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SAN FRANCISCO — It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when most of us didn’t carry cameras with us everywhere we went. When something interesting happened, we had to try to remember it, in all its detail, and then retell it to our friends and hope they believed us. The ubiquity of cameras has largely altered this practice, giving us visual reference material for our stories as we point and swipe on our phones to narrate events.

The Descriptive Camera (via

Recently, I stumbled upon the Descriptive Camera, a project by artist Matt Richardson that harkens back to the days when we could simply describe an image without showing it. When you take a photo with his camera, you get a printout — not of the image per se, but a written description. The description is outsourced to folks at the Mechanical Turk and appears as a small, receipt-like slip at the back of the camera.

“Modern digital cameras capture gobs of ‘parsable’ metadata about photos such as the camera’s settings, the location of the photo, the date, and time, but they don’t output any information about the content of the photo,” Richardson writes on his site. “The Descriptive Camera only outputs the metadata about the content.”

Of course, anyone could simply upload a photo to Mechanical Turk and get similar results, but there’s something charming about the object itself. The camera is deceptively simple, relying on a variety of API and open source tools to make it work. He posted a few results on his site, but they’re of quite boring subjects, like desks and chairs.

Some of the photographs with their corresponding descriptions. (via

Here’s hoping Richardson gets a crowdfunding campaign together to prototype this camera. I’d love to see how it could be used for the images we’re more prone to snap today — selfies, party shots, food, and, of course cats.

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An Xiao

Artist An Xiao (aka An Xiao Mina) photographs, films, installs, performs and tweets and has shown her work in publications and galleries internationally. Find her online at @anxiaostudio...

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