There’s a lot more to taking a beautiful photograph than simply pushing a button on a nice camera. But, if you can’t push that button at all, it’s extremely difficult to take any kind of picture at all. For years, photographer James Dunn, who is afflicted with epidermolysis bullosa, sometimes known as butterfly skin, has been finding ways to capture the world he sees, despite the fact that he cannot use his hands. This means not only some missed shots, but also the development of a powerfully supportive collaborative effort between him and his parents who help him to position the camera, work the dials, and snap the photo.
That support network recently grew to include Jude Pullen, an award-winning design engineer, and a crew member of Big Life Fix, a show highlighting the efforts of a diverse set of “builders, designers, engineers, and computer geeks [as they] aim to to use science to change the lives of British people who have problems that are either too specific, bespoke, or too expensive to be fixed by mainstream solutions.” Pullen wanted to create something that would take the rough work out of capturing images and allow Dunn’s eye and mind to truly be in charge of his photography. This was more complicated that a simple shutter release mechanism, as Pullen explained in a recent interview with Digital Trends:
“James suffers from a terminal illness called epidermolysis bullosa…As a result, his skin is very fragile and any dragging movement or pressure, like pressing the button on a camera, is incredibly difficult. His fingers are also fused together, which means that he doesn’t have a fine pressure point that he can easily have any dexterity with. It [additionally] means the job wheel on SLR cameras is not accessible to him, and in addition the lens can’t be adjusted manually.”
Pullen’s solution was a system that he named Zocus, designed to control the zoom and focus on the camera through a smartphone or tablet. While the uncommon nature of Dunn’s needs made the development of such a device outside of the demands of a monetary-centered market, the actual device itself is relatively inexpensive to create, once designed, and Pullen has created an Instructables tutorial to help walk anyone interested through the process. The capabilities provided through the 3D printed rig and accompanying app effectively put Dunn in the driver’s seat again.
As Burk Uzzle, an American documentary photographer, once said, “Photography is a love affair with life,” and Dunn himself expressed the importance of being able to engage in his love affair:
“Memories are important because with a terminal illness your’e not going to live a full life, so while I’m here, it’s about having fun, making memories, and leaving something behind. It feels amazing. It’s life changing…I want people to remember that this is what I enjoyed and this is where I found my happiness.”
With a rare illness that manifests itself in such a dramatic and heart-wrenching manner, it’s easy to become distracted by his condition. However, looking at the images that this young man creates, I quickly realized how much more there is to him. His images capture a world not merely observed, but engaged by a keen mind, possessed of an even keener eye. Delicate compositions are rooted in rich settings and animated by the unexpected movement, unusual angle, or the carefully chosen focal point.
While it may often seem that 3D printing focuses on the creation of the trivial, this story is yet another reminder of the profound impacts that this technology has on the every day lives of so many. There’s nothing wrong with the fun stuff either; in fact, it’s the very gamut of possibilities present in the use of advanced manufacturing tools that are a testament to the importance of the continued mastery and integration of this technology as a means for human expression and response.
That’s a beautiful image indeed.
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