Chicago Tribune ran a remarkable story based on a recent
item in Nature, the venerated scientific publication. Under
the headline, "Take One Camera, Call Me In the Morning," journalist
Peter Gorner offered the following dispatch:
"A camera, so
small that it can be swallowed like a pill, works its way like a
tiny submarine through the storm-tossed digestive tract, scouting
out disease and sending back pictures of everything it encounters.
journal Nature, on Wednesday, published the report about
'a wireless, disposable endoscope system that is no more bothersome
to use than swallowing an aspirin, but holds promise against diseases
that afflict millions of people each year.'
"It is the first
of what some researchers believe will be a fleet of tiny probes
that will ply the body, giving doctors a view of tumors, leaking
blood vessels and other maladies."
There was no
mistaking it. This sounded like a true photographic milestone, though
the nuances took me a minute to digest.
endoscope, as it is called, can expose up to five hours of color
video during a typical trip from the mouth through the intestinal
tract to the colon. (The device completes its voyage by being excreted
by the patient.) As it meanders through the body, the camera's location
is monitored by a matrix of antennae strategically affixed to the
patient's torso. A doctor, watching the mechanism's progress from
a nearby computer, can check for bleeding ulcers, colitis, and various
gastrointestinal ailments, including cancer.
Since the moment
I read the Tribune piece, I had a gut instinct about this
invention. In a perfect world, one would welcome a diagnostic tool
that promised to save lives in a relatively noninvasive way (as
compared with other forms of endoscopy, which require anesthesia
and which can damage the walls of the intestine). However, this
world is anything but perfect, especially when cameras are involved.
And the more I thought about it, the more I understood the inherent
pitfalls if this pill-camera, were it ever to fall into the wrong
No sooner had
I finished the article, of course, than the emails started lobbing
in. Most of them from my friend, Len Scapp.
Scapp is a dotty,
slightly cross-eyed, neighborhood studio photographer who had gone
to seed a while back, only to be resurrected in recent months as
a self-proclaimed digital photography expert. Scapp is known in
the seedier sections of Chicago's North Side as a ragged Neanderthal
who had spent a few too many years in the darkroom, molting. He's
a man never without his mustard-stained bush jacket, or his light
meter, dangling from a ratty chain around his neck.
Scapp, as usual,
was looking for the best angle--the angle that would help him make
a quick buck off the latest photographic scam. That morning's email
was vintage Len.