Observatory Feature

System As Photographer

by Design Observer Observatory on Wednesday, January 2, 2013 in Features

Reposted from Design Observer: Observatory –  By Rob Walker

From Styleblaster

It’s no news at this point to say that technology is transforming photography in unpredictable ways. By now, in fact, it’s hard enough just to try to keep track of every new variation on how this is happening. So here are two recent examples of technology as photographer.

The first is a site called Styleblaster. Basically, its creators have set up a camera on Bedford in Williamsburg that snaps images of everyone who walks by. This is postioned as a “live fashion blog, documenting the style of today.” You’re supposed to click on a top hat icon if you judge a specific pedestrian “stylin’.”

An “about” page offers a more long-winded explanation, in language so silly that I suppose it could be a parody. “We believe this service fills a need for live fashion information …. It will quickly become a destination for New York City peacocks to traipse by and show off what makes the neighborhood hop.” In other words, the line from Bill Cunningham to the The Sartorialist may as well proceed to a 24-hour automated system. The obvious voyeuristic element here has not gone unnoticed, and the project has also been considered as “Hipster Creepshots.”

If you don’t want to “show off” your personal style, let alone subject it to the judgment of an abstract audience, you can (for now) simply avoid that corner. But if you just can’t stand having your picture taken, you may not be excited to learn about this thing:

, via Petapixel

The Memoto is a clip-on device that automatically takes pictures every 30 seconds of whatever is in front of it — an example of a “lifelogging” tool that aims to make efforts (like Gordon Bell’s) to document something close to the totality of a person’s existence. (Petapixel’s post on the Memoto notes the existence of a similar tool, the Autographer.) What’s relevant here isn’t whether you’d ever use this sort of thing, but whether you might find yourself having lunch with, or simply standing in random proximity to, someone who does.

Perhaps we’re all getting used to the (potentially) surveiled life, or maybe it’s nothing new. But both of these instances follow Google Street View, security cameras, and drones into the category of system-as-photographer.

This isn’t just prevalent, it’s influential. Increasingly, picture-taking people behave like systems: Capture tons of images, upload them all, expect that plenty will be seen no more, and quite possibly less, than once. The cloud is a contact sheet.


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Rob Walker is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. His writing has appeared in many magazines and newspapers.

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Originally published on Design Observer – Observatory