March 10, 2002
7:16 AM   Subscribe

"This is like someone handing you a camera before the first-ever picture was taken. You have no idea what the light will do and it's the same light that Moses read the Ten Commandments by." Farrell Eaves was heartbroken when his digital Nikon Coolpix fell into a New Mexico pond. Now he's grateful. He fished it out and dried it as best he could, and now it's a magical camera. Read more about the metamorphosis here (frames ahoy - click on "NEW !! Mr Eaves and his Magic Camera" in the upper left). I'm just this close to dunking mine in the tub.
posted by gleuschk (55 comments total)
magical! Thank you for the link! Mine may join yours in the drink soon.
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:24 AM on March 10, 2002

Wow, what pics! Will this open a market for Dunked Coolpix?
posted by Vek at 7:27 AM on March 10, 2002

Buy an Holga camera - between $5 and $20 - and get similarly unpredictable (analogue) photos. Some examples
posted by skylar at 7:31 AM on March 10, 2002

I love this! Thank you!
posted by maudlin at 8:25 AM on March 10, 2002

By all means. Throw your cameras in the drink. It's not likely PhotoShop is capable of manipulating images to look this magical.

Good story though. Magic cameras. heh.
posted by mikhail at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2002

I'm a big fan of Diana Cameras. They were sold for next to nothing about 30 or so years ago, and feature a plastic lens, and plastic construction. A small collection of Diana (and Holga) images.

One thing I almost forgot. The Diana originally sold for next to nothing. Now they sell on Ebay for up to $120 US.
posted by websavvy at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2002

I'm amazed nobody's mentioned the Lomo yet
posted by dagny at 9:23 AM on March 10, 2002

Ha! Photoshop easily manipulates photos to look this way. Hell, that's what filters were made for.
posted by fleener at 9:36 AM on March 10, 2002

Yes, fleener, but it's the unpredictable aspect that's fascinating. With photoshop, you tell it what to do; with his camera, he can only take pictures as usual, and something unexpected and possibly amazing happens. Plus it's a good story.
posted by gleuschk at 9:41 AM on March 10, 2002

what a great story. i love those photos. i don't think it would have even occured to me to try to dry out the camera. i would have just written off as lost and been very sad.
posted by centrs at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2002

Great link. My digital camera looks a little dirty, time to break out the Mr. Bubble...
posted by ebarker at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2002

Terrific! Thanks for the link. There's something very magical about the unpredictable, transformative process that must occur, and those who speak of Photoshop seem to have missed the point entirely.
posted by Marquis at 10:21 AM on March 10, 2002

Those Holga photos reminded me of what Walter Benjamin said about the photographs of Eugene Atget in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence.

Everything old is new again.
posted by elgoose at 10:37 AM on March 10, 2002

Wow that's freaky. Thanks for the link.
posted by riffola at 10:37 AM on March 10, 2002

Maybe I missed the point too, because these images don't look magical to me, they just look sort of stupid. I wasn't filled with a sense of childish wonder at all... and I'm naturally quite childish..

I mean, what's so great about them? It's not art, because it's random and utterly meaningless (and not even meaningless in a meaningful way). Or do technical glitches now count as art? Because I can take some screen captures of the fuzz I'm getting on my tuner card.

Good link though gleuschk.. interesting story behind this.
posted by Hildago at 10:48 AM on March 10, 2002

Some days, I suspect that clavdivs once dropped his keyboard in a New Mexico pond.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 AM on March 10, 2002

I agree with Marquis, but need to come to the defense of my favorite piece of software... Making art with Photoshop can be wonderful for same reason, unpredictability. I love "painting" in photoshop with my wacom tablet, and working with the various tools to get results that often surprise me.

