Camera Obscura is a feature-length script about a 19th-century photographer who must document the unraveling Civil War while struggling to come to terms with deaths of his loved ones. It is a historical fiction film about memory, death, and human costs.

Rutherford Holding, an adept yet recluse photographer, stands between a mobilizing country bound for war and the trauma of losing his loved ones years ago. As those around him enlist and prepare in nationalistic fervor for what is to be the American Civil War, Holding desires to evade any chance to meet death face-to-face once again. However, he pigeonholes himself in a scathingly unpopular position of a coward, unable to provide for the Union. After a visit from his mentor who offers him a chance to capture photographs of the war, Holding begins a journey that would explore the notion of the ‘honorable’ death, how it rips people apart from those they love with disgrace and antipathy.

Photography was a budding medium, representing reality with unseen palpability for which citizens populating the homefront would feast their cautiously curious eyes. The image became a verge between the homefront and the battlefront. Palpability notwithstanding, the image had the ability to lie to its spectator through the means of its production. Where the camera is placed and what is in the frame are all deliberate choices of the photographer usually unknown to the recipients of these images.

Holding, seeing that in order to restore honorific attention towards the dead, must combine the authenticity of the image with its deceit it produces simultaneously. The art, and ultimate significance, of post-mortem photography allowed him to ease the pain of those who lost, thereby easing the pain of his loss.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Motion picture authorship; Motion pictures--Production and direction; Short films--Themes, motives; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Drama; Photographers--Drama

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Film and Animation (MFA)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Film and Animation (CIAS)


Jack Beck

Advisor/Committee Member

Frank Deese

Advisor/Committee Member

Cathleen Ashworth


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes