Swimming in Puddles and Diving Down Drains with an Endoscopic Camera

The inside of a garden hose. Taken with the Aardvark HD Inspection Camera, 2016.
The inside of a garden hose. Taken with the Aardvark HD Inspection Camera, 2016.


What hard-to-reach places can an inspection camera reveal?

An inspection camera, also called an endoscope or a borescope, is a camera attached to the end of a flexible tube.  It can go places a larger camera wouldn’t dare. It’s the fifth in this series of posts documenting my collection of unusual cameras, after underwater, microtrail cam and thermal camera.

Endoscopes have been used in surgery since the 1960s, and the term endoscope is used for larger inspection cameras as well–though the name borescope is more precise–that are used in the automotive and plumbing industries.


Interesting and horrifying endoscope videos on YouTube show the inner workings of our bodies, homes, cars, and cities.  Stomach ulcers, brain surgery, a cylinder inside an internal combustion engine, and angry drain rats are easily encountered up close.

The Aardvark HD Inspection Camera

endoscopeI received my Aardvark HD inspection camera as a gift last Christmas from my father; he knows I like cameras like this and totally surprised me with this one.

This camera is sized for automotive and plumbing use rather than surgery or inner body exploration.

It doesn’t look like a camera. People on the street ask what I’m doing. The unit connects to a smartphone through Wi-Fi, and the camera, which is waterproof and has a built-in light at the lens, sits at the end of a long, flexible tube.

The Wi-Fi it uses to connect to a smartphone is currently so buggy that it’s considered unusable by many reviewers.

I expect this will improve as the app “Wifi Endoscope” updates, but the wireless connection currently drops approximately every two minutes of use, requiring a five-minute power cycle/re-connection.

It's easy for the endoscope's flexible lens to point to what it's displaying, resulting in an infinite regress.
It’s easy for the endoscope’s flexible lens to point to its display, resulting in an infinite regress.

Because the camera is on the end of a flexible snake that can also be twisted,  simply lining up the horizon so the image isn’t upside down makes every shot is tricky; the connection typically drops before I take the first shot.

Even the most tranquil-looking images I’ve taken with this camera are the product of a blood-boiling amount of frustration.

Puddle Dives

4770 Telegraph reflected in a puddle, Oakland, CA, 2016
4770 Telegraph reflected in a puddle at sunrise. Oakland, CA, 2016

The camera is waterproof and has a ring of little lights surrounding its lens. It also has the ability to focus very close while retaining background detail.

Its images have an unusual feel: in the photo above, the sun is a buttery yellow, the sky is candy blue, and the blacks and whites are extreme. The depth of focus gives it an almost tilt-shift look, making the scenery seem fake.

Puddles like these at the edges of city streets were my first subject. I spent last January walking around my neighborhood in the rain, transforming gutters into swimming holes overlooking rush-hour traffic and turning tiny puddles into lakes.

Puddle dip in Temescal Alley, Oakland, CA. Taken with the Aardvark HD Inspection Camera, 2016.
Puddle dip in Temescal Alley, Oakland, CA. 2016.

 

Gutter swim on a rainy winter evening, 51st Street, Oakland, CA. Taken with the Aardvark HD Endoscopic Inspection Camera, 2016.
Gutter swim on a rainy winter evening, 51st Street, Oakland, CA.  2016.

 

Night swim in three-inch-deep water. Taken with the Aardvark HD Endoscopic Inspection Camera, 2016.
Night swim in three-inch-deep water, 48th Street, Oakland, CA. 2016.

Object’s Eye View

The following one-minute videos capture a journey down a storm drain and a dip into a running washing machine.

drains-to-bay
Click Photo to Take A Ride Down The Drain

 

Click to dive into the Washing Machine
Click photo to dive into the Washing Machine (While it’s Running).

Probing where I Don’t Belong

The inspection camera gives an intimate view of places I would never want to touch, including some places I didn’t show here, like the rat hole in my backyard. My skin crawls just thinking about sticking the probe down the hole–in violation of the rat’s home–and watching the screen in anticipation. Thankfully for all, the rat was not in the hole any of the multiple times I dove in.

This camera dares me to do things like that, and I would then, while still physically creeped out, bring it over to the shower or washing machine for a “cleaner” shoot.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. Taken with the Aardvark HD Endoscopic Inspection Camera, 2016.
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. 2016.

I just saw the movie “Alien” (1979) for the first time. The film’s images of violation by penetration, the ominous beauty of H.R. Giger‘s organic world, and the orchestration of anticipation and sudden disgust: I could feel it all in my body, and it reminded me of using the inspection camera. And I realized that I like it for the same reason I watch horror movies.

The mix of curiosity, fear, and dominance I felt when the probe was in the rat hole, anticipating an unseen monster. The stylized color palette and unnatural perspective. The jerky camera movements.

A constant loss of balance, bobbing, and a sense of drowning; not knowing which way is up, as when emerging from the storm drain as if I’d been trapped in the underworld.

Then the WiFi cuts out and I need to reboot.

All Photos and Video by Emily Wick

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