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The Internet is a Camera. But we're not using it as such (yet). A novel theory, by Paul Shukin.

As an extension of our vision, the invention of the photographic camera, circa 1839, revolutionized the way we interact with everything and everyone around us. It radically changed how we see things and how we look at things. And with it came an entirely new language. The language is visual, not oral - it uses images, not words. The language, of course, is photography. For over 180 years, we've been using the visual language of photography (of the camera) to communicate ideas and to express ourselves - who we are, our needs, our wants, our desires... It has evolved, over nearly two centuries, into a very powerful language. Can you imagine the world without it? Now, let's fast-forward about 150 years to the arrival of the internet (circa 1990). It, too, has changed our way of life in amazing ways - can you imagine the world without it? Yet, as influential as it already is in our everyday lives, I personally believe that, someday, a fundamental change will be made to the internet and it will become an even greater extension of our vision than the photographic camera has ever been. In other words, I feel that the internet has the potential to lift up the language of photography to a much higher level, transforming it in ways that we can't possibly imagine. (I'm calling this transformation: "photography³" or, "the camera on steroids." Take your pick). Think about it... we're simply using the internet as a huge wire for sharing information, for buying and selling things, and for streaming entertainment - in this way, it's just a 21st century telephone/bulletin board, a very handy bazillion-page catalog with pictures and video, and a global, on-demand cable television system with scads and scads of shows to choose from. When someone finally figures out how to use the internet like a camera - when someone "zooms in," or takes a "close-up," or, creates a "double exposure," with the internet, then the rubber will hit the road! And once this happens, each of us will slap our forehead and say, "duh!" as we realize how obvious and simple it was to make the transformation, from wire to camera. Here's why I'm thinking this way... (it has to do with history repeating itself).

When first invented, the photographic camera (photography), became a copy cat. In an attempt to be accepted as a new art form in itself, photography outright copied the long established arts of theater and painting. Thus, events were staged for the early camera, and the subject matter was found in the Holy Bible, Greek mythology, history, popular legends, fairy tales, and Shakespeare's plays, among other literature, etc. (The staging for just one photograph could be quite elaborate!)

Early photographic compositions encompassed the whole of someone dressed up as a character, head to foot, or an entire scene complete with many characters, all in front of a painted canvas backdrop to add depth and "realism," (just like in the theater). Basically, the camera was set up to photograph the stage as seen from a prime seat, like 6th row, center (not from the balcony on the far left).

At the same time, the early camera was also creating "instant paintings," that copied the look and style of the paintings of the day. Photography, a new art form, was simply being applied to old art forms.

The idea that the camera could be moved closer to the actors, or moved farther away, or be placed above the actors (even on the balcony on the far left), or directly below them; or that the use of depth of field could make a more defined statement by putting the focus on the most important parts, or that intentional motion blur could be used to good effect - any and all of the many techniques unique to photography - took some time to catch on (decades, actually). That's because the first photographers were only just discovering and learning to apply the new photographic techniques, and their audience was only just learning to understand the results of the newly applied techniques as they were presented to them. In other words, photographers were learning to write, and the audience was learning to read, the new visual language created by the new technology. Both technician and audience were learning together.

When the motion picture camera was invented, circa 1895, at first, it too, was simply placed in the 6th row, center, to record the action on a stage - it copied theater. It took a while for the motion picture camera operators/directors to "remember" the close-up shot, not to mention all the many other kinds of shots, from all kinds of angles, that the still camera had been taking for decades! DUH! [slap!!]

(Concerning the first cinematic close up shot: it's said that the giant faces appearing suddenly on the screen compelled the entire range of audience reactions, from laughter and fright, to downright disgust. But, I digress.)

It then took some time to work out an understanding of shots that panned, or tilted, or wheeled the camera (or all three at once); and an understanding of shots that conveyed a point of view; and also the use of dissolves and fades to convey changes in time; and the use of cuts, back and forth, between events that are occurring simultaneously - all the special techniques/effects of the cinema that we know today, had to be learned. Likewise, the introduction of sound to the silent films* was at first applied quite literally - what made the sound was seen on the screen as it sounded. (Oh! There's the telephone that's ringing. Here's the rooster crowing. Etc.) Once again it was a step backwards. Stage plays had long been using offstage sounds, even as far back as the days of Ancient Greece (Don't quote me on that - I wasn't there. But they probably used off stage sounds. Ya think? They were very bright people, having given the world all sorts of wonderful things like... but, I digress.) Beginning in 1927, the "re-learning" (the experiencing of the DUH! moments), and the discovery of the language of sound in pictures began. Both the new sound technician and the new "talkie" film audience were learning the new language together.

It's sad to realize that history has once again been repeated: the internet, having the potential to radically change our vision, has been set up in one spot to merely record and reflect our world as a simple stage - it's been set up in the very way that the first photographic camera was set up, and then again a little later, like the very first motion picture camera was set up. It's stationary; static. DULL.

[Enter stage right → Exit stage left]

[Buy a bag of hair curlersAmazon delivers]


Only then we will begin to use the internet creatively in the very manner of the highly sophisticated cinema and photography of today, which applies single or multiple cameras that are zoomed, panned, tilted, hand held, wheeled, lifted by cranes and carried by drones... which uses every form of music and song, asynchronous sound, speech and sound effects (on at least 24 tracks)... which projects multiple images, sometimes on multiple screens... applies freeze frames, dissolves, fades, time lapse, slo-mo, jump cuts, animation, montage, collage, titles and text, macro, micro... which, with shadows and lights, spins new realities................... Add to this mix: PowerPoint, Word, Firefox, Chrome, Chat Rooms, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Wikipedia, AT&T, Wall Street, Tesla, Visa, Bitcoin, ComEd, Shell Oil, Cigna, Merck, the Louvre, the Pyramids, Cleveland, the NHL, Mozart, Tarzan, Mark Twain, Guns N' Roses, 3D, 5G, Quantum Physics, Champagne, Hasbro, Domino's Pizza, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme.................. and you'll begin to get a glimpse of what I'm getting at. But you may still be asking: exactly how can the internet be used like a camera? If so, then I think you've caught my point, because that's the very question, central to my theory, that someone, someday, will answer when they actually (finally) transform the internet, from a simple wire to a camera on steroids - when someone "zooms in with the internet."

And when the transformation occurs, we'll have to learn, and develop, a new super-hyper, exponential, sonic/visual/digital/experiential/global/with pepperoni and cheese language to understand what's going on. Both experienced techno-wizards and neophytes will, once again, be learning a new language together.

I'm trying to make the day come sooner than later. Each term at school, I explain my theory to my photography students, challenging them to find a way to "zoom in with the internet." I offer them extra credit, if they can do it.

Special thanks to Michael Shukin for editing and adding important details!

*Silent films were projected with live musical accompaniment. Thus "silent films" is a misnomer. But, I digress.

©Paul Shukin, 2021


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