© 2020 Richard W.P. Huang

The Origin

    There are a few things that I got absolutely obsessed with when I moved to the United States; one of them is shopping on eBay. I've always been a person who likes vintage items. Even though some of them might not be considered usable in the modern era, I’ve found that some of them can be very useful. For example, one of my favorite categories to shop for is cameras and lenses.  Most  old cameras are still usable with modern film. Lenses are even more fascinating. Most vintage lenses can be adapted to modern digital camera bodies with an adapter, which not only revived these lenses but also gives a photographer like me results that are combinations of analog and digital processes. eBay is an excellent environment for shoppers like me because we can buy items from people from all over the world. Once I dove into the world of eBay, I kept buying these lenses because of their characteristics. I have scored a few gems in my eBay life; the main character for the inspiration for this project is one of them.

 

    One day, I bid on a Canon AE-1 Program film camera set that seemed to be in good condition (judging by the photos). I won the auction and paid, excitedly awaiting its arrival. A few days later, it arrived in a well-packaged box and was buried in packing peanuts. When I dug it out from the packing peanuts, I was devastated. It was in bad condition. There were multiple spots where the surface paint wore out as well as a ton of scratches. I was upset because it was worse than the "normal wear" which the seller described. I almost messaged the seller to complain, but before I did that, I rechecked everything. Under the overloaded packing peanuts, there was a complete camera kit including a flash, a strap, and even the original manuals. I felt curious and revisited the camera I left on my desk, and I discovered that the marks on the camera look like they came from actual use rather than the abuse I initially thought. It is at this moment that I started realizing there is an interesting story behind this particular camera. There were not only these marks but also a serial number engraved into the camera and its accessories.

 

    A friend of my mother runs a fashion shop, and she has this theory: When an item is manufactured, the name of the owner was written on it. This item will eventually find its way to its owner, even if it means going through a few temporary owners before they reach their destined owner. Being an eBayer, I agree with the theory because a lot of lenses I purchased were manufactured before I was born. I thought about this theory when I looked at the camera. I felt like there is a reason behind me buying this particular camera, rather than another from the many other auctions on the site. That is to say, the camera came to me for a reason; its story should be seen.

Design

    The original concept for this project was to create an environment in which a person can experience objects and read the stories about them without any distractions. In other words, this is a one-person experience. Therefore, I concluded that a medium-sized dark room would be the ideal setup. In the room, there would be multiple pedestals with subjects on them. Because there would be multiple subjects in the room, I designed a lighting system that would change according to the location of the user. When the user walks towards an object, the brightness of the light on that  object will increase. At the same time, the lights on other objects will dim. The difference between brightness will make other subjects invisible, leaving the audience with only the one they selected. When the audience leaves the room, the lighting will reset into the initial state. Thus, people can navigate their way out or move on to the next item.

Concept illustration - Lighting system working

Prototype & User Testing

    I followed my original design for the first version prototype. I showed people the camera and asked what they thought, and I discovered that people couldn't read the stories from the objects. Most of my testing users could only see the fact that it was an old camera in bad condition. Hence, I decided to make the camera tell its own story in the second prototype. I wrote two stories according to the evidence on the camera as well as on research of the camera's manufacture date. One story is from the point of view of a human using the camera and the other story is from the point of view of the camera. Both stories were based on events that happened at the location and time of the manufacturing of the camera. Even though I wanted the story to be told from the camera's point of view, I made two versions because I wanted to see what people thought. I then recorded a voice actor telling the stories. This method turned out to be very effective, and suddenly people understood the meaning of my project. Surprisingly, people liked the camera's point of view better, just like I initially wanted. They also thought the story was plausible due to my research, despite the fact that it was fiction. My testers then suggested adding visuals to support the audio, which (they thought) would make the story even more convincing. I felt like it was worth trying, so I implemented it into my third prototype, which was also my final prototype.

    I dove into the internet and searched for pictures taken by media back in the time which the camera has been used - photos that were possibly taken with the same model. I created a slideshow using the photos and information gathered, then combining them with audio. Of all versions, this is the most praised prototype, and I think it achieved the result I wanted because users can easily be immersed in the story. The only feedback I got for this version was that people wanted the story to be longer, which more than likely will happen in the full, future version.

Concept illustration - How it works

Conclusion

    Second-hand shopping is not only a great way to extend the lifespan of objects and reduce the number of waste humans produce, but it is also a method to meet exciting items. Being an artist as well as a designer, I have the ability to read the stories on objects, but this does not mean that my audience and users have the same level of sensitivity. To me, this is the exact reason why we need to improve the design of our projects to make these stories accessible to more people. Whether it is creating an art piece or a product, obtaining feedback from people is an essential aspect in the process of making. Gathering point of views from different people can drastically improve the current design and spot flaws that we didn’t see.

Concept illustration - Final design

Media

Hardware

Software

Date

Interactive Installation

Computer, DMX Lights, Stereo Speakers, Projector

Cycling '74 Max 7

December 2018