Picture This—Reinventing The Camera As A Social And Anti-Technological Object

<p>If the future of any object is to be made social, then photography may not only be one of the early adopters to this space, but one that has endless potential.</p>

In the age of cell phones and other mobile devices with network and photographic capabilities, the art of taking photographs has become as daily a process as brushing one’s teeth or walking to work or school. In a sense, the art of photography has been lost in the phrase “everything that can be made, can be made social.” The ubiquity of the camera, assuming the form and shape of objects that we carry with us daily, has turned the act of taking a photo into an everyday duty rather than an artistic rendering. In addition, the advent of 80% of a global population carrying around a video and still image recording device with them daily has led to an overabundance of information and media gathering.

Responding to the challenge of transforming the traditional act of photography into something new that utilizes the strengths of the internet, artists are creating projects that not only question what it means to take a picture, but also to share and collaborate on the meaning of photography as it’s evolving in the world of Web 2.0. Within the context of crowdsourcing, two projects take advantage of the multitudes of human thought and expression circulating through the internet.


“Descriptive Camera,” Matt Richardson, 2012.

The “Descriptive Camera” (2012) by Matt Richardson is a camera that instead of giving the user a photo, delivers a description of the image captured when the shutter button is pressed. The camera is networked and pressing the shutter will send the image to Richardson’s personal social network, or if none of his friends are online, it’ll send the image to Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk. There, the image will be processed by online workers who will write a short description of what they see. When the writeup is sent back to the camera, the camera prints the results on a thermal printer in the style of a polaroid print.

“Blinks and Buttons,” Sascha Pohflepp, 2006.

Also in this realm of data mining is “Blinks and Buttons” (2006) by German artist Sascha Pohflepp. The project began as a modified cell phone but is now available as an iPhone app. It’s a camera without a physical lens, but only a shutter button. When the button is pressed, the exact time of the press is recorded as well as the location of the camera. This information is then searched on the internet, returning a photo with either the exact location metadata or time of creation. Therefore "Blinks and Buttons" is a camera that takes someone else's photos. The same formula would work with a video camera where it could record the amount of time a clip was shot and the location and date of the shoot and return a video from YouTube with this exact data. Since there are multitudes of websites that exist as repositories for user-generated content, this concept could be adapted to many other similar applications.


“RGB+D(epth) Toolkit,” Studio for Creative Inquiry & Playmodes, 2012.

In the area of video capture and 3D filmmaking, the “RGB+D(epth) Toolkit” (2012) is a tool that creates volumetric video using a Kinect and a digital SLR camera. Created at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University with the Playmodes audiovisual collective, the project is open source and fully reproducible with instructions from the group's website. This includes directions on how to create a durable mount to attach an Xbox Kinect to the base of a HDSLR or any other camera that has a tripod mounting screw fitting. This extension of the camera into 3D space allows for a more detailed version of traditional photography that gives the viewer new angles for discovery.


“Electronic Instant Camera,” 2011.

On the opposite edge of the technological spectrum is German artist Niklas Roy's “Electronic Instant Camera” (2010) which takes the notion of the Polaroid instant photo to the extreme. The camera is a combination of an analog black and white video camera and a thermal receipt printer. Instead of storing its photos on film or on a digital chip, the camera prints the photo in real time onto a roll of cheap receipt paper while the picture is being taken. Thus for the subject to receive a picture that looks something like them, they have to sit extremely still for up to three minutes in front of the camera until the portrait is captured. This type of analog image creation shows how low tech is creeping back into our lives as digital technology has erased not only the notion of the camera as a single device, but also as something that exists outside of networked connectivity.


“Wifi Camera,” Sjölén, Haque, Somolai-Fischer, 2006.

Examining the invisible proliferation of wireless networks that are permeating every location we inhabit comes another type of camera that takes images of the signals themselves. The “Wifi-Camera” (2010) by Bengt Sjölén, Adam Somlai Fischer, and Usman Haque is a camera that takes photos of locations that contain wireless transmissions in the way that a traditional camera captures spaces illuminated by visible light. The camera is meant to reveal all of the electromagnetic space that our mobile and portable devices create daily. From their description: “Radio waves at wifi’s wavelength behave similar to light in that they are reflected off almost all solid objects to varying degrees, just as when we see colors we see the light from a light source being reflected off an object into our eyes.” This effect is achieved by pointing a wireless antenna and measuring the signal strength throughout a viewing period to create an overall image.

In the evolving world of photography both online and off, artists are working within this space to create new visions for the future of the medium. Whether they are using the skills of millions of people globally connected through the internet to harvest photos or using their own methods of hacking existing technology to create new interpretations of the medium, the results are not only spectacular, they are both inventive and inspiring. If the future of any object is to be made social, then photography may not only be one of the early adopters to this space but one that has endless potential as the technology to implement it becomes both ubiquitous and less expensive.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen is a researcher, artist, and writer. He received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department of Trinity College Dublin. His work and thesis is titled "Deconstructing Networks" and includes over 77 creative projects that critically challenge and subvert accepted perceptions of network interaction and experience. His work has been exhibited and showcased at venues such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, ICA london, Whitney Museum of American Art (Artport), Palais Du Tokyo,Tate Modern, Ars Electronica, Transmediale, and more. His writing has appeared in publications such as WIRED, Make, Gizmodo, Neural and more. His Scrapyard Challenge workshops have been held in over 14 countries in Europe, South America, North America, Asia, and Australia since 2003.