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NeoLucida

2013 | Pablo Garcia and Golan Levin

NeoLucida

The camera lucida is a 19th century drawing aid, like a prism on a stick, that lets you trace whatever you see. Controversial new evidence shows the Old Masters used such optical aids, raising questions about the purity of art. As a provocation, artists Golan Levin and Pablo Garcia decided to make and distribute their own. The result is the NeoLucida: a $30 device that democratizes art by letting amateurs investigate the relationship of technology and art history. It’s also the first portable camera lucida to be manufactured in nearly a century.


A Tool for Testing a Controversial Claim

In his 2001 book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, David Hockney presented compelling evidence that developments in representational realism in Western art since the Renaissance were propelled by the (sometimes secret) use of optical instruments, such as the camera lucida, camera obscura, and concave mirrors. The Hockney-Falco hypothesis, as his argument is called, is controversial; some arts professionals have interpreted it as an accusation that the Old Masters "cheated".

Although portable camera lucidas were widely used by artists in the 19th century, they have not been manufactured since the Great Depression, and have been virtually absent from art schools for generations. Without a ready way to experience the remarkable power of these simple but now-uncommon devices, it’s understandable how artists and historians might ascribe near-supernatural drawing skills to the artists who used them. We admire the Old Masters, too—but especially, because of the evidence of their intrepid willingness to experiment and engage with the most advanced imaging technologies of their time.

As university art educators, we (Pablo Garcia and Golan Levin) sought to give art students the opportunity to test the Hockney–Falco hypothesis for themselves. In spring 2013, we designed, crowdfunded and mass-manufactured the NeoLucida: the first portable authentic camera lucida to be manufactured in nearly a century. As a part of our crowdfunding campaign, we detourned (or hijacked) the Kickstarter platform itself, transforming our campaign into a massive, open, online course (MOOC) in media archaeology. Through their purchases and campaign pledges, more than 11,000 backers became enrolled in a grand educational experiment: a course of weekly online lectures about historic imaging technologies and antique drawing tools, that were delivered through Kickstarter’s own publishing apparatus.

The NeoLucida crowdfunding campaign went viral, and until mid-2014, ranked among the 100 highest-grossing Kickstarter projects of all time. The NeoLucida was subsequently awarded the 2014 Core77 DIY Design of the Year Award, and during the 2014 holiday season, was selected for sale in the MoMA Design Store. Since that time, in close collaboration with our manufacturing partners, Big Idea Design, we have shipped more than 25,000 NeoLucida devices all over the world. We estimate that we have more than tripled the number of camera lucidas in existence.


A Portable Camera Lucida for the 21st Century


The 2013 NeoLucida crowdfunding campaign video (5’36" edit). [VimeoYouTube]

The NeoLucida is a camera lucida: a drawing aid that allows you to trace what you see. By the mid-1800s, camera lucidas were everywhere. Indeed, the device is so effective in assisting accurate life-drawing that, according to the controversial Hockney-Falco hypothesis, it’s now believed that many of the most admired drawings of the 19th Century, such as the Neoclassical portraits of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, could only have been made with a camera lucida. This becomes astonishingly clear if you try one—an experience we hope to share with as many people as possible by launching the NeoLucida.

But the NeoLucida is not just a product; it’s a provocation. In manufacturing a camera lucida for the 21st century, our aim is to stimulate interest in media archaeology—the tightly interconnected history of visual culture and imaging technologies. We want to make this remarkable device widely available to students, artists, architects, and anyone who loves to draw from life. Released from obscurity, the NeoLucida entreats a new generation of artists to ask: "What if you could trace what you see?" And: "How might artists in the 19th century have seen the world?" And: "How might tracing from life fit into contemporary art education?" And: "What is the historical relationship between art and technology?"


Overview of the NeoLucida Project (3’02") [VimeoYouTube]

Our design is lightweight (7oz., or 199g), sturdy, compact enough to fit in a handbag, highly adjustable, totally non-electronic, and effective in nearly all lighting conditions. The NeoLucida was also released with an open-source hardware license, encouraging others to modify and develop their own camera lucida devices.


Public Presentations about the NeoLucida Project


Presentation about the NeoLucida at the 2013 Eyeo Festival (20’57"). A live demo begins at 18’00". [Vimeo]


Presentation about the NeoLucida at the 2014 XOXO Festival (14’30") [YouTubeVimeo]


Press

The NeoLucida project has been featured in a variety of international blogs and publications:

