On Robots and Turtles: A Posthuman Perspective on Camera and Image Movement after Michael Snow’s La région centrale
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On Robots and Turtles:
A Posthuman Perspective on Camera and Image Movement after Michael Snow’s La région centrale

Prologue: A Lost and Found Camera

On May 16, 2010, a Florida Coast Guard officer by the name of Paul Schultz found a digital photo camera on the beach. It had been washed ashore on Key West and was protected by a case made of acrylic glass, designed for underwater use. Schultz took the camera home and downloaded the photos from its memory on his computer. As they largely contained ordinary snapshots, depicting scenes from everyday family life and holiday activities, they did not give away any information about the owner of the device. Schultz therefore published them on several Internet sites that are dedicated to tourism and diving,1 hoping that someone else might find any clues. Indeed, a visitor of one of the sites recognized the children in some of the pictures. Shortly after, Dick de Bruin, the children’s father, received a parcel with his fully functioning camera and its waterproof case. The Dutch naval officer was stationed in Aruba, an island of the Lesser Antilles in the southern Caribbean. [End Page 263]

He had lost the camera while diving on November 11, 2009, half a year before it had washed ashore in Key West. Traveling from the Antilles to Florida through two oceans, the device had covered a distance of more than eleven hundred miles.

This remarkable anecdote is a story about moving images and moving with images, about photographs traveling from coastal South America to North America and back—or, to be precise, about a camera traveling with the photographs stored in its memory. Beyond that, another form of image movement comes into play because of the intervention of a sea turtle. The marine reptile appears to have used the traveling camera to shoot a short film, which Schultz found on the memory card among de Bruin’s pictures. The clip in question had been recorded, as the metadata of the file indicated, on January 15, 2010, during the camera’s sea voyage, long after it had been lost by its owner.

As Schultz reckoned, the camera must have been floating somewhere off the coast of Honduras that day, and this is where the sea turtle approached it. Probably the animal mistook the device for food and snatched at it. In any case, the turtle hit the release button. And because the camera had been set to video mode by de Bruin before disappearing into the ocean, it started filming. The clip that the camera recorded shows how the turtle plays around with it, banging against it, snapping at it, and keeping it in constant motion. The images that were captured in the process are rather shaky, as the camera is incessantly performing hectic tilts and pans. In one moment the lens is directed toward the clear blue sky, while in the next second it turns to show the Caribbean underwater world. Only occasionally the turtle itself can be seen—until, after five minutes, it loses interest and swims away. The video continues for another fifteen uneventful minutes before the battery goes dead, with the lens headed toward the sky, washed over by seawater from time to time.

Schultz edited out the ending and put the rest of the film on YouTube. Uploaded on May 28, 2010, under the title “Sea Turtle Finds Lost Camera,” the clip generated nearly 2.7 million clicks and was commented on as of February 2014 more than 3,500 times.2

Introduction: Cats, Pigeons, and Turtles

Images in general and photographic images in particular are and have always been more than just products of human intention. Nonhuman actors may play a crucial role in their production as well. A striking example is provided not only recently by the [End Page 264] directorial debut of the sea turtle but even much earlier by carrier pigeons, which since 1906 were used by Julius Neubronner to take aerial photographs. The German pharmacist developed cameras with a lightweight self-timer and attached them to the birds before he let them loose. When they returned home, the devices would contain pictures...


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