Helmet Cam Shows Firefighting as a Firefighter Sees It

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As Internet genres go, the helmet cam video is one of the most intimate. You go where the camera operator goes. You look where the camera operator looks. And, often, as in this firefighting video, the camera operator is also part of the action.

The helmet cam is the most natural of camera angles. It is the one your eyes themselves afford you. And yet technically, it was impossible to record until recently. So, through the history of cinema, we got used to the camera's gaze, its aesthetic, its position outside the action, its pretense to objectivity, standing still while the world went on around it. The helmet cam is radically subjective, especially in its raw form.

And yet, strangely, in seeing through another's eyes with fire raging all about, I find myself drawn back to a different fiction: videogames. If you grew up in the last twenty years, you will know the helmet cam vantage point from the first-person shooters you've played: Doom, Quake, Goldeneye, Counter-Strike, Halo, Gears of War. So, it's a strange sensation watching the firefighter move through the house. You feel as if you should be able to direct his actions. Crouch, kneel, fire. Presented with what it's like to walk in another person's boots, and my mind reprocesses myself into the scene and reinserts my (false sense of) agency. 

Helmet cam video of firefighting is, on its face, breathtaking. And I wonder if it wouldn't do us all some good to watch others act and know, intimately, all that we can't control.

Via @Pbump

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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