Mirror with Memory and a Blind Spot

Reflecting everything but the camera

Joanne McNeil
Jul 8, 2013 · 3 min read

You can’t call the Google Street View camera a narcissist. Any mirror-shot selfies it takes were never meant to be published and shared. This is something Greg Allen wrote about recently, looking at Google Street View’s images of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.

The mirrored surface of buildings on the promenade shows no reflections of the cameraman. Google stitched together images to purposefully edit out signs of itself. “Whether selfies are considered distracting, extraneous, or just undesirable, Google is trying not to photobomb itself,” he writes.

It doesn’t always work. Just look at this recent example of a Google Street View car and Street View trike capturing each other while driving in opposite directions in Central Park.

And here’s a Street View contractor taking images in a cafe in East London, spotted on the Resident in Maps tumblr. Bit of a lecherous look on his face, or perhaps he’s sleepy. He likely never expected that image to be published. Google’s face-detection algo didn’t blur his face. Perhaps we might expect cameras edited out by algorithm soon enough.

Google’s attempt to hide its apparatus may be tied to the increasingly POV-centric nature of digital video and images. Rex Sorgatz wrote a post on the subject for the Tribeca Film Festival blog. As an example, he looks at this YouTube video of a trombone taken from the end of the slide, moving in and out toward the instrumentalist’s face. But there is no reflection of a camera in the brass.

What if instead of a camera in the trombone’s reflection, your expectation was to see your own face peering back at you, stretched to abstraction in shimmery gold? By cloak or some odd magic, what you see in the absence of the camera is your own invisibile presence as the spectator.

Mirror with a memory” is what Oliver Wendell Holmes called photography, a description that has held up since his writing on the daguerreotype through Polaroids and Instagrams today. But here the mirror has a blind spot —it is shaped like a camera and the person holding it. The camera is “disappearing,” as Sorgatz says, and with it, it strips away the conceit of intent. As our devices get smaller and we make conscious decisions to edit out signs of the devices, perhaps “photography” doesn’t quite fit as a description. We hardly even take pictures with “cameras” anymore — on an every day level, we are talking about phones. But whatever the image-making device, it isn’t just disappearing from view in mirrors. Reactions to the camera —another way the device makes its presence known — are disappearing as it becomes part of the environment.

Think of this in relation to Google Glass videos with first person point-of-view perspective — for example this video of Gangnam Style through Glass. There is no gesture to indicate the video has begun. It is seemless. On and off, beginning and end — this is mutable now. Consider the context of this heavily documented moment in time — of CCTV footage, machine vision, satellite aerials, dashcams, GoPro headsets, the devices in our pockets, the seemingly non-stop capture — the “constant moment,” as Clayton Cubitt has called it. Photography, Cubitt writes, is less about being physically present; we’ve expanded “the available window of temporal curation from ‘here and now’ to ‘anywhere and anytime.’”

We are hardly talking about images any more. We are talking about experience saved as visuals. Representations of the past in pixels. The digital media accumulates like a snake sheds its skin.

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