June 4th, 2009


I snap

Last week I needed a new digital camera and saw a neat one -- something called an I Snap Camcorder AV-60, made by "Camson Japan" -- in the window of an electronics store on 5th Avenue. It was pretty hard to convince the burly men in the store -- I think they were Mexicans -- to part with the camera. It was the last of its kind, they said, and they weren't sure where its box and power supply were. They showed me lots of other cameras, but something about the Camson intrigued me. It had very tiny dimensions, recorded sound separately from video (good for podcasts and interviews) and had a flat base and swivel screen (both essential for tripod-free portraits). I haggled the Mexicans "down" to $120.

This camera has turned out to be mysterious, terrible, and great. I can't find a single reference to it, or its allegedly Japanese (but probably Chinese) maker, anywhere on the internet. Nobody on Flickr, for instance, uses a Camson. What's more, the pictures it takes are pretty awful: there's a blue cast on everything, the flash is pathetically inadequate, it's terrible in low light. As a result, I tend to take the kind of pictures I took in the early days of digital photography: full-on, broad daylight images of flat, graphic-designlike subjects. When I do take indoor shots, I'll often have a thumb in the region of the lens and have to boost the contrast (and therefore the grain) enormously in Photoshop, as in the shot above, taken at Jan's udon party on Sunday night.

The great part is that bad cameras sometimes take much more interesting images than good cameras. I suppose it's an extension of the lo-fi aesthetic -- why would someone choose 8-bit sounds, for instance, when they could have "sophisticated" digital synthtones capable of burbling across the sound spectrum in quad? Well, as the newly-released Germlin THRASHR album demonstrates (and Germlin is Joe Howe, also seen in the picture above, and of course responsible for the sound of the Joemus album), there's a ton of character in cheap and cheerful low resolution sounds.

Joe and his girlfriend Emma are Berlin residents now, and today they're biking down to Oderbergerstrasse to visit Bonanza Coffee Heroes. I'd join them, but Hisae and I have to head back to Jan's apartment: we're covering it for the next edition of Apartamento, the "everyday life interiors magazine" which applies lo-fi -- or perhaps "slow-fi" -- principles in its approach to design. Hisae is taking the pictures. Not with my new Camson, but her old analog Nikon. When it comes to capturing funky ambience, you don't want too funky a camera.

Joe and Momus play together at West Germany on June 24th.