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Vera Lutter
30th Street Station, Philadelphia, IV: April 20, 2006
50 3/8" x 146”
Commissioned by The Print Center
© Vera Lutter, 2006

Vera Lutter, with the help of The Print Center and Amtrak, positioned a custom-made 8-by-16 foot camera obscura on the northwest corner of the second floor of the Amtrak parking garage at 30th Street Train Station. The lens-less camera overlooked the rail yard with rows of train cars, a trestle bridge and Amtrak’s abandoned steam heating plant. The low ceiling in the garage affected the view of Lutter’s camera, resulting in a curious horizontal image.

Due to the lengthy exposure time (105 minutes), people or objects in motion within the frame are not recorded. To 21st Century viewers, it is tempting to attribute the otherworldly appearance of Lutter’s enormous photograph to digital manipulation. Yet, there is no such technical treatment involved. Rather, it is the basic behavior of light over time inside a camera obscura. The result is a modern, industrial scene with a mysterious, spectral quality.

Lutter traveled daily between her studio in New York and the camera obscura in Philadelphia. In her studio she developed the image in her custom-made darkroom where she could easily process the oversized photographic paper. The final image above depicts the site with great factuality but also has a ghost-like appearance. Lutter’s spectral representation of an industrial site commemorates Philadelphia’s once flourishing industrial age.

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