The newly installed camera obscura exhibit in Redwood City’s new Art Kiosk is titled “Alone,” and its creator, Frank Boban, is there to make sure alone is how visitors experience it.
When the door is open, Boban is there to explain the experience people are about to enter. Then he shuts the door behind to ensure the privacy of a 13-foot square glass box that has been blacked out. His walk-in camera has a lens in each wall to allow guests to spy on the upside-down world walking by on Courthouse Square.
Boban, 47, is a returning student at San Jose State University, transitioning from a career as a BMW auto mechanic to life as a fine artist. There is plenty of solitude in making that shift, and he is unafraid to share it with whoever comes by his exhibit interested in chatting. He’s there seven days a week for up to five hours a day.
“‘Alone’ is about my own journey through not only a career change, but also looking for a purpose and identity,” he says. “Not to get all TMI, but it is something that everyone has experienced — doubt and difficulty and the realization that life can be very challenging.”
The Art Kiosk opened in January on Courthouse Square, outside the 1910 Redwood City courthouse building that is now the San Mateo County History Museum.
Under sponsorship of the Redwood City Improvement Association, the downtown area has been enlivened with $400,000 worth of public art since 2015. There is shadow art in the sidewalk, murals on the walls and a “Magic Lantern” 3-D digital mapping show that lights up Tuesday nights on the plaza across Broadway from the gothic Fox Theatre.
The camera obscura at “Alone” is only operable under natural light, but the installation is mesmerizing in the dark of night, lit from within. Boban has photographed long and lonely fire escape staircases and tunnels, and enlarged them to cover the exterior windows of the space. These give the illusion that the stairs and hallways are somehow hidden within the Art Kiosk. It’s only when visitors come back during daylight operating hours that they see that they are not part of the physical space.
“The images are part of the narrative in terms of self-reflection and contemplation of the journey,” Boban says, “not really ever knowing what is around the corner and just kind of trusting in that.”
Boban is calm and patient in nudging people inside so he can close the door. On a recent Monday, he got into a deep conversation with Andrew Carrillo, visiting from Los Angeles on a camera obscura tour. Carrillo first hit the one at the Cliff House in San Francisco, then trekked down to see the Art Kiosk in Redwood City.
“It’s dark, and an eye-opening experience,” Carrillo said after emerging from the Art Kiosk. “The difference is technology. The camera obscura at Lands End is ancient, probably 200 years old. This is modern but emulates that ancient camera, which I find very interesting.”
“Alone”: 5-7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday; noon-5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 1 -7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. Through June 23. visitrwc.org