A Whimsical Seasonal Greeting From A Human Camera

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One of the stranger things I came across while in Tokyo last month was a digital artist who built a human camera that requires touch from another person to snap photos.

It is artist Eric Siu’s bit of rebellion against an increasingly technology-dependent world that distances people from real-life interactions. This effect is especially pronounced where Siu lives in Japan, as the Internet has allowed “Hikikomori” and “Otaku” sub-cultures to thrive. In “Hikikomori” culture, teens actually shut themselves in from interaction with the outside world.

As social networking, e-mail and other forms of digital communication replace or squeeze out time for face-to-face meetings, Siu wanted to create a piece of technology that required the opposite — real human touch.

The Touchy Camera, which he built using off-the-shelf parts for a few hundred dollars, is a wearable camera that requires another person to touch the wearer in order for it to work. Otherwise, the wearer is blind because the camera’s shutter doesn’t open without contact from someone else (see the GIF I made below).

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If you touch him for 10 seconds or longer, that camera snaps a photo that’s viewable from an LCD screen on the back of the his head.

We walked around with it one morning in the Roppongi Hills area in Tokyo. And to make an understatement, the effect on bystanders was a bit magical. Some people would run away if they saw us come close, while others started asking questions. When some of them touched him and the shutters in front of his eyes opened, they gasped and smiled.

The camera works when human touch completes a simple circuit. Siu hands you something that looks like a lightbulb to hold in one hand, and when you touch him with the other, it completes a basic low-voltage circuit.

Siu only has one version of the Touchy camera, although people have asked him before about buying one as a toy. Since releasing it earlier this year, he’s performed all around mainland China and Asia and actually has gotten a bit of interest in it as a product. He says he would be open to making others if there was demand.

He and his partner, another character named Margaret Toucha, just made a holiday video (above) filled with boxers, pole dancers and some meandering around downtown Tokyo.