The Critical Inquiry Lab: Student Projects

Ray Hu


The exhibition component of Camera Ephemera turns the lens on itself, both as an instrument operated by a user and as a sense organ of the cloud. On one hand, it interrogates the digital camera as a technological innovation, materially and culturally, that has evolved into an essential input for the smartphone. On the other hand, Camera Ephemera looks to decode the meaning of the device that computers increasingly use in the same ways we do: for recording, documenting, communicating, and understanding the world around us. As a visitor peers into a two-way mirrored cube, a camera captures them and a monitor shows the footage. Visitors can push a button to illuminate the box from within, in order to ‘opt out’ of the surveillance and see the contents of the vitrine – an iPhone 5 mounted to a selfie stick. An accompanying video/ visual manifesto, a kind of mashed-up montage, explores the implications of the disappearing camera and serves as a microcosmic mirror of our media-saturated culture.

Title thesis
‘Camera Ephemera: The Implications of the Disappearing Camera’

Thesis abstract
In September of 2016, Snapchat strategically unveiled its first physical product: Spectacles, a pair of hipster sunglasses equipped with a tiny video camera, expressly designed for the popular disappearing picture messaging app. In anticipation of its first foray into hardware, the tech start-up also changed its name to Snap and rebranded itself as a ‘camera company’. Snap’s revenue comes from advertising, not cameras, and it competes not with Kodak or Polaroid but Facebook, Google and Apple. For these tech titans, images and video are not media – much less memories – but rather data, both about the world and the users themselves. Both Snapchat and Spectacles are merely symptoms of a much greater phenomenon in the image: the shift from analogue to digital; a radical upheaval that finds its apotheosis in the camera. That images have become data simply confirms that the contemporary lens has far more in common with a computer than a film camera. The digital camera, as a kind of computer, is no longer an instrument for merely documenting or recording the world but one that also attempts to understand it. Camera Ephemera is an investigation into how advanced computational imaging technologies trickle down to end users in the form of consumer products. Beyond the spectre of constant surveillance, what do those of us with nothing to hide stand to gain from ubiquitous cameras? What do these devices oversee, and what might they overlook? Camera Ephemera offers an overview of how digital cameras capture society today.

Thesis keywords
Spectacles, selfie stick, surveillance, data, images-as-data, camera-as-computer

Graduation project, 2017