cameras and placing unexposed photo paper across from a pinhole opening, Lutter has adopted the camera obscura as her singular working method. From February 2017 to January 2019, Lutter was invited by LACMA to work in residence at the museum, creating a new body of work examining the campus architecture, galleries, and collection holdings. This short film shares rare behind-the-scenes footage of the artist, her assistants, and the museum staff that was filmed during Lutter’s residency in Los Angeles, as well as insights from Vera Lutter and curator Jennifer King into the artistic process and the meanings they find in these dreamlike prints. About LACMA Located on the Pacific Rim, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 140,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. Committed to showcasing a multitude of art histories, LACMA exhibits and interprets works of art from new and unexpected points of view that are informed by the region’s rich cultural heritage and diverse population. LACMA’s spirit of experimentation is reflected in its work with artists, technologists, and thought leaders as well as in its regional, national, and global partnerships to share collections and programs, create pioneering initiatives, and engage new audiences. Connect with LACMA Subscribe for our latest videos: http://www.lacma.org/videos Explore our collection online: https://collections.lacma.org Plan your visit to LACMA: http://www.lacma.org/visit Support the museum and become a member: http://www.lacma.org/support Follow us on social Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LACMA Twitter: https://twitter.com/lacma Tumblr: http://lacma.tumblr.com/ Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lacma/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lacma/