After the wide screen of the desert, the round reflector plate of the camera obscura is comfortingly confined and I’m strongly moved to take a picture of it even though I know perfectly well that my camera will automatically flash and the entire image will disappear. But I take the picture anyway, and the image does disappear, and so, as predicted, I have nothing to show for it. The picture looks just like a round blank table, which is what it is – there was never anything there in the first place.
The episode described here is fraudulent. I did visit the Santa Monica camera obscura, but not the day after my trip to Death Valley. In fact I went there some months later, in April 2003, en route to a conference in Santa Barbara. Also, I was not alone, but with Simon Mills from trAce plus two other people who were already there in the dark when we arrived. In England there would be an awkward silence in such a situation, but in the US it's natural that we should speak to each other, and so it was that I discovered one of the men was the distinguished artist David Rokeby, who has made a number of works about surveillance and who was there to give a talk at UCLA the next evening. Of course it made sense to encounter him there - the most obvious place in Santa Monica for him to be.