Biographies in Glass


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan.

To capture footage for a series of hyper-personal documentary shorts, filmmaker Josh Kim uses some of the newest, tiniest technology. The nature of the chosen camera is so innovative that Kim doesn’t even have to operate it himself.

The interviewees barely have to, either. They just have go about their usual activities while wearing Google Glass.

Kim’s unique biographical documentary project is appropriately titled Google Glass Diaries. The digital videos feature individuals performing the duties of their personal professions. So far, all of the diaries take place in Asia, and document a diverse array of positions: an artist in Japan, a barber in Laos, a betel nut vendor in Myanmar, or a sex worker Thailand.

The intimate vantage point from these segments renders a connective experience for the viewer, rather than a voyeuristic or exotic one.

From this perspective, you’re also able witness the ways that these professionals manually operate their respective tools and equipment, whether it’s a Japanese acupuncturist inserting needles into a patient’s bare back, or an Indonesian jamu vendor tincturing a portion of the traditional herbal medicine into a tiny glass.

Arguably the most action-packed sequence is that of the Muay Thai kick boxer. A few seconds of his diary takes you right into the ring, facing another fierce, fit boxer, who energetically punches and kicks you in the face.

“My dream is, when I’m fighting,” says Pracha, the boxer, as the Google Glass wobbles unstably, “to stay conscious.”

Audio clips of the subjects speaking plays over the visual footage. They humbly express their life goals, cultural philosophies, or struggles with their societies.

By watching the diary of the Thai teacher Pramote Potiphol, you can see what it’s like for a crowded classroom of smiling, uniform-clad students to bow forth in respectful unison. By listening, though, you’ll learn about her struggles identifying as transgender, in that she has to wear her hair short and play the role of a male in accordance to the country’s policy.

For all the hype that Google Glass entailed in Western societies and consumer markets, Kim told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that when he took the device into, the locals weren’t really phased. It just seemed like another piece of foreign technology to them.

BTR catches up with Kim when he’s in Seoul, South Korea. As he also films documentaries in more conventional methods, BTR asks him if he considers Google Glass to be an effective device in encouraging subjects to feel freer to share their stories.

Kim responds that the Google Glass has a special advantage over traditional cameras because, “as long as you wear it long enough, you don’t even realize you’re wearing it.”

In South Korea, Kim is interested in adding more videos to his ongoing chronicles. Ideas include filming a subway car operator or an actor who does voice-overs for commercials. He had ambitions to feature North Korean defectors but is not certain it will work out.

“The hardest part of the projects is getting access to the people,” he admits.

In addition, Kim’s obligations to finish work for his feature films may eat into time needed to pursue future Google Glass Diaries. Ideally, he would like to shoot dozens more and cover every continent. But for wherever he lands, whomever he features, and whatever they do, the essence of the Google Glass Diaries boils down to a fundamental aspect of our shared existence.

“There are lots of people in this world besides us,” Kim says. “It shows that we are all human.”