We are talking about cameras used in the recording of spontaneous, unscripted "real life". Even in this area, however, we find that cameras can take on different roles or functions, so we will suggest some of the major types.
CANDID CAMERAS: The control of action in front of a hidden camera. Some know, at least one doesn't . The "purest" examples of hidden camera occur when the action is not controlled or set up in any way by the person who has knowledge of the camera. This places "candid camera" stunts on a lower rung, in that behavior being recorded is usually manipulated (staged embarrasments, what-will-they-do-when-they-realize, etc.).
STING CAMERAS: Documenting action that would supposedly happen anyway, or that has already happened without a camera being there The hidden cameras of stings have become popular on television and in law enforcement, and sometimes in both at once. Mike Wallace steps out from behind a one way mirror to confront a medicare fraud on 60 Minutes. John Delorean or Mayor Marion Berry see themselves involved in drug deals. "Caught in the Act" local news reports show everything from smoking chefs with their cigarettes dangling over the food (echoes of Frederick Wiseman's great documentary Titicut Follies) or establishments of many sorts are either less than hygienic or less than honest. Reporters and undercover agents have produced a genre of the hidden camera unto itself.
SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS: Always on, always there, sometimes visible. The division here should follow the basic definition - does the subject know he/she is being filmed? If the answer is no, this is a case of a hidden camera. So, some surveillance cameras are hidden cameras, and some are not. Surveillance cameras generally imply two types of activity: 1. a fixed camera in a somewhat public place (7-11, a street corner, a park, the office, an ATM, a parking lot) to keep a record of all events which take place in front of it, especially those of a possibly criminal nature (and to discourage such acts by their visible presence). Such a camera is generally always on, and has to be visible in order to be a deterrent. Nevertheless, by their very ubiquity, it is possible that those filmed by them aren't always aware of their presence. 2. as surveillance has a meaning apart from cameras which continues to have meaning when they are in use - to follow someone without their knowing they are being followed. This is one form of surveillance camera - the operative on the trail of an individual - perhaps to document the supposed result by filming it. Whether it's a neighbor out to catch a faulty pet or a private detective in a divorce case, a surveillance camera can play a role as a spy who comes back with the goods.
THE CINEMA VERITE CAMERA: Cinema verite, a type of filming that first became popular in the 1960's, was a step toward this changing relationship with cameras we have been experiencing. The cinema verite camera, however, is never a hidden camera. Instead, a fascinating relationship exists between the people who have given permission to be filmed and the always-present film-makers. It is the omnipresence of the cinema verite camera that leads us down the road to where we are today. Technology changes (video, tiny hideable and portable cameras), differing views of privacy, desire for attention, now make the black-and-white 16mm films of the 60's seem quaint in their intentions of immediacy. It is, though, a key signpost from the past. It is the sense of voyeurism, of privacy invaded (even with permission), the "how can I be seeing this" feeling, and the absolute fascination of non-fiction footage produced unscripted and spontaneously, that makes cinema-verite an important predecessor to the varieties of hidden cameras we find today. If you are interested in this subject, we recommend Cinema Verite in America: Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary, published originally by MIT Press and written by Stephen Mamber, who is involved in the present work you are viewing.
kinds of "real" hidden cameras:
We will mainly present our ideas on different kinds of hidden cameras in the other sections, by presenting discussing specific examples and also by showing some of the web activity that has developed around them. Still, just a bit of discussion should help, especially for some kinds not included here. We have also mentioned some kinds above which might qualify as hidden cameras under the right circumstances, mainly sting and surveillance cameras of certain types.
cameras as peeping toms
If you do a web search for "hidden camera" at any of the major search engine sites, you will likely return over 10,000 hits, about 8,000 of which will be pornographic sites claiming to offer sneak looks into dressing rooms, bedrooms, and other places of a generally sexual nature. We decry the use of hidden cameras under such circumstances, at the same time that we note the huge appetite for such materials. The chance to see the forbidden or the concealed is a prime function of the hidden camera, and we would be most foolish to pretend these uses don't exist.
In one of the bolder marketing moves we've seen in the video area, in the summer of 1998 Sony chose to "recall" some models of its video cameras with a nightcam feature, which they said, if used during the day, would under certain unstated mysterious circumstances, allow subjects to appear to be nude. No example of this footage has ever been presented, so one can either call this a wonderful urban myth or a something of a seam, as pre-recall models of that camera have been fetching high prices. In the new models, the nightcam feature still exists, but can only work during the night. Even at night, these cameras are incredibly light sensitive, and represent a large step forward or back (depending upon one's views on these matters) in being appeal to record surreptitious video under the most minimal of light sources. Here at the Center, we have seen footage shot from across the street into a window with only a single bulb, and the video is as plain as daytime shooting. (You can see an example in our "Stalker" video section in the Gallery.) Clearly, besides becoming extremely small and portable, cameras which no longer need much light have greatly changed the circumstances for capturing private actions.
