Spotted

March 12, 2009 

As I mentioned before in the classic BtF post, "Cheese," avoiding camera awareness is a constant struggle.

Sometimes, it yields an unexpectedly nice frame, like when this little girl spotted me as I tried to make photos backstage at a family expo last year:

It still pops up as my screensaver.

It can be good for a chuckle, like when I was spotted at the Martin Luther King Jr. Bell-Ringing Ceremony this year:

The look I get can sometimes make me feel like a creeper:

Or that I'm old and not cool:

Or even make me feel like I’m interesting enough to draw someone’s attention away from a freaky turtle, if only for a second:

While I previously pondered the possibility of invisibility in "Cheese" (now available in a collector’s edition), it appears Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence has been working on another solution with his Eyeborg project.

In case you missed the stories from the past few months like I did, Spence, who lost one of his eyes, is working with engineers on placing a video camera inside a prosthetic eye and plans on making a documentary about the process, including footage shot from his eye cam.

Ordinarily, I would wax philosophical about the privacy ethics dilemmas his project will create, but that’s the whole point of his project.

"Sometimes I run a little experiment," he said to Wired magazine last December. "I tell people around me, 'Did you know there are 11,000 new video cameras being installed in our country every day?' Then I will exaggerate and say there are 50,000 new video cameras going in everyday," said Spence. "Most of the times I get the same answer: 'That's interesting. Now what's for lunch?' or 'The weather is nice today.'"

"I wonder what those people will say when they are staring back into the video camera in my eye?"

Or I could use Spence’s punny project name to segue into a totally awesome discussion with pop culture references ranging from Cybermen to Ghost in the Shell.

Spence touched on this concept at the end of an interview with The World’s Lisa Mullins, saying, "The way that kids will shock us in the future is by saying 'I'm going to take my natural eye out and put a better one in, even if I don’t need to.' And they can say, 'you did it, grandpa.'"

Instead, I will argue that this could open up a new realm of photojournalism. To be able to photograph surreptitiously would be amazing. Many moments are lost as a result of being spotted, which is why some opt to use small rangefinder cameras instead of bulkier SLRs. Photojournalists will also sometimes shoot from the hip in order to avoid being noticed in the act of photographing.

One trick I often use when I’m spotted by someone I’m photographing is to hold my camera where I wanted, but moving away from the eyepiece and looking off in random directions. Usually the person loses interest in me and goes back to doing whatever it was I had found pertinent to telling the story and I press the shutter without looking through the viewfinder.

My photojournalism professor and mentor at the University of Oregon, Julianne Newton always argued that despite all the furor about photo manipulation, influencing the situation you are reporting on is even more egregious.

Your camera's presence generally does change the reality you are trying to represent, however. The best way around this is spending time with a subject, gaining trust and becoming, in essence, invisible. Unfortunately, this is rarely an option during the daily grind of working for a newspaper. Utilizing the eye camera ethically could eliminate subjects’ anxiety by not creating it in the first place.

The eye camera would have its disadvantages, however. Although crouching, laying down, reaching around (tee hee), climbing and the many other positions that photographers assuming while working the angles do sometimes raise eyebrows, imagine seeing somebody do all that without a camera in his or her hand. Overhead "Hail Mary" shots wouldn’t be possible without popping out your eye, which would figuratively pop a few around you, and you’d have to lose an eye to begin with.

Negatives aside, the concept is still endlessly intriguing. True, it could be used for evil, but that can be said for just about any advancement in technology. Remember when cell phone cameras could be set to shoot silently? It only took a handful of perverts to change that. Fears and ethical dilemmas aside, we’re already well on our way down the path toward a world with cyborgs.

And while fanboys will drool over the prospect of hot robochicks and spooks will scheme about spy surveillance, I'll be dreaming of the day when I won't get spotted making photos ever again.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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