It's not just the unpredictability of the pictures in the story which fascinates me, but rather the fact that many of the pictures (Especially the one of the chair) make it seem like there was intent behind the color choices and resulting composition... "Now, you too can achieve randomly professional results! (Water sold separately)"

Thanks for the link, gleuschk!
posted by kahboom at 10:53 AM on March 10, 2002

Hildago- someone still had to choose the subject, determine the composition, and take the picture. Or is none of photography art to you? Just because there's some random element involved doesn't seem to me enough reason to disqualify it as art. (Watercolor, pottery, print-making and other forms of art also have elements of "randomness" to them...
posted by kahboom at 10:56 AM on March 10, 2002

Kahboom -- Don't (purposefully?) misunderstand me; the photographs themselves can certainly have artistic value, but what I am saying is that if the guy had no control over what the camera would display, no knowledge of it, and no ability to recreate it, then he can't be said to have made artistic choices that resulted in a work of art. I assume the reason everyone is impressed with the pictures is not because of the subjects, but because of the surrealistic color effects, right?

Of course you are right that many forms of art have elements of randomness (or at least things we can't reasonably be expected to predict) to them. To your list I would, in fact, add every way of creating art in a non-digital medium. But there is a distinction to be made between, say, the irregularities of my charcoal pencil or the subtle differences in the way certain areas of canvas absorb colors, and the pictures in the article we're discussing. The difference being that the randomness itself is the heart and soul of these photos, and not merely part of a larger composition designed by the author.

But maybe I am too harsh; it doesn't fit my modest definition of art, but maybe it hits the spot for someone else. I can't say. They just don't blow my hair back, is all.
posted by Hildago at 11:23 AM on March 10, 2002

Thanks for the link, Skylar! I just ordered a Holga and look forward to taking lots of pictures with it!
posted by black8 at 11:31 AM on March 10, 2002

Maybe I missed the point too, because these images don't look magical to me.
you need an $800 magic filter in order to perceive the magic. at 800 simoleans down the drain, the camera has to be magical. otherwise it's merely ruined.
posted by quonsar at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2002

"Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. "
-Susan Sontag
posted by johnjreeve at 11:37 AM on March 10, 2002

gleuschk - ...but it's the unpredictable aspect that's fascinating. With photoshop, you tell it what to do; with his camera, he can only take pictures as usual, and something unexpected and possibly amazing happens.

What do you think a digital camera does? A digital camera only captures and stores bits of data after you tell it what to take a picture of. Any tool can be as unpredictable and magical as you allow it to be.

So here we have a digital camera that is now glitching and storing it's data incorrectly, which is applying sometimes interesting, probably more often unwanted and unusable effects to photographs. The proper spin is applied and we now have a 'magic' camera which some people want to emulate by throwing theirs in different liquids. I say by all means. After that toss your computer in and see what interesting things it does. "Wet Computer Creates Magic Software" film at eleven.

The magic here is that the camera managed to function at all after being dunked.
posted by mikhail at 11:46 AM on March 10, 2002

Thank you, Hildago, for saying it for me. And thank you dhartung for making me laugh out loud.
posted by mw at 12:22 PM on March 10, 2002

wow, some people can find an excuse to be bitchy about anything, can't they?


now you don't have to spend your precious time saying it.
posted by chrisege at 12:27 PM on March 10, 2002

Who are you referring to, Chrisege? Everybody here has been pretty civil so far except you.
posted by Hildago at 12:31 PM on March 10, 2002

Musicians have been enjoying malfunctioning equipment ever since guitarists discovered the glorious aural abrasion that is the overdriven valve amplifier. Whole musical aesthetics are built on crappy mikes, dinky synths, tinny tannoys. Nice to see the photographers finally catching up.

And Hidalgo: isn't the artist's intent present in the selection of images? I'm sure that for every one shown, there are dozens of others whose bits are now randomised into the ether.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:32 PM on March 10, 2002

these images don't look magical to me, they just look sort of stupid.

civility defined.
posted by chrisege at 12:47 PM on March 10, 2002

Eaves tied his still-foggy camera to the windshield wiper of his car … he has witnesses

And no one stole it? Wow, that seems magic enough for me.
posted by HTuttle at 12:50 PM on March 10, 2002


You mean choosing that particular gallery of images? Hmm, you have a point. But then, it's not the images themselves that are works of art, but rather the collection itself, right?

