Vibrantly produced, engaging, and fascinating for the sheer range of styles and tones in both the photography (amateur and professional) and literary selections, Camera Obscura must be terribly expensive to print – and the cover price of $18 suggests this is so. On the other hand, it’s less expensive than admission to many museums ($20 these days to get into MOMA), the magazine presents museum quality work, and you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket or battle the crowds in the galleries.
I don’t know a lot about photography from a technical standpoint, but one doesn’t need much formal background to appreciate the quality of the printing (clear, sharp images; true color; fine detail visible), the generous editorial vision (dreamy, magical images or playful edgy ones; close up of animal heads; sweeping landscapes; intimate portraits; close-up nature fragments; black and white scenes. This is an awards issue, and all of the photos appear to be award quality. The work of featured artists, and some of the series, are preceded by brief and informative introductory essays.
Especially striking is a series of color photographs, “A Farmer’s Peace,” by Holly Brown, landscapes of Utah in colors that seem almost too true to be true; a tremendously moving portrait of a couple in obvious pain or distress embracing on the steps of what appears to be a brick apartment building by Mary Brown; featured artist Cheryl McCallum’s “Storm on the Homefront,” a sweeping black and white landscape of a deserted field with a building far off in the distance and a sky that overtakes the ground; an exquisite black and white photograph of Grand Central Terminal in New York by Mark Harary, ceiling and stairs in a narrowed, tunnel-like focus that highlights the room’s extraordinary geometry; and the winner of the journal’s award for outstanding professional photography, “I’m Here,” by William Horton, goats (adult and babies?) climbing a mountain of finely etched rock, every grainy element of rock visible against a sliver of blue sky and the white goats’ haunches.
“Literature” appears here to mean fiction and here, too, an eclectic editorial stance prevails. I applaud the editors’ choice of Kane X. Faucher for their outstanding fiction award. “Sanscript” is an oddly original, but extremely well crafted story with the capacity to surprise and engage in a way I do not find to be as common as I wish it were in contemporary fiction: “I inherit a world that is already a historical fiction, and I continue along to make every more fictions that future generations will also inherit.” The same could be said of Joshua Cohen’s “Nine Recursive Scifi Stories,” nine short numbered stories that open with the scifi story to encapsulate all scifi stories: “Once upon a time a machine was invented to invent every possible scifi story,” and ends: “The writer of the above story sat back in his chair, well satisfied. His happiness lasted until he realized he could not think of a single magazine left that would publish him.”
A short-short by Michael Trocchia, “Witness,” concludes with a short poem:
A fire burns at the center
of your field of vision.
Where a note to the world
once was is now its light
and around the light
is a darkness seen
Camera Obscura is a fire burning at the center of our field of vision; a note to the world; and a marvelous embodiment of the play of light and darkness in the best, most generous sense of these words and the artistry they represent.