• March 13, 2015

Bedroom Portraits: Visions of the Outside World

Back in 1996, photographer and artist Marja Pirila was making a lot of environmental portraits. “Environmental” is photography-speak for images of people where the space around them provides context to who they are. But something was about to revolutionize the way Pirila made her portraits.

Photograph of girl in bed reading
Iris, 2004, Nauvo, Finland

She encountered the work of Abelardo Morell in Aperture magazine. Morell is a large format film photographer who is known for his camera obscura photographs. But Pirila also saw new opportunities for working with the camera obscura process—which traditionally involves using black curtains over windows, and using a small hole to let light, and a upside-down projection of the outside world, shine in.

Picture of couple on bed with clouds
Tiina and Mika, 2002, Tampere, Finland

After much fidgeting and testing, Pirila discovered she could use a lens to create a brighter image that could be captured with a shorter exposure. This novel concept brought the exposure time down from hours to minutes—meaning she could now place people in the camera obscura scene, since they wouldn’t have to sit still for extended periods of time. Pirila also decided to photograph with color film—whereas Morell was working mainly in black and white.

Picture of boys sitting on toy bins in bedroom
Alvar and Eerik, 2013, Rovaniemi, Finland

“After I realized the possibilities of camera obscura, I felt that I had finally found the method that I had been looking for—one through which I could make images that show how I experience a person and their space,” Pirila says. This interesting juxtaposition inspired the project’s name, “Interior/Exterior.”

Picture of woman with clouds on back camera obscura
Marja’s Room, 2002, Tempere, Finland

In her work, Pirila chooses her portrait subjects before considering their spaces. She says she “just accepts his/her environment as it is.” It’s a collaborative process, partially because the subject experiences the outside world projected on their walls and ceilings for the very first time during the portrait session.

Picture of bed with landscape projected
Bedroom, 1999, Mazzano Romano, Italy

“The simplicity and the magical nature of it fascinates people and they are very excited to see this phenomena in their own room,” she says. “Especially on bright days—when the phenomena is seen very clearly and the colors are bright—it surprises everyone. It even surprises me, and I’ve done hundreds of camera obscuras in different kinds of rooms and places. I am always as excited as a six-year-old when I see how the light carries into the darkness of the room and brings the image alive with all the tiny details of the outside scenery.”

Picture of girl in pink dress bedroom trees
Paula’s Room, 1996, Oulu, Finland

Working with children she says is “challenging but also very inspiring. Usually they immediately recognize and like the camera obscura’s playful and magic atmosphere.” After Pirila is able to calm the child down, they get to work making the image.

Pirila says the process continues to inspire her: The transformation of an everyday room into a camera obscura ‘dark room’ conjures up the core and magic of photography again and again. It never ceases to fascinate me. I also love that I can combine an invention that is thousands of years old with the newest photography technology.”

Picture of ladder garden door open
Monastery Garden, 2007, Rouen, France

And, from Pirila’s perspective, our personalities often meld with our environment. She says, “The landscape seen from our window is not only outside, but also within us.”

View more of Marja Pirila’s work on her website.

There are 14 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. zrl
    March 20, 2015

    quite beautiful picture,quite spary thinkthought

  2. selim Reza
    March 17, 2015

    very good picture

  3. Nancy
    March 17, 2015

    Ethereal and deeply moving photographic content…

  4. Omar Campo Lezama
    March 17, 2015

    no like, it´s very sick

    March 17, 2015

    I photo ghosts who drift thru my room,seriously,cant wait to try this!

  6. Julieta
    March 17, 2015


  7. alfie
    March 16, 2015

    considering cutting a hole in my curtains now

  8. Shantanu Mishra
    March 16, 2015

    Are these picture edited ? If yes, then …. is that actually alowed

  9. Farshad davatgar
    March 14, 2015

    nice concept inside out shadow play subjects are just like puppets !!

  10. enrica sala
    March 14, 2015

    Wonderful. Dreamy.

  11. Terho Aalto
    March 13, 2015

    I have known Marja many years, and I think that what is wonderfull with her photographs is the sense of time and light. It is not so much about the people, it´s more about time and light, and the beauty which is the final word, She has the sense about what is going on in this planet.

  12. Josephine Wang
    March 13, 2015

    Beautiful done. Bedroom is so private and yet is so intimate. To know the person well is to go into their bedroom. Bedrooms are full of stories!

  13. crystal
    March 13, 2015


  14. Lisa
    March 13, 2015

    I LOVE this series, and would jump at the chance to see large prints in a gallery space.

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