Adam, Louis. “NeoLucida: un kickstarter pour une technologie du XIXe siècle.” Créa Num, 6/19/2013 (French). [PDF]
Anderson, John. “The NeoLucida: Artists Revive an Old Master Tool.” Art in America, 5/21/13. [PDF]
Aw, Jean. “NeoLucida!NotCot.org, 5/9/2013. [PNG]
Bennett, Colette. “Kickstart This!HLN Television, 5/20/2013. [PDF]
Bonnington, Christina. “New Order: On Kickstarter, Old Tech Is Finding Second Life.” WIRED GadgetLab, 5/9/13. [PDF]
Chan, Norman. “Augmented Reality Camera Lucida for Inking (Tracing).” Tested.com, 6/19/2013. [PDF]
CNews.Ru. “Простое устройство поможет любому рисовать как гений.” 6/20/2013 (Russian). [PDF]
Coxworth, Ben. “NeoLucida brings 19th Century sketching tech into the present“. NewAtlas, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Der Standard (Austria). “NeoLucida: Kickstarter-Projekt belebt uralte Zeichenhilfe wieder” 6/19/2013. [PDF]
Doctorow, Cory. “NeoLucida: kickstarting a new version of the Old Masters’ favorite drawing gadget”. BoingBoing, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Enginar, Kerem. “200 Yıllık İcat Geri Dönüyor.Techno-Labs, 5/9/2013 (Turkish). [PDF]
Hao, Yang. 你看到的都可以跃然纸上 (“You can see fleshed”). Ifanr, 6/20/2013 (Chinese). [PDF(Cn) / PDF(En)]
Holmes, Kevin. “Golan Levin And Pablo Garcia Want To Create A 21st Century Camera Lucida“. The Creators Project, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Hu, Raymond, “Lucida Dreams Come True: Kickstart a 21st-Century Version of a 19th-Century Optical Drawing Aid“. Core77, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Ianko, Annie. “NeoLucida, The 21st Century Camera Lucida“. TechBeat, 5/20/2013. [PDF]
Jobson, Christopher. “Trace What You See: The NeoLucida is the First Portable Camera Lucida to be Manufactured in Nearly a Century.” Colossal, 5/8/2013. [PNG]
Kitsati, Christine. “Μία συσκευή 200 ετών επιστρέφει με τη βοήθεια του… Kickstarter.” DigitalLife.gr, 5/9/2013 (Greek). [PDF(Gr) / PDF(En)]
Li, Anita. “200-Year-Old Device Makes Comeback With Kickstarter’s Help“. Mashable, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Mickiewicz, Maks Fus. “NeoLucida.” Protein, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Mukai, Tomoko. 本物そっくりのスケッチが描ける、35ドルの「カメラ・ルシダ」 Wired Japan, 5/21/2013 (Japanese). [PDF(Jp) / PDF(En)]
Opriș, Iris. "NeoLucida". Ideaslab.ro, 5/30/2013 (Romanian). [PDF]
Petreycik, Kyle. “NeoLucida: Nifty Olde Art Tool, Reinvented!ANIMAL, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Rhodes, Margaret. “Kickstarting: A $30 Optical Tool For Drawing With Camera-Like Accuracy.” FastCo. Design, 5/13/2013. [PDF]
Shu, Les. “Funders wanted: Camera lucida for modern times, cardboard medium-format camera, and binocular zoom for smartphones.” DigitalTrends.com, 5/12/2013. [PDF]
SinEmbargo Mexico. “NeoLucida, la tecnología que trae los secretos del dibujo en el siglo XIX a los tiempos modernos.” 5/19/2013 (Spanish). [PDF(Es) / PDF(En)]
Sorrel, Charlie. “NeoLucida, A Fantastic Old-School Drawing Aid For The Modern Day“. Cult of Mac, 5/27/2013. [PDF]
Stacziwa, Jolanta. “NeoLucida”, czyli zapomniane narzędzia odzyskują blask“. Magazin Consido, 5/14/2013 (Polish).
Starr, Michelle. “Bringing the Camera Lucida back from the dead.” C|Net Australia, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Steadman, Ian. “The NeoLucida could help you draw like an Old Master.” Wired.co.uk, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Sterling, Bruce. “Dead Media Beat: The NeoLucida KickstarterWired.com, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Stinson, Liz. “This Amazing Tool Helps You Draw Pictures Like an Old MasterWired Design, 6/19/2013. [PDF]
van Dijk, Bram. “Crowdpleaser: 19e eeuwse schetsgadget.” Bright.NL, 5/10/2013 (Dutch). [PDF(Nl) / PDF(En)]
Visnjic, Filip. “NeoLucida – A Portable Camera Lucida for the 21st Century – Kickstarter.” Creative Applications, 5/8/2013. [PDF]
Young, Meghan. “The NeoLucida is an Modernized Version of the 19th Century Drawing Tool.” TrendHunter, 5/9/2013. [PDF]
Zachwieja, Jarosław. “NeoLucida – dawna pomoc naukowa dla początkujących artystów znowu dostępna.” Swiat Obrazu, 6/20/2013 (Polish). [PDF(En)]


Media


Middle school students at a NeoLucida workshop in their art class, Charlotte, NC.

More information:

Images (click to enlarge)

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