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Rethinking cameras

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Hi. This talk is about cameras. I’m not a professional photographer but I’m greatly inspired by them. I think cameras and photography tell us a lot about the culture and moment they live in. image: the Camera Gardens of André Feliciano

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From old inventions like this Disney’s multiplane camera Disney multiplane camera https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kN-eCBAOw60

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To the newest Google street view cars. Both show us state of the art technology at that moment. They tell us about the creativity and interests of the people that invented them, and also about the growth of two of the biggest corporations of our era. photo by freefotouk http://www.flickr.com/photos/freefoto/2925638334/

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But what I’m most interested about is consumer photography: What is current people looking at? How did we go from this... Flickr Library of the Congress http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/6057153876/

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... to this. photo: Joshua Yospyn http://www.tbd.com/pictures/2012/03/cherry-blossoms-photos-tidal-basin-filed-with-tourists-dogs-and-tablet-computers/18674-1346.html

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We can probably agree that most of spontaneous, amateur photography is happening on mobile phones today.

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And, while there is some people embracing the nature of today’s technology... Rolling shutter artifact

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the current aesthetic looks more like this. instagram images on flickr

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Which is nothing new at all, rather than something deeply rooted on this imperfections of analog photography. (The original glitch, imho). Lomography ligth leaks

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Lomography is an analog camera movement, as well as a commercial trademark, based on recovering and shooting with cheap plastic cameras from the soviet 80’s. It popularized light leaks, surreal colors and blurry pictures: basically the amateur photographic aesthetic that’s prevalent today.

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lomography toy cameras

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Things aren’t very different if we look at consumer photography accessories. holga iphone lens filter

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We’re referencing all kinds of objects from analog photography. usb film rolls http://photojojo.com/store/awesomeness/usb-film-roll/

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And Lomography is not the only star: Polaroid is closely competing with it. polaroid iphone decal http://photojojo.com/store/press/photos/iphone-camera-decal

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We’re still praising the brand for what they did 30 years ago. http://www.etsy.com/listing/68237750/polaroid-poster-print-instant-rainbow-50

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And we haven’t really moved from there. Why hasn’t instant photography evolved in all these years? Was there any value in it that we weren’t able to bring to the digital domain? One could argue that Instagram or Facebook photos are today’s equivalent of instant photography, because they are instantly shared. But why all the filters and old aesthetics then? Ikea instant digital camera.

machines + ineffiency = delight?
– Bill Lindmeier

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What is so pleasing and personal about instant, bleached out or blurry pictures? Is it just the beauty of analog errors, in opposition to the cold perfection of digital images? Or is it all faked nostalgia, an attempt to make the ordinary look special and magical?

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In any way, there have been many amazing cameras in the past, but we’re basically replicating the look of Lomography, Polaroid and pinhole cameras (to a lesser extent). While the reason still remains uncertain to me, I think a key point is that they were not associated with quality but with people, memories, moments. lomo supersampler polaroid onestep sx-70 pinhole camera movement http://corbis.readymech.com/en

“My fascination with design has less to do with finding solutions and much more to do with design as a cultural activity. I’m fascinated by things like this because I think they tell us about culture. They may be ridiculous, they may be funny, but I think they say something profound about the way we think.” –Sam Jacob

“The symbolic book of the future will be a deluxe object related only slightly to its current Random House ancestor. Current print technology is dying as a mass-tool and will be reborn as art.” –Andrei Codrescu

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Like I said at the beginning, I relate a lot to Jacob’s quote, but I’d like to expand on it. The same way we can read what objects tell us, we can, as designers or artists, use them to ask new questions and point at new behaviors. There’s also parallels with many other technologies becoming obsolete, such as printed books. I believe that cameras are loaded, powerful cultural objects, waiting to be repurposed. Let me show you some examples.

