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Travel photography: What if your camera saw what you couldn't?

In New York, this idea is on a professor's mind.

November 18, 2010|By Christopher Reynolds | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • In central Australia, the rocks of Kata-Tjuta intrigue visitors. But what's behind the pair?
In central Australia, the rocks of Kata-Tjuta intrigue visitors. But what's… (Christopher Reynolds )

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal brought the story of a New York University photography professor who has set off all sorts of academic debates with his plans to embed a camera in the back of his head (where, evidently, there’s some free space available). A museum in Qatar apparently plans to show his image feed.

This is genius, of course. And think of the prospects it holds for travelers.

With a back-of-head camera, you have a chance to double your vacation experience, capturing all sorts of singular sights that elude you now. Look at the tourists above, gazing at the red rocks of Kata Tjuta, Australia. Who knows what kangaroo-wallaby-koala spectacle they might be missing behind?

In many respects, this idea is just a step or two beyond the skiers and mountain-bikers who venture forth with a forward-looking $300 GoPro HD Helmet Hero video camera strapped to their heads. But the possibilities!  

What if you had had a lens embedded in your skull on your last trip? What details would you be catching on playback now?

The people behind you at the opera. Or on the roller coaster. Or on the dance floor.

The valley as you hike uphill, the peak as you hike downhill. The thugs in the alley.

The waiter, assessing your tip.

The bar, after you fall from your stool.

Of course, once we start down this road, some people soon will be demanding continuous high-resolution video, and many won’t settle for just one still image per minute, as that professor in New York proposes.  And somebody else will wonder: What’s the point of video without audio?

Sure, there are practical issues. Airport security. Bathrooms. Bedrooms. Haircut implications. Rear-view envy. (Appealing as it sounds, not everybody's rear flank is going to get a screening in Qatar.) But given the way that Americans have forsaken privacy in the last few years, these factors surely are not deal-breakers. There’s nothing on Earth left that nobody wants to show and nobody wants to see.

So travelers, don't be surprised when that back-of-head camera crops up in the next year's holiday-season catalogs. But you might want to wait a bit for them to get the bugs out. Because who wants hindsight that isn't 20-20?

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