How did Johannes Vermeer manage to create such photo-realistic paintings in the 17th Century—and did he get help? A Texas tech company founder named Tim Jenison decided to try to find out if Vermeer could have used a camera-like contraption to create his art, by recreating one of the paintings himself:

Jenison decided to construct a version of a device that Vermeer himself could have built and used. And since he had no training or experience as an artist whatsoever, he figured he was the ideal beta user of whatever he rigged up.

He was in no rush. His R&D period lasted five years. He went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. “Looking at their Vermeers,” he says, “I had an epiphany”—the first of several. “The photographic tone is what jumped out at me. Why was Vermeer so realistic? Because he got the values right,” meaning the color values. “Vermeer got it right in ways that the eye couldn’t see. It looked to me like Vermeer was painting in a way that was impossible. I jumped into studying art.”