Camera Obscura is a journal devoted to both prose and photography. This issue contains eight stories and twenty-seven photographs.
The first story, “The Selected Mugshots of Famous Hungarian Assassins,” is the winner of the Camera Obscura Award for Outstanding Fiction. Written by Tamas Dobozy, it is narrated by a man about his three–months-older cousin, Imre Aszok—nicknamed “Aces”—who is often left to stay overnight with the narrator’s family when they are young, but never for a “good” reason. Aces makes up stories that the narrator knows are ridiculous and amusing, but he lets Aces tell them anyway. Many of these stories utilize old photographs that Aces claims are pictures of Hungarian assassins, with the lists of the people each assassin had killed on the back of the photographs. Eventually Aces runs away, and the narrator’s parents inform him the photographs are really family—only, the parents have trouble determining who’s who in the extended family from Hungary. The story gets more convoluted after the narrator finds a book called Hungarian Assassins 1900-2000 in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s bookstore. The book contains photographs similar to the narrator’s, but with different names. The rest of the story is an intriguing bit of lost and invented history.
Jennifer’s Spiegel’s “Killing Castro” also deals with history. The story follows the life of Erin as she moves from political radical to political student to political science professor, becoming less and less engaged with idealism along the way. The opening introduces Erin as once passionate, but “By the time Erin got to Cuba, though, killing Castro wasn’t her mission.” The story moves back in time to trace how she arrived at her current dispassionate self, and then, near the end, returns to investigating what about her school travels in Cuba will possibly change her.
One of the shorter pieces in this issue is Emily Koon’s “Nancy’s Rat.” In the four-page piece, a young woman named Nancy argues outside a pet store with the owner, who alternates between convincing her to buy the rat and acting as if he doesn’t care if she buys it. She deliberates if she should bring the hairless animal home to her apartment, where she is not allowed pets. Eventually, the pet store owner says that the rat will keep her company. She asks how he knows she needs company, and he replies, “Girls with boyfriends don’t stand on the street arguing about whether they’re going to buy a rat or not.”
Most of the photography in Camera Obscura is quite memorable, and the printing of it lush and glossy. One of the highlights is Pierre Hauser’s Longest Night, a black and white photograph of two skyscrapers cast at a specific angle against a faded night sky. Nocturnes 3 by J. Gayle Stevens, another black and white photograph, showcases the ruins of what is probably either a train trestle or a pier, a row of repeating faded architecture. Heather Evans Smith’s The Heart and the Heavy is a grey and sepia tinged photograph of a woman, more of a blur in the wind than a clear figure, holding a dollhouse, against a field of trees.
Camera Obscura is a journal that skillfully and thoughtfully blends photography with prose.