Stephen Takacs flicks on a white spotlight aimed at a black backdrop in his studio space in 400 West Rich in Franklinton, and he sits down on a stool inside the bright glow. A hyper clear image of the upper half of his body floats forward like an apparition onto the frosted glass screen in the dark confines between the leather bellows and the wooden lid of the Victrola Obscura.
His black shirt with Watkins Baseball in yellow lettering. His long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. His orange-blonde beard framing his face. His aviator shades.
The Victrola Obscura is a device of Takacs creation, and its less a work of art than a way to create works of art. The basis for the project was an antique Silvertone Phonograph Victrola cabinet that he found in the trash in Portland near the Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he received his bachelors degree. He modified the contraption that used to play vinyl records its audio machinery long since torn out into a camera obscura, a precursor to the photographic camera.
Theres something interesting about looking at the present through these sort of lenses of the past that I guess in some ways [is an] ongoing exploration, he says.
His exploration has developed into his series Interceptions, which features found objects that he transforms into large, often antiquated cameras. Another creation in the corner of the room was a 16-inch by 20-inch studio camera that he has altered to become an apparatus that exposes large glass plates and rests on a hydraulic doctors exam table.
In the case of the Victrola, he first had to improve its cosmetics because when he found the cabinet, it was mutilated beyond being an auditory tool anymore. After sanding, scraping off veneer and staining the lid to match the body, he mounted a lens inside the concave hole from which the sound used to radiate. He installed a mirror inside the cabinet, which casts the image right-side-up onto the glass screen. Takacs also flipped the cabinet lid to the other side of the frame and crafted leather bellows to shroud the headspace, keeping ambient light out and sharpening the image resolution.
Theres something endlessly fascinating to me about these devices, he said. Theres a strange magic to it in some ways
theres something about seeing the everyday in a different way thats kind of exciting.
When the Victrola Obscura is on display, one patron sits on a bench or stool to act as a model while another takes a piece of tracing paper and places it over the frosted glass. The models image is transferred through the paper in a translucent haze for the patron to interpret as an artist would. During the shows that run for weeks, the walls around the Victrolas installation bloom with drawings of those of who have walked in as observers and left as contributors. Thus far, he has exhibited the invention at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington, The Works in Newark, 400 West Rich during Urban Scrawl and the Wexner Center for the Arts.
When people think art, its usually white walls, and they dont touch anything, or if they do, its secretly when no ones looking, Takacs observed, chuckling. Its a social sort of experience as well cause it doesnt really work without another person.
It does feel like collaboration, like a shared journey. It also resembles illusion in some ways, a physical sorcery in which peering through a lens at people transforms them into something different, hovering in front of your eyes yet just out of reach, somewhere in the past.