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Dead medium: Barlow's Potatograph
From: (John Perry Barlow)
Source(s): personal experience Potatography

by John Perry Barlow

In reading Working Note 34.0 (camera obscuras), I'm suddenly reminded of a technology of my own devising that is, if not dead, certainly sleeping. I refer to my invention, at about age 11, of potatography, arguably the least costly of all image acquisition techniques.

The device itself was rather like Mr. Graham's black- taped matchbox, though larger. I used a tightly taped shoe box with a precise pin hole on a celluloid "lens disk" at one end.

The film was unusual, however. I found that raw potato is photo-sensitive and will darken with exposure to light. By coating the focal plane of the camera obscura with a film of thinly sliced potato, I could generally get a pretty detailed sepia image of any stationary object on a bright day.

Required exposure times were rarely less than a day, however, severely limiting the potatographic abilty to capture sports events and the like.

But the price was right, and the potatographs, as they dried, would warp and morph in ways that Kai's Power Tools couldn't emulate today.

Cheerz, John Perry

John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation
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