"Dick Cheney's Aorta!
Check it out!

by David Friend

Recently, the 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.

"Science fiction?"

"The British 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.

The capsule 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 hands.

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.

len@loopknot.net on 06/21/2000 11:03:03 AM
To: dfriend@vf.com
Subject: JusT lissen 2 this

dave i got it man
(Len always communicates in frenzy-mode, suspiciously punctuated.)

dave u gotta lissen. u c that piece in the trib on the bellycams? so check thissout. I got a line on 2 interns over at michael reese hospital who can swipe me a coupla these things, k? so we take em on the QT and sell these buggers to some of your paparazzi buds, rite? and they use em 2 slip into, like, meals celebrities r eating at fancy restaurants, ya know? these things take @$-ing HOURS of tape or something crazy, for cryin out loud. so these stars, man, they never knew what hit em. whutami nuts? what newsmag show woodnt bite? or the tabs, or some of those European glossies, c'MON! I mean who woodnt pay top gelt for a few minutes down Julia Roberts' esophagus? thingkabowdit. 1 week u break news: Dick Cheney's rushed into the o.r. with that heart thing--and bam, u feed the guy a live feed. the next week, u got the world exclusive on madonna's fetus. WHILE its brewin. say cheese, babe!

u gotta luv it!! and y not? remember those guys, man, during the playoffs who were tryin 2 sell patrick ewing's x-rays? and those catscans of Liz Taylor from after her brain surgery--that somebody put up on the net? thatz smalltime potatoes n gravy compared 2 this stuff. this is HUGE dave. a live tummycam. broadcast over the net. shotz from the inner recesses of geraldo and rosie and larry king. simulcast. tho i dont know if i wanna see wassup on larry king's insides 2 tell u the truth.

dave how kewl is this?
u gotta email me before lunch, man, cuz im tellin ya i know this is gonna be big
u go ta lunch yet?
; ) i ~ len

Leave it to Len to cook up this one. Thingkabowdit. A photographer for the 21st century: the pancreatic paparazzo.

David Friend is the Editor of Creative Development for Vanity Fair Magazine. Along with Graydon Carter, Friend edited the new book Vanity Fair's Hollywood.