the camera changed the way we behaved

I wanted to share this clip from This American Life, beautifully animated by Chris Ware. It is a story about a class of 5th graders who began making fake video cameras, and how those cameras effected the way they interacted with each other. Fascinating story, very well told.

This story illustrates how the camera (even just the idea of a camera) can alter our perception, and how we experience the world. I don’t use my camera to report news, but I believe that this idea is true for nature photography as well. In a way, the camera is the physical manifestation of the act of perception. It isolates how Seeing is not a passive experience — it is a purposeful action that impacts and often changes both the person who is doing the seeing, and the object that is seen. For me, this is the purpose of photography. Photography is a record and illustration of how simply our awareness of the world can alter it.


This did not end the way I expected it to. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. While I’m glad we have cameras in places showing us things that we’d never have been aware of otherwise, being the one behind the camera camera lens allows us to detach from what is actually happening.

How bizarre and what an interesting and thought provoking story!

I think Genie is right, in some ways, detachment can happen behind a camera and maybe reporting of events.

I was just thinking about how the Tsunami in 2004 grabbed our attention and then again Hurricane Katrina. Now we have 2 equally devastating events in China and Myamar and it’s not nearly getting the press that the other 2 events did. Are we blase about it? Or is it that because of the politics of these 2 countries, they get less attention? I know I’m on a tangent.


I think we’d be getting a lot more news out of Burma and China both if it weren’t for the ObamaHilathon. I am frustrated that there is so little news on these two terrible disasters.

But I can’t blame the lack of news entirely on the election coverage, when the 2004 tsunami hit CNN and other news networks were really fairly slow to report what a major disaster it was.

I guess when you add distance to the mix, there is yet more detachment.

Going back to Daniel’s original post, I too find the link between photography and awareness to be fascinating–which stems from a workshop I took last fall called “Photography and Spirituality.” The basic premise was that spirituality in the sense of being present, and being aware can be enhanced through the act of taking photos. And the idea was in there too of the changes wrought by and to the observer in the act of taking the photo.

But the observers of the fight in the little story were not actually aware of what was in front of them, instead they were lost behind their “cameras.” And how many of us have basically missed out on experiencing certain precious moments in life because we were caught up in videotaping or photographing them? I know I’ve done that–it seems to happen at kids’ birthday parties, graduations etc. The urge to document overcoming everything else–done with little actual connection to the scene taking place.

Maybe unless the photographer understands and makes the effort to use photography for the higher purpose of awareness (as Daniel obviously does in his remarkable photos) you don’t tend to have art taking place, you just have documentation or snapshots or whatever. The same can be said of painters just copying something that they see in a mechanical way–unless there is a degree of awareness and mindfullness, the results have no special life or meaning to them. Detachment takes away the soul of the work.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

Rebecca, very well said. Photographers often worry about being so focused on “taking a shot” that they don’t experience the event. I think this is why I like photographing found objects in my studio. The point of my work is use photography to be mindful of things that we normally ignore or do not see.