What the Camera Creates

Untitled from Daniel Coffeen on Vimeo.

I've been whipping out my iPhone camera more and more. And it has taught me something, something I thought I'd always known but didn't: the camera creates new possibilities of becoming.

Look at the video above. I was filming my kid without him knowing it and this gives us the classic possibility of the camera: to be privy to events that are otherwise personal. But what astounded me, and what astounds me every time I watch this, is what happens once he does know he's being filmed. His face — his whole being — goes through a series of configurations expressing a range of nuance within the realm of shyness and pride.

And yet these are not faces I'd ever seen on him before. These are faces made possible by the camera and existing only for the camera. Usually, our faces negotiate now — we grimace, smile, wink as our audience demands. But the camera is a strange kind of audience. It is at once no audience at all and every possible audience — after all, who knows who will see that face down the road. His face is trying to make sense of a now that, all of a sudden, is becoming a forever.

This is why many people make faces for the camera that are monumental; they seek to emulate the other arts of forever — the painterly portrait, the statue.

But the camera — the digital camera — is of another beast entirely for it is not monumental. It is everyday. These are not the images that grace museum walls, standing strong amidst the flux of time. No, these images are on little screens that sit in our pockets. These images bounce around the planet. These images are essentially plastic — forever, yes, but not monumental. They live with us, everyday, in coffee shops, at work, lounging at home.

This creates a new kind of being seen. When we are digitally filmed, we are not just being taken up by eyes. We are being taken up by an engine that creates multiple versions of ourselves that co-exist with our fleshy selves.

And this, I've discovered, extends us. Watching my son's face do these things I didn't know it could do, I came to have a newfound respect for the camera, for the way it doesn't just capture the world but creates new possibilities of the world.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I love it when Coffeen calls something "another beast entirely." As if this thing is autonomous, alive and on the prowl, possibly dangerous if you don't know how to handle it, or don't know that it is a beast.