The Art of Capturing Images
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There was a time when Unicorns were real but, later, when they were no longer seen by man, they passed into History as myth. They really existed, and there is evidence–which we will present later–that proves it.
Since the IV century, magicians and alchemists have investigated phenomena related to light and images.

Zózimo the Panopolite wrote the first known treatise on alchemy. His main interest focused on the search for the philosophical stone. However, he briefly referred to the light phenomena and made this short definition: "Light makes everything exist, even within the very same darkness."

In the XVII century a book entitled Magicians and Light was published in England, that brings together information from the VI century onwards, about magicians and sorcerers who dealt with light and images. In a paragraph on page 128 it says: "Merlin was the true conqueror of the Saxons, because thanks to a magical machine he invented, he was able to secretly observe their combat tactics and thus warn King Arthur...."

Following there is a reproduction of a crude engraving illustrating the magical machine, which turns out to be a camera obscura with reflecting mirrors.

There are no copies of this book in any library. The only known copy belongs to Mr. Irving Collingwood, who supplied the information and a photographic copy of the cover.

Merlin and Fata Morgana with a camera obscura

The book also tells how Fata Morgana, a court sorceress and Arthur's sister, jealous of Merlin's prestige, managed to steal secrets from the magician to try and use them. Among them is the following: "The eye of the magical box should be perforated with a Unicorn's horn. If this is not done, the box will be totally useless."

In the following chapters of Magicians and Light other magical deeds performed by "sorcerers" up until the XVI century are recounted. Leonardo and Giovanni Battista della Porta figure among them.

With Merlin the first reference to the Unicorn and its participation in the "art of capturing images" appears. Tzung Ching Pung, an alchemist from the VI century, who made this other reference, which by the way is the only reference to the camera obscura and to the Unicorn to come from China.

"To obtain beautiful and delicate reproductions, both of woods and lakes and of anything in general, it is necessary to have the Unicorn horn of Tchung-Kuo." Many situations that we deem unreal are not. To unravel and handle physical phenomena is not as complicated as it seems.

Many centuries ago, there were men who investigated and solved puzzles that are still a mystery to us. One of the most regrettable events in history was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by order of the caliph Omar. It is supposed that this library contained marvelous secrets that, when lost, set back some aspects of human knowledge by centuries.

Few things could be rescued. Among them was one related to our subject, which we will transcribe in part below. It was written in the VI century by an Arab doctor and alchemist called Abd-el-Kamir, on whom there is little data. The following is a fragment:

"When silver is melted, some small lead-colored particles remain at the bottom of the recipient. If these particles are taken and mixed with animal resin, a thick solution will be obtained which must be poured into a recipient where light does not penetrate.

Then, in absolute darkness, a metallic plate can be impregnated with this solution and is then ready upon exposure to the sun's rays to record the contours of any object that is placed upon it.**"

**Texts found in 1925 by the Catalan historian Pedro Plá. They were found in the regional library in Granada amongst manuscripts from Alexandria


Abd-el-Kamir does not describe the camera obscura, unlike his contemporary, Merlin. Nevertheless, he gives a recipe of how to prepare a light-sensitive emulsion. Photographic film, which is now so familiar to us, is obtained by coating an acetate with a fine layer of gelatin mixed with silver bromide. The formula to prepare it was discovered in the modern age at the end of the XIX century. However, one thousand years before, it was known by the Arabian alchemist.

There is no evidence that Abd-el-Kamir knew of the existence of the camera obscura, nor that Merlin used a sensitive emulsion. In the Arab's case, he used his chemical discovery, centuries before the Englishman Talbot, to fix the contours of plants and fruits on a metallic plate by means of solar light.
After Abd-el-Kamir and for the next 500 years, all trace is lost of possible research that could have been carried out on the camera obscura and the alchemy of images.

It is not until the XI century that the investigations mentioned before are renewed, with the alchemist Adojuhr who lived in Seville during the reign of Abbad III. In comparison to his predecessors, Adojuhr left quite a few references on his experiments. His case is exceptional, as he was the first to combine the camera obscura–a magical camera according to him–with an extraordinarily sensitive emulsion, which allowed him to imprint moving images, even without a lens.

If in the case of Merlin and Tzung Ching Pung the references to the Unicorn are vague, in Adojuhr's case the opposite is true, as he makes a detailed and thorough description of this animal. He also points out the usefulness of the horn in each one of the different species for the perforation of the "lens" of the "magical boxes".

However, he does not give details as to why the Unicorn should be used in this process. Adojuhr creates infinite diagrams of designs for the magical boxes and indicates their uses. If we translate, so to say, the terms that he used, we will see that they are similar to those used nowadays in the naming of modern photographic lenses.

In his series of recommendations on the chemical compounds used to capture images, it is not difficult to find the similarity between them and the present day ones. For example, the iridescent crystal from Androstián (?) has the sensitive film as an equivalent, the red clay from Baltur refers perhaps to ammonia dichromate, and so on.

Let us look now at some of Adojuhr's transcriptions.
..." Take a Unicorn's horn, sharpen the point finely, and with it make a small hole in any shiny surface. Through this hole all kinds of people, objects and places can pass, compressing their essence. They need to be be kept carefully in a cardboard box where they will remain for eternity, to be taken out when someone needs them."

Adojuhr's manuscript

... " Only a few examples remain of the Unicorn, as in the course of the years and because of his desire to possess a horn, man has wiped it out. To leave a testimony of its form and as a tribute to its services, I have captured the image of what is perhaps one of the last remaining Unicorns." And thus, on a parchment emulsified in orange, Adojuhr printed the image of the Unicorn.

In many of Adojuhr's notes, filled with strange characters that do not belong to any known language, the Unicorn is present.


Among the bundle of his abundant manuscripts, two images could be found which he obtained via his magical boxes: One of them, that of the Unicorn, is clear and precise; the other is an abstract image, very damaged by time, of which we have made a very subjective reconstruction. Fortunately, his graphical sketches are numerous and they can give us a very approximate idea of the themes that Adojuhr captured with his strange devices.

Camera to capture evil spirits and to find a way to exterminate them

Thus, we can see that he made them specially to assign them to different uses. A concrete example is the drawing of the magical box to "capture evil spirits". Curiously the "evil spirits" represented by the alchemist have a cutlass and a weighing machine in their hands, from which we can deduce that it referred to soldiers, magistrates or merchants.

But as we are not interested in the critique that Adojuhr might have made of the leading classes of society–because after all it is already known that since the beginning of time and all over the world they have been despised for being unjust–let's continue examining his work.

A curious detail appears in some of his drawings, as he places the Unicorn horn a little above the nose and not on the forehead. There is a multitude of human and animal figures in his sketches and, remembering that the Arabs were forbidden to represent them because of their religion, the boldness of this alchemist is very surprising.

This attitude confirms his scientific rigor, which pushed him to violate highly rigid norms. The most likely is that in his internal jurisdiction, Adojuhr rejected religious ideas or any other kind of belief that could contradict his vocation as researcher.

By studying the designs for his "magical boxes" and to understand how they worked, some were constructed, adapting them to present day needs. The outcome was totally satisfactory.The diagrams of Adojuhr's original designs will be presented later on.


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