Or do you mean the choices he made as to what to photograph? In that case, I wonder if anyone looked at the pictures and said "wow, a chair with a single light source! A coffee cup? Incredible!", or if it was the way the colors were arranged in those photographs that impressed people. I would say that if this is true, then it would be rather vain of him to say that his selection of what to photograph made the photographs look cool, because as the article said, no two pictures came out the same.
posted by Hildago at 12:54 PM on March 10, 2002

these images don't look magical to me, they just look sort of stupid.

civility defined.

It's called an opinion. I didn't say they were stupid, or that anyone who liked them was stupid. I didn't say I was pissed that someone found these images enjoyable. The fact that you're implying that I did is in itself a bit insulting.
posted by Hildago at 12:59 PM on March 10, 2002

I would guess the selection in the gallery was made from a earlier selection from each shoot. Photographers usually shoot many more photos than they need, on the presumption that they will winnow out the good ones from the proofing sheet later.

So in this case, the photographer's vision of what looks cool coming from the crappy camera, as manifested in the selection of keepers vs duds, is his artistic contribution. The keepers can still demonstrate artistic intent in their own right though. When I said the selection of image si where the artist demonstrated intent, I meant the act of selecting, not the resulting collection. Although that could count too, of course - isn't there an element of art in assembling an anthology, album or exhibition?

Having said that, suppose the artist hooked the camera up to an automated printing process that spat out a stream of images without him selecting keepers. There would still be intent in that the artist has chosen that particular malfunctioning camera, which malfunctions in what he has judged to be an interesting way.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:06 PM on March 10, 2002

I cast no aspersions on the pictures themselves. Personally though, I've seen far more amazing digital manipulations. My problem with this is elevating the whole thing to some magical status where people are shocked that something like this might even occur. You're interested in happy accidents? Then start experimenting with your cameras and how you take pictures. Put it inside a helium filled balloon and float it around your room taking pictures. I'm sure you'll see some magic.

Is this camera creating some interesting effects? Sure. But nothing that can't be done with something like PhotoShop. Saying that what this camera does is magical or even that this persons happy accident is creating some sort of elevated art I find silly.
posted by mikhail at 1:15 PM on March 10, 2002

So in this case, the photographer's vision of what looks cool coming from the crappy camera, as manifested in the selection of keepers vs duds, is his artistic contribution.

Ok, I see what you meant. There is definitely an artistic contribution when choosing which image best represents the theme or message you are trying to capture. You could even go so far as to say that, contrary to my initial argument, the process of selection often factors in how random elements add or subtract to the artistry of the piece.

However, choosing the best from a pile of pictures usually means that you are selecting for them based on a preconception of what your ideal image would be. When you're doing this, it's usually the case that every image tries to capture the message, but some succeed more than others, and some are just plain bad.

In this case, though, I think the photographer (or editor of the article, maybe) was simply making esthetic choices about which images looked best. I don't think the photographer was trying to "say" anything by choosing certain conditions to photograph, because he knew he couldn't predict what the results would be, and I don't think the editor was trying to "say" anything by publishing certain pictures, she just knew that some were more pleasing to the eye than others.

Obviously, I could be wrong, but those are the assumptions I am basing my opinion on. You make a good point when you say that even essential randomness can be part of the process of art; I wouldn't dare disagree. But I don't think that's what's happened here, do you?
posted by Hildago at 1:32 PM on March 10, 2002

Anybody know enough about what a digital camera is actually doing to make a guess about why these particular effects are happening?
posted by milkman at 2:19 PM on March 10, 2002

Good question milkman. Can you imagine Kodak reverse engineering the damage and adding a "Freakout" button on all its cameras. I'm so there.
posted by skallas at 2:41 PM on March 10, 2002

Right. Much of the controversy seems to stem from (the articles' and) my use of the word "magical". Well, clearly that was blogger's license - a more appropriate description is probably "unexpectedly cool".

Any tool can be as unpredictable and magical as you allow it to be.

