Messing about in boats, 2013 edition

Last year I got a little more exercise than I planned to one evening when I was a bit late getting to Rodley for a boat trip courtesy of Exposure Leeds and All Hands on Deck. I wanted to try experimenting with an underwater periscope thing which didn’t really work very well. Even though ILWL has been sadly put on hiatus this year All Hands on Deck has returned with the Safe Anchor Trust and boats are plying the waterway between the Abbey Inn and Apperley Bridge.

Messing around on boats

So as seems to be fast becoming a tradition, I asked if I could do a slightly different experiment and turn one boat into a camera obscura. Regular readers will know that one of my things is obsolete tech and its application to transient (and not so transient) works of situational art. To my astonishment I was given permission to do so on the smaller of the two boats the ExLS folks would be using, which then unfortunately hit something on its way up from Mirfield. Anyway, a replacement was found and a few days later I headed up to Rodley to meet the boats.


There was a significant difference between this year and last. Last year it rained throughout the day and the evening was glorious. This year was completely the opposite; torrential rain, just when I didn’t need it. But not to worry; after peeling back some tarpaulin and blacking out the interior of the boat as best we could with careful use of bin bags and gaffer tape – seriously, that’s all we used – a piece of cardboard was mounted and a hole poked in through the bin bags.



It didn’t quite work – the card was too far away for the amount of light coming in. So I widened the pinhole with a biro and brought the card closer, mounting it in the middle of the boat.

Success! FAGVO “success”, of course. It was dark, grey and very flat outside, but you could make stuff out. Trees moving past, bushes, even the towpath was pretty clear and boats we passed were too. Photographing what came out of the camera was a nightmare, as it was way too dark for eyes that weren’t acclimatised let alone camera sensors but I had a go at shooting it and got some blurry, grainy examples (using 12800ISO at f1.8 1/8th s!) which kind of illustrate it.




Don’t forget these are upside down and back to front.

So it worked; people came to see it, too (yay!) despite it being rainy between boats. Their boat was much more comfy than mine, so they didn’t stay, but that was ok. I like the ephemeral, transient quality of this sort of thing. It makes me glad to have tried it and it illustrates fundamental physics and optics in a pretty nifty manner, and although the results could have been better if (i) I’d made the blackout and “pinhole” on dry land (ii) the weather was better and (iii) we could have done a better job with blacking out the rest of the boat, I don’t care. We got results. I showed it could be done. It’s science and art, all at the same time.

Plus, of course, I got to drive the boat when we were done. Result.


Many thanks to everyone, especially the Safe Anchor chaps, Fran and Marie from AHOD and Andy from ExLS who gave me a hand in quite trying conditions.

Mini edit: Andy took a photo of me glaring at the binbags in the dark.

This entry was posted in making art, photo stuff, science and maths. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Messing about in boats, 2013 edition

  1. Pingback: Some Reasons Why I do Analogue Photography. | Backwards Lion

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