5 People Behind Big Inventions: Video Portraits

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David Friedman films the creative but ordinary inventors who brought us the digital camera, wheelchair brakes, and more

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For the past few years, New-York-based photographer David Friedman has been taking portraits of inventors--those ordinary people who came up with ordinary-seeming things that transform lives, often our lives, in extraordinary ways. Rather than lofty and fluff-padded, like many such efforts tend to be, these profiles blend humility with creative restlessness, demystifying invention and reframing it not as the idle blessing of some arbitrary muse but as the product of combinatorial creativity and one's everyday life experience.

STEVEN SASSON: THE DIGITAL CAMERA


If you're an Instagram obsessive like I am, you're grateful for the advances in digital imaging on a daily basis. But they didn't just "happen." In 1975, American electrical engineer Steven Sasson began exploring ideas that eventually led to his invention of the digital camera, the patent for which was officially issued in 1978, paving the way for the imaging revolution. This portrait was taken shortly before President Obama awarded Sasson the National Medal of Technology.

Inventor Portrait: Steven Sasson from David Friedman on Vimeo.

"The options the average person has today for imaging [are] unlimited. You walk around with you cell phone or digital camera today, and the pictures are excellent, they're reliably produced, you can share them instantly. I like to say to inventors, 'Be aware that your invention is in an environment when the rest of the world is inventing along with you, and so by the time the idea matures, it'll be in a totally different world. I think that was the case with the digital camera."

TAMI GALT: FOLDING WAGON


Looking for an easy way to carry her groceries back from the farmers' market that didn't make her look like a wire-cart-dragging old lady, Tami Galt came up with the Fold It & Go portable wagon, quitting her nine-to-five job to work on the seemingly kooky creation.

Inventor Portrait: Tami Galt from David Friedman on Vimeo.

"One day, my boss was yelling at one of my coworkers and I'm like, 'I gotta do something else, this isn't working.' So I just looked through my book of ideas, I looked at which one I liked the best, and said, 'That's what I'm working on!'"

JERRY FORD: WHEELCHAIR BRAKE SYSTEM


When crop farmer Jerry Ford's son was working at a nursing home and noted the need for a braking system that would prevent wheelchair accidents, Ford decided to invent one.

Inventor Portrait: Jerry Ford from David Friedman on Vimeo.

"The cost of the falls is huge, and the technology is there to prevent them. Seat belts in cars actually prevent you from getting more seriously injured in an accident, where my automatic brake system prevents the accident from ever happening."

TOM ROERING: AMPHIBIOUS VEHICLE


Ice fisherman Tom Roering's lightweight drivable amphibious vehicle for land, water, and ice that doubles as an ice-fishing shelter and can also be adapted as an ice rescue vehicle.

Inventor Portrait: Tom Roering from David Friedman on Vimeo.

"Ice is never predictable, so each year there is loss of property as well as loss of life."

BRENT FARLEY: MULTIPLE


Brent Farley's first patent was a "chair for aiding the [conjugal] relationships for the confirmed"--that is, a chair for having sex on. Farley went on to become one the most prolific of Friedman's inventors, his creations ranging from the numbingly utilitarian ("self-hanging hammer" anyone?) to the gobsmackingly kooky ("wing walker," we're looking at you).

Inventor Portrait: Brent Farley from David Friedman on Vimeo.

"I look for the slightest problem that I can see, and ask myself, 'Could there really be, maybe, a little bit better way to actually do that?'"


This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Image: Vimeo

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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