The Camera and the illusion of reality

authored by Frank Lynam at 21/03/2012 17:16:02

I sat down to watch a bit of BBC iPlayer tonight. I usually broadcast it from my iPad2 via AirPlay to my Apple TV but low and behold having just upgraded the iPad to iOS 5.1 it didn’t work. A quick check on the web yielded the reason for the malfunction:

‘For now, we’d advise holding back from downloading iOS5.1 if you want to stream shows on the app. Thanks!’ (a tweet from the Beep)

So what to do? Only one solution: over to Vimeo, where the AirPlay was still working. Vimeo seems to be doing quite a different thing to YouTube. How to sum up the difference between the two? Well where the vast majority of YouTube is total crap, Vimeo at its upper, edited level appears to showcasing some pretty interesting content.

I flicked through a couple of videos and came upon a short entitled The Camera by Peter Lewis. To begin with it was as to be expected: there’s a lone girl in the sand dunes, she is drawn towards a deserted wooden beach house, she goes upstairs, finds a Polaroid in a chest and starts taking pictures.

Here’s where it got interesting. She takes a photo and examines the result. Included in her canvas is a boy sitting on the bed. She’s initially frightened and leaves the room but once she takes another shot and the boy again appears, this time noticeably more happy and non-threatening, she starts to enjoy the experience.

Eventually the inevitable happens and the boy no longer appears in the photos. She takes pictures frantically without success but as a last gasp effort the picture that she takes out through one of the windows presents the phantom boy heading out on his way towards the sea. She runs out after him.

The film ends with the girl taking a picture of herself. The final shot shows the Polaroid lying on the sand with the girl and the boy both smiling.

A simple tale then; something of a fairy-tale in fact. My take on it is as follows and no doubt the film’s creators had something similar in mind as well. The girl takes the initial photos with the expectation that they will objectively reproduce external reality and she is taken aback when the developed photo so blatantly appears to go against this. But as any postmodernist worth her salt will tell you, the photo is no more a reflection of objective reality than is a work of Picasso’s , both are interpretive constructs. The girl quickly falls for this illusion. She falls in love with the reality as represented by the photo; external reality is now the thing that is to be feared.

The closing shot shows the girl become part of the illusion when she appears alongside the boy in the final photo. Today we are all challenged by the mass produced image. We know inherently that it is unreal and perhaps even misleading but we tend to be drawn towards it in any case. We spend so much time looking at these images, whether they be on the computer screen at work or on the TVs and the movie screens of our leisure lives. If external reality is being increasingly side-lined in this way at least in a visual sense then does it still hold the indisputable and rightful claim to be the true reality?