Buzza Tower Brought Back To Life By New Visitor Attraction

andrew be combes buzza camera obscura
St Mary’s newest tourist attraction has opened and it’s receiving positive praise from visitors.

Islanders Andrew and Be Combes have set up the world’s first folding camera obscura in the Buzza Tower. It opened last Tuesday.

Camera obscura became very popular in the 1890s and the rooftop lens projects a 360 degree image of what can be seen from the top of the tower onto a flat viewing surface inside the building.

It takes 45 minutes to view a complete rotation, which reveals views across the Tresco Channel, towards the airport and over towards St Agnes.

Be says visitors have been impressed with how ‘real’ the images seem, particularly the colours, in an age where we’re used to digital videos. And she says it picks up on light in a very beautiful way, creating a “twinkling” and “magical” effect.

One visitor said he felt the image quality was better than the famous camera obscura at Greenwich and another said it was like looking at a “moving Harry Potter poster.”

Be had never seen a camera obscura before her husband Andrew suggested one for the tower. And she says it’s been an exciting project to work on.

buzza camera obscura 1

The Council was keen to lease the empty listed building, which was in a poor state of repair. The arrangement requires the couple to maintain it so that the cost no longer falls on the Council taxpayer.

In the last 18 months the Combes have undertaken a major renovation of the tower including a new roof, floors and stairs.

Andrew says it was hard work, but they did it because they’re passionate about Scilly and didn’t want to see such an iconic building fall down.

From Radio Scilly

Radio Scilly talks to Be and Andrew Combes about the camera obscura

Their aim was to create an attraction to add to the tourism offer but it’s not going to be a big money making venture, says Andrew.

Plans for the camera obscura initially attracted controversy as some nearby residents felt that their privacy would be affected. But Andrew says the range of the lens has been restricted to address that concern.

Despite a lengthy debate by the Planning Committee in 2012, councillors failed to rule on the application within the required 8 weeks, so they forfeited the chance to decide the application and the Planning Inspectorate assessed and approved the proposal instead.

There’s been some criticism on social media this week. Andrew says it doesn’t have a big zoom lens, it can’t see through walls, and he’d welcome anyone with concerns to come up and take a look. He says most people’s fears rapidly evaporate when they see what it actually is.

The camera gets retracted at night to meet planning requirements and because it’s best not to have it exposed in a wind stronger than force 5. Andrew says that’s an acceptable compromise meaning the appearance of the building is respected.

As well as the camera, the tower also contains a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ made up of unusual donated items. These include RAF-issue crockery, one of the red warning lights from the Halangy TV mast, a magic lantern and old pottery pipe stems from Nigel Young at the Airfayre Lounge.

The couple hopes to open the tower on selected afternoons from 2-6pm between April and the end of October.

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