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Eye and Camera

The invention of the camera may not have been consciously modeled on the human eye, but at least we know it wasn’t the other way around. We can know also that the eye, eyesight, vision had everything to do with the invention of photography, which essentially means “writing with light”—from Greek words meaning “light” and “drawing, delineation.” In fact, light is the first element necessary to both eyesight and photography or the camera. The eye and the camera both need light to see, both have lenses, and when you open and close your eye it is like a camera shutter opening and closing. Don’t look now, but I am a camera!

The English word “camera” derives from the Latin word of identical spelling, whose meaning is “vaulted room” (from a Greek word meaning “vault”). The first photographs literally required their subjects be in a small room—indeed, the early camera and the photography studio were essentially one and the same space.

There are not a lot of similarities between the eye and the camera until actually the invention of the video camera. Yet, if the eye fixes its gaze on one still object or scene and the eye does not rotate to look up, down, right, left, etc., then there is a high correlation between the eye and the still camera, which can capture one still image.

Continuing with the eye and the video camera, the analogy breaks down when we consider that the eye can rotate in a potential infinity of angles, looking around at many different things—some of which may be moving. The video camera can “see” moving things, too, and can even record them for “third-party” viewing, whereas the eye does not do this. But more distinctly, as the eye’s focus moves around the eye automatically adjusts for varying brightness, encompass a wider angle of view than a camera, and can alternately focus on objects at varying distances with equal clarity (with clarity decreasing only naturally with increasing distance).

Another difference is that a camera, still or video, captures reflections of light, kind of like the computer acronym WYSIWYG, What you see is what you get. Whereas with the eye, what we see is our mind’s reconstruction of objects based on input provided to the mind by the eyes—not the actual light (reflections) received by our eyes.

Do we look at the world upside down? Probably not or else we’d be walking on the ceiling. But the next step is the brain inverts the image again, and we see the light bulb top end up, bottom end down. That’s not to say you can’t be lying down face up under the stars at night imagining yourself looking down into outer space… is it? Well, perhaps that’s quite enough head over heels for one blog… but to be continued at some future interstices of light, image, and shadow…

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