Jennicam/Truman Show phenomena
One substantial activity in its own right is the always-on-camera subject, whether real or occasionally fictional. This phenomena is itself an outgrowth from cinema verite, which in a number of cases also played on its every-waking-moment possibilities. This is satirized quite amusingly in the Albert Brooks film "Real Life". In a Jennicam situation, a person (usually using a cheap "Quickcam" placed on their computer) allows their life within the confines of that room to always be visible to its Internet audience. The fiction film "The Truman Show" takes this a few steps further, but starts from roughly the same premise. There are now also (see our web listings for some) many other Jenni's out there, some again overtly sexual in nature, others quite prosaic. Situated somewhere between surveillance and the diary film, these jennicams have many of the characteristics of the hidden camera (voyeurism, invasion of privacy, prurient interest, etc.) but usually begin from an assumption that the person who's life is on the Net knows it and is happy with this arrangement. What happens to visitors and others who wind up before the camera may still be problematic. Another media phenomena of this sort is the HBO show Taxicab Confessions, where people are surreptitiously recorded in taxicabs, and then later permission is received for the segments which are shown. (We are never told about who might have been filmed and then refused to be shown - we are led somewhat to assume that just like Candid Camera, everybody enjoys the revelation that they have been filmed - a very suspect assumption to say the least.)
aside: Fetishising the technology
As with guns, which they have some resemblances to, the technology of the hidden camera takes on a certain fascination and mystique of its own. We will point you to some of the web sites which take great pride in how small the cameras are, how many places they can go, and how far their signals can go to video recorders. For the most part, we will not ourselves display much interest in this aspect of hidden cameras. Suffice to say that the things can be so tiny as to be barely visible and that slow-recording videotape makes it possible to record extremely cheaply for great continuous lengths of time. Beyond that, there's not a lot to say.
We can most usefully classify hidden cameras according to their usage, rather than the specific type of technology involved. A few of the more popular types are mentioned here, examples of which can be found at many web sites (see our section on that) and we also present examples of many these here in the largest area of our site, with considerable discussion. These seem to us the "purest' examples of the hidden camera, outside the area of pornography.
A low-grade form of sting operation. Parents want to see what goes on at home with the nanny while they are at work. "No Louise Woodwards" is the battle cry of several of the companies which hawk their wares on the Internet. Nanny cams may also have a degree of the home movie to them. It's another way parents film their kids, so this may in part account for their popularity. The video we'd like to see is what the parents do with all this nanny cam footage.
Many situations exist where people want to record "secret" activities - secret because they may be unlawful, of prurient interest, involving people they have an interest in, or sometimes for the simple reason that it's possible to do it. This can vary from nosy neighbors and private detectives to stalkers and deranged people. A hidden camera can be a kind of weapon, with all that implies.
Car and Traffic Cameras
Police have become videographers in a substantial way. Smiting out by recording drunk driver arrests for use in court, the law enforcement community has come to use video and hidden cameras for many reasons. One extensive use is in the dashboard-mounted camera recording traffic stops, Another is the use of cameras at street comers to automatically send tickets to redlight-runners and sometimes speeders. Like radar, police are always adopters of new technologies.
Often with the motive of catching lawbreakers, cameras as we know, are turning up everywhere. When do we know we are being filmed? It is becoming a safe assumption that in a grocery store or a department store, a mall or a parking lot, there is probably a camera pointed at you, whether you can see it or not. What use to happen in casinos now happens anywhere. While this has of course been the subject of fiction for many years (1984, etc. etc.), it may be close to reality. While Jeremy Strohmeyer may have been caught on tape more easily because the rest room he chose to do his murdering in was in a casino, the range of places where secret activities are no longer secret has greatly expanded, and will continue to do so. The Center has a number of such examples which we present here. Another form of public camere is that so much "caught on tape" footage is the result of amateurs (tourists, interested parties) who happen to be around when something happens. The Zapruder film of the Kennedy Assassination and the Rodney King video are likely the most famous examples of such footage, but they are the large tip of the proverbial iceberg. If a public camera doesn't catch something, an amateur one is probably not far away, and we offer some examples of these as well. Like the surveillance camera, the amateur video camera has become so ubiquitous that it surely captures many people and situations where no one knows they are being filmed.
does one analyze hidden camera material?
This is the $64,000 question, or one of them. Is hidden camera footage like other kinds of non-fiction footage? What issues of analysis do they present? How do you look at and evaluate the stuff? When all the cameras are on, is anyone actually watching? Hidden camera material shares with good cinema verite the complexities of the unfiltered physical world. Do we obviously know the truth when we see it? Can the hidden camera lie? Is it different from other cameras? It is to these questions, and many more, that the Center for Hidden Camera Research is dedicated, and we welcome those with a serious interest in such issues.