There’s a certain amount of posturing that goes on when any camera comes into view, but selfies elicit an especially unique style of preening. (What could be a more important subject, after all?) The tightly cropped shot-of-self taken at arms-length is the definition of deliberate--photographer as subject, never not posed, with a uniquely limited singular perspective.
German photographer Wolfram Hahn managed to compose a series a few years ago called Into the Light that brilliantly captured the strange and solitary nature of the selfie. Now the Duo camera, designed by Chin-Wei Liao as his final project at the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Design Engineering program, overturns all we’ve previously known about the selfie act--as this one is taken by someone else.
The concept itself is relatively simple. It’s is a single device composed of two identical, easily detachable cameras, each equipped with a synchronized trigger. When either button is pushed, by either party, both cams snap a simultaneous pic that appears instantly in a stitched image at the bottom of the screens.
“The starting point was to look at how to take natural portraits,” Liao tells Co.Design. “I was trying to apply psychological theory to enable people to change how they see themselves.” His background as a choreographer helped inform how we tend to use our bodies and interact with certain products, including how we pose for photos. In spite of the absolute ubiquity of digital documentation in our daily lives, there’s still an inherent behavioral shift when you know you’re the subject of a composition--perhaps even moreso when you’re the composer, too. Liao’s intention with the design of the Duo was to encourage users to experiment on both sides of the camera and shoot more playfully.
It took 20 functional iterations to perfect the technical aspects of the gizmo. After a series of stages that included testing out Arduino and TTL metering, and hacking a couple of Canon A810s, Liao went back to basics. “The final prototype I built used really simple tech: One normal webcam, one wireless webcam, and one computer to stitch two images together.”
The Braun-esque casing offers a nod to Dieter Rams, as well as a whole host of admired objects in Liao’s own collection: toys, Lomos, and, specifically, a decades-old compact Ricoh GR1v that’s stood the test of time (and trends). “Lots of consumer electronics only look good for less than a few years," he says. "Then you start feel embarrassed to take it out.”
Liao is currently refining the prototype, and is on the search for specialists who might be able to further develop the cam into a manufacturing reality. The applications, of course, are intriguing: It would be pretty interesting to send one half of the device to a friend across the world and coordinate intercontinental split-screens. Or the Duo could be the basis of a collaboration between museums, a kind of plug-and-play performance piece where visitors create live-action art with strangers. Lots of potential out there, provided there’s one holdfast rule: No Duckface.