I've never used Photoshop - perhaps there is a "Wack this out" button that I don't know about. What I found fascinating about the story was the following: (a) the camera still functioned at all; (b) in some sense, the camera actually gained functionality from its underwater escapade; (c) said outcome could be said to be attractive (ymmv, etc., etc.).

Mikhail - on a better day, I would almost certainly agree with your comment quoted above. I think you're almost certainly right. Today, however, KU lost and I'm grouchy. Where's that shot I was promised?
posted by gleuschk at 3:39 PM on March 10, 2002

"almost certainly..." Fer cryin' out loud, where's that shot?
posted by gleuschk at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2002

Looking at these, I was actually surprised there aren't "plugins" for digital cameras. Anyone remember a while back, some manufacturers(I want to say Nikon) produced a couple of cameras that still used film which accepted little cards that would produce certain effects on the resulting images, like the look of them being shot through various shapes(keyhole, etc), or some sort of filtering?
As for what's going on, I figure it's some combination of damage to the CCD that actually processes the image, and probably some glitching in the recording circuitry. Sure it's dry now, but there's probably sediment from the water still in there, laying across circuitry.
posted by Su at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2002

I also own a Nikon Coolpix (a 995), and it saves the images as jpegs. If you've ever experimented with jpeg compression and the data, you'd know how unpredictable artifacting and compression levels can be, and how one small segment of data loss can alter the entire image drastically.

Here's something you can do at home-- Take a jpeg file, rename the file extension to .txt and open it in a text editor. You'll see lines and lines of raw data. Now, go and DELETE several lines of this data in various sections of the document. Save the file, rename it to .jpg and open it in an image viewer. Look! Magic!

..It's not magic, OBVIOUSLY. Happenstance with digital garbage in a photo can create some unintended--but interesting--effects.
posted by Down10 at 3:57 PM on March 10, 2002

My cheapo sony mavica digicam has a fun in-camera solarizing effect, but it's not as interesting as these.

About 1998 I dropped my little camcorder, and the little telescoping lens popped out about 1/4 inch. After that, it was only good for taking mega-macro pictures of my fingerprints and pores and the capillaries in my eyes. That was fun for a few days.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2002

$p%LL#d c0k# 0n my k#yb0@rd @nd th%$ %$ wh@t h@pp#n#d. Pr#tty m@gic@l, huh?
posted by jacknose at 4:34 PM on March 10, 2002

I think the photos are cool. That being said, the article bugged the heck out of me.

The question milkman mentioned above--what exactly was it that happened to the camera--was the main question on my mind while reading the article, and surely I'm not alone. The writer had to know that. But to even speculate, to even get a quote from another professional photographer, or from someone who works for the company that made the camera, would have been contrary to the soft-journalism, how-can-we-spin-this-already-innocuous-story-so-it-makes-ignorant-hicks-feel-better-about-being-alive nonsense that is central the the credo of the Lawrence Journal-World.

Can you imagine what they would have done if, instead of a 69 year-old man who took pictures of his church and connected the effect to Moses, the pictures had been submitted by a 19 year-old goth KU coed who claimed the camera had been posessed by Satan? The LJW would never have printed the story, because they could give a shit about the camera; they want to print inspiring gobbledegook.

Kansas indeed has some nice (if repetitive) scenery, and I like the fact that this story may bring some attention to it, but now I fear that when the national media gets hold of it, those photos will be shown in the context of a "not yet another reactionary religious nutcase from Kansas" article.
posted by bingo at 5:51 PM on March 10, 2002

The nutcase in question is from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. He passed through Kansas last summer on his way home from New Mexico.

The LJWorld article was written by senior editor Bill Snead, who makes a point of putting things on the front page that wouldn't otherwise get a mention in a college-town newspaper.

Bingo, do you have some prior beef with the Journal-World? It shows up on my porch every morning: it's got mediocre comics and a lousy crossword, but it doesn't strike me as any worse than any comparable publication.
posted by gleuschk at 7:25 PM on March 10, 2002

And I'm pretty sure that if I ever called one of my students a coed, I'd be on a soft-food-and-soft-pillow-to-sit-on regimen for months.
posted by gleuschk at 7:32 PM on March 10, 2002

I admit "coed" is an arcane word, but it seemed to go in that sentence better than anything else I could think of at the time.

