Claude Glass

  • Dalwood, Alison (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details


Large format photographs are the final outcome of a series of experiments, which re-visit the idea of the Claude glass – a hand-held reflective device used by artists in the 18th Century. For this sequence a small, reflective screen is tilted in such a way that it captures different states at the same location and oblique perspectives of points of view for the camera’s eye transforming reading of space.

The project involves experiments on location with a series of reflective mirror-like devices, temporarily installed in the area, or hand-held. Through a series of deliberate interventions – for example the size of the ‘mirror’, how it is positioned and the use of a single colour-field, radical changes of the view can be ‘captured’ at the same location according to the light, weather, season and time of day.

Audience participation
Audiences at the site are involvedd with the process of making pictures themselves with the mirrors and recording these with a digital camera, phone camera or Polaroid camera, which I would provide. These results would then form a growing exhibition , alongside my own experiments.

Claude Glass draws a comparison between the “discovery” of landscape in the 18th Century and our contemporary relationship with images of scenery, sometimes digitally filtered, which we distribute though online platforms. The mirrors, fixed on movable brackets directly to posts, could be re-positioned by the visitor in such a way that the refraction of light captures an ephemeral image which visitors could photograph and upload and share on a Claude Glass website.

The project revisits the 18th Century Claude glass, which was commonly used by the first landscape tourists in search on the picturesque. The Claude glass or Claude mirror was a hand-held, pocket sized device used by artists and travellers in the 18th Century to transpose reality and simplify the landscape view for observation and outdoor sketching. The traveller turns their back on the scenery or object of interest and holds and adjusts the small glass grey-tinted mirror at about shoulder height to view the reflected scene. Filtered in the convex picture plane of the Claude glass, the image the camera picks up is something much more than a collection of different viewpoints and I would like to encourage visitors to explore these phenomena for themselves in a practical way.

Although in use before the invention of photography, there are connections between digital photographic filters, contemporary Polaroid culture of Instagram and the historical Claude glass, which I think would be interesting to develop in the context of the Observatory. The artist’s role in relation to the viewer’s role in shaping the meaning of the work would also figure in this project.

Key findings

Short titleClaude Glass
Effective start/end date1/02/1318/12/16


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