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You can repurpose analog cameras in commercial ways, and still ask questions about our visual culture and the way we use photography. It appears to me as if some of our digital pictures wanted to become analog, more personal, more intimate and meaningful. But is it instant photography if you can print the physical photo whenever you want? The language used to market this product is also interesting, and I can see it becoming more common as we dive deeper into an all-digital era: “A photo that exists physically – IRL. A photo that is a one-of-a-kind original that can be shared, exhibited and preserved. A photo that no longer needs an electronic device to be seen.” http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/impossible/impossible-instant-lab-turn-iphone-images-into-rea

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In a similar, but maybe more provocative way, a simple iPhone app uses a DSLR camera and an old CRT screen to challenge the authenticity of the filters we use daily. InstaCRT a real world filter for photos http://instacrt.com

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Julius Von Bismarck hacked a reflex camera and subverted its use. Instead of taking pictures, it projects messages that, even though invisible to the human eye, are registered by nearby cameras taking pictures with flash. Julius Von Bismarck - Image Fulgurator http://www.juliusvonbismarck.com/bank/index.php?/projects/fulgurator-idee/

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Julius Von Bismarck - Image Fulgurator http://www.juliusvonbismarck.com/bank/index.php?/projects/fulgurator-idee/

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In another project, he modified a 16mm camera to turn it into an UV-light projector, which also rotates according to the camera movements of the original footage. Julius Von Bismarck - the space beyond me http://www.juliusvonbismarck.com/bank/index.php?/projects/the-space-beyond-me/

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But, in fact, there’s no need to repurpose an actual camera, rather than the concept of it, to challenge our assumptions of what a camera is. Roy’s electronic instant camera talks about old and new materials, and about our expectations of instant photography (since the camera doesn’t store anything, people have to stay still for about three minutes while the receipt is being printed) Niklas Roy - electronic instant camera http://www.niklasroy.com/project/103/electronic_instant_camera

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Matt Richardson’s Descriptive camera also uses receipts to crowdsource his photos, questioning what we consider metadata and pointing that, sometimes, an image is not worth a thousand words. Matt Richardson’s Descriptive Camera http://mattrichardson.com/Descriptive-Camera/

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Nadia plays with our aesthetic judgement, setting limits on the infinite possibilities of digital technology. Nadia, the camera that thinks, so you don’t have to http://andrewkupresanin.com/nadia/

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Buttons conceives the camera as a networked object, creating invisible connections between two strangers taking a photo at the same time. SASCHA POHFLEPP - Buttons www.blinksandbuttons.net/buttons_en.html

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I even believe that simply shooting unusual things, things you’re not supposed to take pictures of, can be a way of asking questions Stephan Tillmans Luminant point arrays http://stephantillmans.com/index.php/project/13/

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Stephan Tillmans Luminant point arrays http://stephantillmans.com/index.php/project/13/

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And sometimes instant photography seems, again, the perfect medium for it. Grant Hamilton http://www.flickr.com/photos/granthamilton/sets/72157594381857577/

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This was my starting point for Polaroid Cacher, a project about unusual instant photography. http://polaroidcacher.adrianavarro.net

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It started with the belief that this is something we should be looking at now. This is real people having real interactions.

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With my own nostalgia about old systems and interfaces.

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With the confirmation that I wasn’t the only nerd

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This service was important for the people of my generation, along with several forums, social networks and conversational spaces that will eventually be outdated and no longer accessible. http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/06/end-of-an-era-windows-live-messenger-to-be-retired-users-transitioned-to-skype/

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So we built a camera to take pictures of our digital life. To have physical souvenirs of it, which for now are the most durable ones.

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We also felt there was something interesting about putting digital graphics in a very traditional, analog format, with all the meaning that Polaroid already had. And also in saving them and going back to them after x years, when all those interfaces will look clunky, and most of the data in those pictures will be lost.

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We wanted to hack an old polaroid camera but ended up repurposing only the front face. We built a modern, laser cut case for the G10 Zink printer that goes inside, to somehow represent this old-new convergence.

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In this first prototype, the viewfinder is activated through a Chrome extension.

User Flow!

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The extension saves an image file on a folder, which is monitored by a Folder Action that sends it wiressly (bluetooth) to the printer inside the camera. We thought about other options, like having a local application to take the pictures, so we could shoot things outside of our browser, or even taking pictures of the screen automatically depending on different metrics (smile detection, social media statistics of a particular post...). There’s also lots of possibilities for interaction if we allow the camera to be shared by different computers.

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In the end, turns out that Bill Atkinson did almost the same that 30 years ago.

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Bill Moggridge - Designing Interactions book http://www.folklore.org/ProjectView.py?name=Macintosh&topic=User+Interface&sortOrder=Sort+by+Date&detail=Show+Everything

thanks
adrianavarro.net

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