This is an old one, but it's still wonderful.
He remained fascinated, however, by the notion of capturing different parts of a person or of people at different times, constructing a still image out of “little pieces,” he says. This matched his growing interest in what he calls “the ever-changing nature of the present,” the constant flow of life that defied easy visual representation.
In 2006, during a months-long stay in Shanghai, he had an epiphany. “I had this feeling that I would, like, scan the flow of people. I began looking for the right kind of spaces where I could find a monotonous flow.” Magyar first studied escalators in Shanghai shopping malls. Then his gaze shifted to city streets—particularly major intersections or bus stops with a continuous procession of humanity. Once he had the concept in his head, he set about to develop the technology to realize it. “It was continuous research,” he says. “It took me a few weeks to figure it out.”
The answer, Magyar realized, was a modified version of the “slit scan” camera, the type used to determine photo finishes at racetracks and at Olympic sporting events by capturing a time sequence in one image. Such cameras were rare and cost many thousands of dollars, so Magyar set out to build one himself. He joined a medium-format camera lens to another sensor and wrote his own software for the new device. Total cost: $50. He inverted the traditional scanning method, where the sensor moves across a stationary object. This time, the sensor would remain still while the scanned objects were in motion, being photographed one consecutive pixel-wide strip at a time. (This is the basic principle of the photo-finish camera.) Magyar mounted the device on a tripod in a busy Shanghai neighborhood and scanned pedestrians as they passed in front of the sensor. He then digitally combined over 100,000 sequential strips into high-resolution photographs.
To more easily comprehend what Adam Magyar's modified camera enabled, watch one of the gorgeous videos he shot.