Vera Lutter. Pepsi Cola, Long Island City, IV: May 19, 1998, 1998. Gelatin silver print on canvas, unique edition, sheet: 55 1/4 × 123 in. (140.3 × 312.4 cm.)
This large-scale image of an iconic Pepsi sign atop a building in an industrial area of Queens, New York was created using the earliest and most rudimentary photographic tool, the camera obscura. This device, which dates to the Renaissance, operates on the fundamental principle of photography: when light from an external source passes through a pinhole into an enclosed chamber, an inverted image of the illuminated area is projected onto the chamber’s opposite wall. Pepsi-Cola was made by placing a large sheet of photosensitive paper on an interior wall facing the aperture of a room-sized camera obscura that was set up on the roof of the building. The image was then exposed onto the paper for several hours. Anticipating its reversal in the photographic negative print, Lutter built the camera obscura behind the sign so that it would read correctly in the exposed image. As a result, a sign normally viewed from Manhattan, across the East River, shows Manhattan in the background rather than Queens. Through such visual disparities, a familiar icon looks strange, while the long exposure time, which records only stable objects, makes a city known for its constant movement seem eerily serene.