Looking for inspiration? Find a Mutoscope.

After three jam-packed weeks attending Photokina, the Glimpse Conference, Cloudforce, and PhotoPlus Expo, I have something to confess: the most interesting and inspiring gadget/technology/trend I saw was NOT Samsung’s innovative Galaxy CameraFuji’s slick X-E1Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera or a new powerful software application.

It was a Mutoscope I saw at Frankfurt’s Film Museum. “A what?” you may ask.

The Mutoscope, an early motion picture device, was patented by Herman Casler in 1894. Cheaper and simpler than Edison’s Kinetoscope, it did NOT project on a screen, and it provided viewing to only one person at a time. The system was marketed by the American Mutoscope Company and quickly dominated the coin-in-the-slot “peep-show” business.

I am in love with the simplicity of this device, the way the viewer interacts with the story by using a hand crank. And story is what really matters. In under 60 seconds (the “movie” starts below at 00:34) we get to see a “crazy wheel” running free through a small town, and the villagers trying to catch it. See, this is about storytelling, not technology. It’s not about sensor size, firmware updates, bigger-is-better, or faster-is-better. It is about the story, something I feel we have been loosing at an ever-increasing speed. If you are looking for some inspiration or motivation, look no further.

Events like hurricane Sandy make us revalue some of our priorities, the real significance of things we often take for granted, like running water, electricity, and true friends. In a similar way the Mutoscope hit a nerve. For some strange reason, the idea of producing something simply for fun or pleasure is becoming obsolete. We should, and we will, go back to the basics. Work harder on telling more engaging stories, developing new angles, communicating better ideas and asking deeper questions. Technology is great, but it is not the be-all and end-all that most photographers assume it to be. I’m sure some of you feel the same way. Want even more inspiration? Check this out.