Towards the Invisibility of Cameras

Walter Benjamin, in his seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," discusses the consequences that arise with the introduction of a technical apparatus (photography, film) designed to detach an artistic performance from its original space and time and transmit it to a remote audience — leaving behind the "aura" of the work of art in the process.

Specific attention is paid to the contrast between stage and film. The live stage actor performs robustly for the benefit of a present audience in a linear fashion (one attempt, mistakes and all), and is experienced uniquely by the various audience members from their various spatial locations in the theatre. The audience of the film performance, on the other hand, takes the position of the camera lens, which does not necessarily capture the actor's work in a holistic fashion. The film performance is not created spatially or temporally in the same fashion, either. Myriad performance fragments shot at various locations and times (perhaps in non-linear fashion) are spliced together to create a final film performance, which blurs the distinction between author and viewing public, as the technical apparatus thrusts the audience into a critical, quasi-authorial role.

Read from this dichotomy, the live professional sporting event appears to be a hybrid of stage and film performances: there is a game that takes place in front of a live audience in a linear fashion while at the same time a series of cameras captures this performance for a remote audience.

In an earlier era of sports broadcasting, the prestige of the sporting event taking place was signified by the concurrent existence of the television event. The television camera wished to announce its presence at sporting events, for only the most important such could be worthy of the expense of television. Today, as the cost of the televisual production apparatus falls in tandem with its prestige value, the camera attempts to become as non-intrusive as possible.

In basketball, for example, the desire is to make the baseline camera and operator as small as is feasible and visually one with the basket stanchion, in contrast with the earlier era, when the camera would be mounted on a large dolly and announce its presence. In concert with basket cams, goal cams, driver's cams, blimp cams, etc., the goal is to maximize visual exposure and minimize the appearance of technical intrusiveness, so as to organize the perception of live spectators and create the alibi that the televisual has not thoroughly permeated the structure of professional sport. And if the remote audience assumes the same line of vision as that of the camera, then a reality is constructed in which the technical equipment of reproduction is rendered nearly invisible.

Benjamin: "The equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology."


3 responses to Towards the Invisibility of Cameras

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  1. Derek Stashick says:

    When dealing with live audience vs. remote audiences, I feel that the two are becoming closer and closer with each passing day. While watching a PPV hockey game last year, I discovered that this experience was almost as good as being at the game itself. Much like most sporting events on television, there were many different camera angles which brought you closer to the players than you would be if you were attending the event. Also, this particular broadcast had NO COMMERCIALS!!! The only disruption from the game itself were the actual whistles. During the intermissions, there were pieces done on certain players, much like they would do at the arena. The gap is closing between attending the event and watching it from home… soon I believe ticket prices will have to be lowered because real game experiences will no longer be worth it compared to the calibur of entertainment you can get at home.

  2. sportsBabel » Pixel to Pellicule to Projection says:

    [...] entire choreography of perception to capture the dazzling displays in the building for television, admitting to its own presence as infrequently as possible. The actors on the floor are relatively scripted, but what about the spectator-subjects in the [...]

  3. sportsBabel » The Voice (and its Mingled Bodies) says:

    [...] apparent to the television viewer at whatever contingency is called home, even though its aim is to achieve a perfect transparency that allows for the truth of sporting copoiesis and its measureable objectives to illuminate the [...]