I spy with my little eye: Rob Spence's eye-witness documentary approach
There's being handed lemons and making lemonade. And then there's being blind in one eye and turning that eye into a camera. Talk about 'I Am a Camera' - Christopher Isherwood had nothing on Rob Spence.
Spence is a Canadian documentary filmmaker who is working on a project on "the global spread of surveillance cameras." For the project, he'll be recording the people he's interviewing with a camera hidden in his prosthetic eye. (This story was reported in an AP article reprinted in The Boston Globe.) With his camera, Spence:
...plans to become a "human surveillance machine" to explore privacy issues and whether people are "sleepwalking into an Orwellian society."
Spence, who was blinded in a childhood firearms accident, came up with the idea for the camera when he came to the realization that he could fit something the size of a cell phone camera into his eye socket. People would quite naturally be freaked out to see a camera where someone's baby blue should be, so Spence's will be hidden in his prosthetic (which, for the record, is light hazel).
Spence does not plan on telling people about the camera before he interviews them, but will be letting them know after the fact, when he goes after their permission to use them in his film.
Spence is working on his weird and wonderful camera with weird and wonderful engineers like Steve Mann, formerly of MIT's wearable computer research team, and now at the University of Toronto.
The camera itself comes from OmniVision, maker of the mini-cams used in cell phones, laptops, and.... colonoscopy equipment.
Spence has both hopes for and questions about his Eyeborg (Spence's word).
"As a documentary maker, you're trying to make a connection with a person," he says, "and the best way to make a connection is through eye contact."
But Spence also acknowledged privacy concerns.
"The closer I get to putting this camera eye in, the more freaked out people are about me," he said, adding people aren't sure they want to hang around someone who might be filming them at any time."
Spence is in an awkward position here. If he let the people he's interviewing know about his device prior to a conversation they would, quite naturally, be inclined to act a bit unnaturally. And you can see that people might be a bit ticked off and feeling a bit duped when they learned about the magic eye after the fact.
Still, Spence's use is largely for a good and reasonably benevolent purpose. Not to mention extremely interesting, giving that his topic is Orwellian surveillance.
And, other than in a James Bond movie, no one is likely to deliberately gouge his eye out so that he - and, yes, it would most likely be a he - can put a camera in it. But cameras will be getting more and more (or is it less and less) miniaturized. And wearable computers will be getting a lot more wearable than the ones that Steve Mann sports. This can only mean that there will be all kinds of new and improved invasions on our privacy - ones that make the old cell-phone-under-the-toilet-stall look like nothing.