How a camera turns people into KAMIKAZE PILOTS
Wingsuit pilot Uli Emanuele had been training for three years, practicing his jumps and aerial movements, before finally attempting a seemingly impossible feat. Equipped with two Gopros and his wingsuit, the 29-year-old plunges off of a cliff in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland—and, after a few hundred yards, flies through a 8.8-foot-wide hole in the rock at 100 mph. The images that go out around the world serve to document a trend: Wingsuit pilots are hurtling closer and closer to cliffs and mountains in their quest to shock the public. BASE jumper Pál Takáts admits that he has sometimes been more adventurous than he would’ve ordinarily dared to be— because he knew the cameras were rolling. “Before every maneuver, you should ask yourself, ‘ Would I do this if the camera weren’t on?’”
David Holmes has done it. His video has now gotten more than 2.6 million views on Youtube. It has become a viral hit across the Internet, having been shared and liked thousands of times. The HD images of Holmes’s daredevil motorcycle ride, including high-speed overtaking maneuvers filmed from the rider’s perspective, look like a computer racing game. A Gopro camera on his helmet makes it possible. But Holmes himself has never actually watched the video. That’s because it doesn’t just show the 38-year- old racing through the countryside on a highway in the UK, it also shows a car suddenly turning from an opposing lane of traffic in front of him and cutting off his path. Fractions of second later, Holmes is filming his own death…
WHAT DOES IT COST TO BE AN ACTION HERO?
More than 10 million people have strapped a so-called action cam to their head, chest, car, or motorbike. Their hands remain free as the tiny camera captures very clear images whether one is diving with sharks, parachuting, driving a car, or even fighting on the world’s battlefields. “Be a hero”—that’s the motto with which Gopro advertises its models. Now for $129 everyone can be the action director of his or her own life. Even entry-level action cam models record video footage in HD quality. They are like a third eye, archiving and storing all that’s experienced. There is also the soundtrack of the wind rushing past your face, of your breathing or your panicked yelling— as was the case with David Holmes, whose Gopro captured high-quality footage of him racing into a turning vehicle before being flung from his motorcycle and hitting the asphalt.
Dozens of recordings of people who’ve ended up filming their own death with an action cam are now circulating on the Internet. There is disturbing footage of BASE jumpers being smashed against rock walls, of soldiers being killed in a firefight, and divers getting killed by sharks. Only their water- and shockproof cameras remain intact. There are far more videos of the near-tragedies— filmed from the perspective of those affected. But is there a connection between the increasing demand for action cameras and the increasingly daring stunts that people are filming themselves performing? Are Gopro & Co. manipulating our behavior? And what are the consequences of almost every moment of a person’s life being recorded?
IS GOPRO ADDICTIVE?
BASE jumping, rooftopping ( being on tall buildings), surfing—all types of extreme sport benefit from these new action cams. The reason: While the professional camera crews with heavy equipment can’t easily climb up a building or head into the waves and would have to rent expensive helicopter squadrons to get their shots, extreme athletes can capture perfect HD shots almost effortlessly with their matchbox-size cameras.
At the same time, the videos and photos on the Internet show that the cameras encourage their users to perform ever-more-reckless stunts. Even Gopro founder and CEO Nick Woodman admits: “Filming yourself doing rad things is an ego booster. It gets a person addicted to making new recordings.” And BASE jumper Pál Takáts warns: “The fact that so many people can see their videos on the Web pushes the athletes on. They always want to try new, more extreme stuff. This means they take risks that they shouldn’t be taking.” Indeed, many wingsuit pilots fly as close to rock faces as possible for the thrill of their audience—which we get to see, thanks to action cams. And so a competition has emerged online: Who has the best videos, the newest perspectives—who is willing to risk it all? “Always looking straight ahead is not interesting to anyone,” observes extreme skier Sebastian Abendschön. “You want footage no one else has, which means pushing yourself ever closer to your limits.”
Another attribute is particularly prevalent among amateurs—that is,
around 99% of extreme athletes: Most watch these videos from the comfort of their couch. They want to imitate what they see and end up underestimating what professionals have spent years training to achieve. What’s more, Gopro & Co. regularly hold competitions in their networks and ask users to send in videos of the most extreme stunts possible— the dark side of one of the biggest revolutions in photographic history.
The invasion of the action cams hasn’t just affected extreme sports. An impact is also being exerted on everyday life. And in court…
At the last second Amy Miller* is able to caution a young man who absentmindedly steps into the road. The cyclist avoids him just in time. That could have been much worse, she thinks. But just a short distance away the same man suddenly runs up beside her, shouts insults at her and then pushes her off her bicycle with full force into oncoming traffic before running away from the scene. What the attacker didn’t notice in his rage: a Gopro on Amy’s helmet.
A few hours later, Josh Partley* gets the first calls from his friends. They’re asking him what he’s done and send him a link—and an image from the Internet. The link takes him to video from Amy Miller’s camera. The cyclist handed it right over to London’s Metropolitan Police after the attack, and officials immediately published the video on the Internet. The police added a message under a still image of Partley’s angry face: “Do you know this man?” It dawns on Partley that he can’t escape his newfound notoriety. That same day he turns himself in to the authorities and makes a confession.
Private videos as evidence—for Lewis Dediare, this is an everyday state of affairs. The mountain biker is equipped with eight action cams as he rides around London filming traffic offenses and then passing the videos on to the police. Every day motorists in London get fines or even have to give up their license because Dediare has filmed them. Some people hate him, while others regard him as a hero.
In fact, recordings like the ones made by Dediare are increasingly being used as evidence in criminal court cases. So it’s no wonder that thousands of people roam around big cities such as London and New York each day with action cameras, filming everything they encounter. Hardly any angle goes uncaptured, license plates and faces are visible. But legal experts warn: While action cams can help solve crimes, they’re also a milestone for the expansion of the surveillance state.
Action cams are also benefitting more and more of the world’s police forces. Thousands of officers wear a device that records all that takes place during a traffic stop or raid. And in the military almost every unit is equipped with a camera. Helmet cameras document operations and help superiors analyze how soldiers and enemy combatants behave.
The fact is: Out on the battlefield, in traffic, while diving or parachuting or undertaking an expedition to the Antarctic or the desert—within a few years action cams have conquered almost every aspect of modern life. They provide an uncensored look at life and death—always in HD quality. Welcome to Planet Gopro…
“FILMING YOURSELF BOOSTS THE EGO– AND IS ADDICTIVE!” Nick Woodman, founder and CEO of Gopro
FILM OF HIS OWN DEATH “Whoa!” yells David Holmes as he races into a car at 97 mph. The motorcyclist was killed instantly. The Gopro camera mounted to his helmet filmed everything. Holmes’s mother decided to put the video online to encourage both drivers and riders to practice road safety.