pup tent camera obscura in a burned landscape

Pup Tent Camera Obscura and artist Katie Hargrave in a  “Burned Landscape” Oregon Desert Trail, Bureau of Lands Management, Southern Oregon USA. 2016. In January 2016, armed militants occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in protest of federal public lands management and the treatment of two area ranchers convicted of federal land arson. Tent installation during Imagine Our Parks, installation summer 2016.

Pup Tent Camera Obscura is a repurposed 1970s/80s McKinley A-frame tent modified to be completely dark inside and fitted with a set of simple lenses on one end. Inside the room the lens projects the world outside onto the walls of the room and onto hand-held paper. The darkened tent becomes a temporary place. Letting go of the habit of picture-taking, it instead invites embodied experimentation with foundational properties of photography: lenses, light and images while immersed in the ongoing movement of experience out of which still shots are extrapolated as events. The Pup Tent camera obscura is relational: It produces different forms of subjectivity.

Photograph showing the inside view of the pup-tent camera obscura, a tree and underbrush in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park

My work engages the long history of interactions between mountains and photography/archives to address violences of dispossession, displacement, and extraction. Portable Camera Obscura investigated the uses of colonial photography in North American mountain environments (1870s and 1880s) and how these uses continue in the present. In Pup Tent Camera Obscura (PTCO), we investigate the aesthetics of the history of mountaineering culture one hundred years later. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pup tent became a key form of imperialist-nationalist-masculinist interaction with the more than human world. The reverberations of these actions (for example how different actors climb/consume Mt. Everest in the present, the ‘solo’ trip, the use of tents in everyday touristic life) and how we see ourselves in the world is entangled in the feel of the tent protection and how we ‘see’ the more than human world.

The Pup Tent Camera Obscuras use the aesthetics of pup tents and the notion of the “solo trip” as a journey. Inside the tent, the viewer is invited to stack lenses to create different focal lengths and effects and to ‘catch’ the moving image on a piece of paper held up in the tent space. In summer 2016, I staged the PCTO in the complex and contested places of the “American West” as a part of a multidisciplinary experimental installation. I re-purposed the physical structures of the “epic solo journey” (the tents) as a strategy to pay attention to and question “public lands” and “public arts” on stolen indigenous lands. The installations were staged in the midst of celebrations to mark the centenary of parks and fifty years of arts funding in the USA.

Pup Tent Camera Obscura connects to my long-term interest in time-based still photography and my work with tent camera obscuras, beginning with Portable Camera Obscura. Beginning in 2009 I worked in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada, setting the camera up in popular photographic vistas as well as guiding people into epic places where historical photographs were taken. But rather than take an exposure, we worked together to carry and set up the tent and then loiter, immersed in the embodied experience of place, history and ideas about wilderness.

pup tent camera obscura in knapsack