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This Camera Keeps You from Taking Boring Photos

The solution to bad photography, however, might also cause some problems for civil liberties.
Images courtesy the artist

In the age of digital photography, why do we bother taking pictures of the same "must-see" landmarks and famous historical sites that tourists have documented, near-religiously, for years? Acting like something of a Geiger counter for obnoxiously unoriginal photos, a new camera concept would use geotagging and clever design to spare your friends' Facebook feeds from boring buildings, bridge selfies, and cliched vistas. Interaction designer Philipp Schmitt, who previously used geotagging to make light ghostly light paintings of snap-happy tourists, has proposed "a disobedient tool for taking unique photographs": the Camera Restricta.


The combination smartphone, GPS, and 3D-printed camera body concept would connect to Flickr and Panoramio, counting the number of geotagged images within about a 100 square foot space to tell you exactly how lame and uninspired your vantage is. If too many pictures have been snapped there (some spots range in the thousands), the camera's shutter retracts to keep your dervative picture from existence, as demonstrated in the video below.

On one level, the Camera Restricta (named in reverse-homage to the Camera Obscura) seems like a fun thought experiment about how dumb we often act with cameras. Schmitt explains, "With digital photography displacing film, taking pictures has essentially become free, resulting in an infinite stream of imagery."

And he's not wrong. While the Camera Restricta is still just a speculative design, Schmitt has developed the script for finding all the geotagged photos in an area, and you can see how similar the images he gathers from various locations look in the video below. And that's not even counting Instagram.

Beyond a criticism of contemporary photography, Schmitt's concept is a palatable example of "disobedient objects," a snapshot of a world where we don't control the things we own. "It's censorship that doesn't happen after, but before a picture was taken," he says, then points out that this concept isn't too far from reality. "Think of it like trying to scan a bank note with your flatbed scanner at home: it doesn't work, software prevents it."


What makes the concept even more frightening is a recent European Parliament proposal that could use this tech to ban photographs of copyrighted buildings and public art. Like a whitehat hacker probing the system for weaknesses, Schmitt has found a bug that could lead to an aesthetic police state, where unauthorized photos aren't just punishable, but preventable. "This doesn't even have to be a physical camera you decide to buy," he writes in his conclusion. "The functionality might as well be included in a software update, transforming your smartphone into a camera restricta."

The guts of the Camera Restricta

These two scenarios offer two sides of the same coin. Were such a software update to be, say, implemented in the next iOS update, it would mean less, albeit more original, content for everybody, but a framework for a totalitarian regime. The concept mirrors Reddit's recent change of rules and regulations in the wake of the Ellen Pao controversy—whether the world is better for being less free, freer for being worse, and which of those would be the ideal situation is up for debate.

So, would you buy a Camera Restricta? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @CreatorsProject.

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