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This Camera Refuses to Take Clichéd Photos

An art project demands a unique perspective of its user

Screenshot from "Camera Restricta" (Philipp Schmitt via Vimeo)
smithsonian.com

Propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, holding the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, posing along with the Statue of Liberty — these tourist photos are common and commonly mocked. So one camera is fighting back, writes Liz Stinson for Wired

By taking advantage of the many geo-tagged photos online, Camera Restricta prevents people from taking a photo in a location where too many other pictures have been snapped.

The camera, at this point, is merely a speculative project. In a video posted by the artist, Philipp Schmitt, actress Carina Schwake plays a Copenhagen-based photographer who carries the device around her city and reads off the number of photos taken in each location she pass. When the number is too high, the shutter retracts. "This means you can’t take any more photos here," she says, according to the translated subtitles, "which can sometimes be quite annoying." 

A speaker also crackles and snaps like a Geiger counter, representing the sometimes hundreds or thousands of photos already captured in that location. While walking down one rather featureless street, Schwake stops in surprise at the increasing pops coming from her camera. "Ah, fitness selfies," she says and points to a nearby gym.

“A lot of people are really offended by the idea,” Schmidt tells Stinson at Wired. Stinson explains that the project has some flaws. "A single GPS point doesn’t take into account that the ugliest bench known to man may be located just across the street from the Eiffel Tower, and may not recognize that is what you’re trying to photograph."

But the project isn’t just a gimmick, Schmitt explains on his website that the camera really draws attention to possible ways pictures could be censored:

The European Parliament recently voted against a controversial proposal that threatened to restrict the photography of copyrighted buildings and sculptures from public places. The camera could be funded or subsidized by public and private sector institutions with an interest in regulating photography in certain places.

It's censorship that doesn't happen after, but before a picture was taken. Think of it like trying to scan a bank note with your flatbed scanner at home: it doesn't work, software prevents it.

Schmidtt imagines that the camera itself doesn’t necessarily have to be the enforcer. A software update added to a formerly free-to-snap camera could turn it into a Camera Restricta. But yes, the project also seeks to limit the flood of same-old photographs uploaded online. "As a byproduct," he writes, "these limitations also bring about new sensations like the thrill of being the first or last person to photograph a certain place."

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