Yes, I have a beef with the LJW. It's an awful paper. The fact that the senior editor wrote that article only proves my point. When I was living in Lawrence, I realized that the KU paper was actually a much more reliable source of news, and the writing was much better as well. Even the KC Star, mediocre but at least doggedly pretending to be a real paper, has more substance than the LJW. I despise it. Pah on the Lawrence Journal-World.
posted by bingo at 8:12 PM on March 10, 2002

Actually, muffins, Moby (yes, that Moby) talks about how he dropped his digital camera and now it takes oddly enhanced pictures. Click on photos at and take a look...pretty nifty!
posted by metrocake at 8:32 PM on March 10, 2002

Wow, I guess Moby is good for something after all.
posted by skallas at 8:43 PM on March 10, 2002

Bingo: fair enough, maybe I'm just used to it. The Lincoln (NE, my previous home) paper was farily content-free too. I don't keep a terribly tight rein on the events that shape my world, and I get my crosswords from, so it doesn't bother me overly.

It would be nice to hear about sports teams that didn't include former KU stars, though.

Oh, and extra-cool on the Moby tip, metrocake.
posted by gleuschk at 8:44 PM on March 10, 2002

at first i didn't realize this was the lawrence journal-world.
i actually have been interviewed by that paper several times, and each time have been ASTOUNDED at the low quality of the reporting. Having realized the source, i'm suddenly a lot less interested.
posted by milkman at 9:55 PM on March 10, 2002

I think a lot of cameras are going to die as a result of this story.

Unless this camera has been professionally dried, and the pieces individually cleaned with alcohol, then eventually the camera will fail because of the oxidation of electrical circuitry. The streaking effect may be caused by the fact that the damaged circuitry isn't reading and separating the colours in the way Nikon originally programmed it.

However, if this is occurring because of an electronic fault, and the camera has in fact been dried extremely well, and with more than a dash of luck thrown in, it may last. The streaking effect may have something to do with the way the images are built up.

I think it's a fascinating effect. I love the pictures. It's like having a different eye on the world.
posted by lucien at 5:20 AM on March 11, 2002

Is this camera creating some interesting effects? Sure. But nothing that can't be done with something like PhotoShop. Saying that what this camera does is magical or even that this persons happy accident is creating some sort of elevated art I find silly.

And I, with my minimal artistic skill, can create works in the spirit of Mondrian and Jackson Pollock. Does that belittle their artistic contributions too? The truth is, i never could have dreamt of the beauty demonstrated in their works, if they first hadn't shown it to me. If i had discovered it by accident, i'd have likely dismissed it as a curosity for lack of the courage or vision to pursue them as art. I'm not saying that these images are of the caliber of Mondrian, or that i even like them, but they can't be dismissed as unimportant just because anyone of us could do that in photoshop.
posted by astirling at 7:01 AM on March 11, 2002

This would seem to fill the need for a camera that accurately captures the pictures you take when cavorting in the woods under the influence of a psychedelic substance. For some reason, the photos never seemed to captured the Experience....

Also reminds me of the time I was out kayaking with a friend of mine. He brought his Nikon along, and made the mistake of sliding off his boat to take a shot, thinking he was in knee-deep water. Well, he wasn't. Unfortunately, film cameras have a slightly different response to submersion. Especially salt water.
posted by groundhog at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2002

That camera is my favorite up-and-coming artist. It changed the way I look at horse trailers.
posted by Hildago at 12:26 PM on March 11, 2002

if you use Curves in photoshop to adjust colors, you can use the little pencil icon to draw a squiggly line to use as the basis of setting which levels receive which color values. Drawing random lines gives similar results as those camera photos...

looks like the camera is assigning the wrong color values. Like it sets the black white and grey points differently each time. The trick would be to adjust the photos back into a realistic color scheme.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:52 PM on March 11, 2002

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