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A Camera That Curbs Your Urge to Take Photographs

Camera Restricta in use (all photos courtesy Philipp Schmitt)
The Camera Restricta in use (all photos courtesy Philipp Schmitt)

A new photography tool will force you to actually spend time admiring a picturesque landscape rather than worrying about composing the best shot. Camera Restricta, created by Germany-based designer Philipp Schmitt, is a speculative design for a camera that prevents shutterbugs from taking a photograph at a particular location if the camera decides that too many have already been snapped there.

The concept relies on GPS technology and geotagging: the camera body, which is 3D-printed, houses a bundle of electronics and a smartphone; the phone determines a user’s location and runs an application that scans the photo-sharing communities Flickr and Panoramio for existing pictures taken and tagged at sites within a 115-foot radius of the device. If that number is 35 or less, the camera’s screen, which displays the number of photos the application has tracked as well as one’s GPS coordinates, will read YES — and photographers may snap away. But if that number is over 35, a large, red X and an error message will appear, the shutter button will retract, and users will likely be frustrated.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The project, which is billed as “a disobedient tool for taking photographs,” is an extension of Schmitt’s previous project, “Location-Based Light Painting,” which visualized the flood of images taken of public spaces. Camera Restricta is a coy form of censorship introduced before a photograph even exists, thwarting the desire to shoot an image that would merely be just one more digital file of a similar picture, making us think about the value such a generic image would hold.

“Sometimes I wonder why we even keep taking pictures,” as Copenhagen-based photographer Carina Schwake says in the project’s video. The footage shows her taking the Camera Restricta around her city for a spin; as she walks around, she calls out the numbers shown on the screen: 72, 92, 236. The numbers seem pretty low — 162 for the Royal Danish Theater, for example — but one should consider that not all images are shared online, and even then, geotagged.

The threshold of 35 itself is not a limit that theorizes on when photographs become too repetitive: Schmitt told Hyperallergic he chose the number simply to refer to a roll of 35mm film.

“I can’t explain why this is a good number,” Schmitt wrote in an email. “If this camera existed for real, you probably would modulate the threshold based on location. Maybe someone would be willing to pay for a higher threshold; who knows?”

In addition to preventing image-taking, the camera also emits from embedded speakers clicking sounds that each represent an existing photograph as a kind of aural translation of the corresponding online visual library. The Camera Restricta thus allows users to also discover scenic places by following sounds (rapid alerts signify visually appealing sites). On the flip side, when the camera is silent, users know they’ve reached an area less lens-trodden — at least according to the project’s parameters — which introduces the thrill of taking pictures that mass photography for the sake of share-ability has largely eliminated.

As Schmitt notes, the technology does not have to be housed in a camera but may rather exist as an app or even a software update to one’s smartphone. Until that day comes, however, we’ll have to rely on sheer self-restraint to curb our insatiable appetites to ‘gram the Guggenheim, Niagara Falls, or the Space Needle.

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