Category Archives: Society & Politics

Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Visitors’ Is Staring At You

Emma Meyers via The Daily Beast

Twelve years after finishing the groundbreaking Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, Godfrey Reggio’s new documentary looks at what the human face—and the act of looking at human faces—tells us about ourselves.

When Godfrey Reggio was a young monk in the Catholic Church, he was taught, “In order to truly see that which is familiar, you have to stare at it until it becomes strange.”

The principle became the modus operandi behind Reggio’s poetic brand of filmmaking, beginning with his first feature, 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi. “Until now, you’ve never really seen the world you live in,” its trailer boasted. And it was true. The film’s groundbreaking time-lapse cinematography inspired many imitators, from 1993’s Baraka to television commercials and countless movie transition shots.

Reggio’s latest work, Visitors is another wordless meditation on the state of modern man, this time ruminating over our codependent relationship with technology. Taking the human face as both its subject and object, the film unfurls in dream-like slow motion, elevating what is earthbound to otherworldly, and back again. Shot in black-and-white, the clarity of the digital 4K projection enables the sleekest realization of Reggio’s vision to date, even if that vision isn’t quite as revelatory as it was 30 years ago.

Video screenshot

Predicated on the concept of the reciprocal gaze, Visitors begins with a shot of a female lowland gorilla, the primate whose facial structure most closely resembles our own. Set against an otherwise pitch-black screen, she appears to be looking the audience directly in the eye.

“If you take the background out of the shot, you’re no longer looking at a gorilla,” Reggio says over the phone from his home in Santa Fe. “A gorilla is looking at you. It sets up a wholly different dynamic.”

“If you take the background out of the shot, you’re no longer looking at a gorilla. A gorilla is looking at you.”

It’s a technique the director applies to all of the film’s 80 unidentified subjects, and the complete dissolution of the background results in a disarming directness of the image; the 4th wall isn’t so much broken as it is suggested never to have existed at all.

From the stunned freckle-faced boy with big ears who resembles Alfred E. Newman to a weathered African American woman whose drooping eyes are on the verge of tears, the subjects of this first series of “moving portraits,” as the director calls them, have been given no instructions as to what to do or how to react to the camera. “These photographs are from the inside out,” Reggio explains. “Our faces reveal the fullness of life.” Stripped of any stimulus, the expressions of this first group of people expose their true consciousness (theoretically, at least).

The rest of the subjects, on the other hand, were filmed either watching TV or gaming, and they are considered “cyborgs”—not just using technology but actually becoming it.

“They’re being pulled by something that’s present but not seen, which is the screen,” he says. “These are portraits from the outside in. They knew they were being filmed, but as soon as the TV came on, or the video game came on, it was like a tractor beam, pulling them out of their conscious state into a non self-conscious state.”

Video screenshot

As you might expect, the cyborgs are the more animated bunch: they cock their heads, furrow their brows, chew their cheeks, bite their tongues and lick their lips; their eyes widen with excitement or squint in disbelief, their mouths gasp, gape, sigh and scream. But the drama that unfolds across their visages is indicative of automaticity rather than authenticity.

The viewer, meanwhile, are not told what these people are looking at—are they looking at us? Or us at them? That’s the danger of Visitors: the specifics of the director’s commentary on technology might be overlooked.

But Reggio’s deliberate ambiguity also enables—and encourages—freedom of interpretation. The film is less about meaning than it is about experience, and like hypnosis, the effect depends heavily on the subject’s willing sensory engagement.

“It’s a different kind of cinema that may not be for everybody,” Reggio admits. “The ideal viewer is someone who watches the film like a traveler, like she’s passing through.” The effect should be “extra-mental,” he says. “If it works then it takes on a life of its own.”

The experience wouldn’t be complete without Philip Glass, who was also central to theKoyaanisqatsi films. The composer’s score avoids dramatic swells in favor of a kind of shamanic repetition that works alongside the images to lull the viewer into a trance. The music, Reggio says, should act as a “dancing partner” to the visuals, not showing off with dips or lifts, but rather gently swaying together as one.

“I asked Phillip Glass not to write note one until he’d been completely marinated, as it were, in the ethos of the spirit of the film,” Reggio says. “That starts out by him going to as many of the actual locations as possible…to get an original charge.” Once the director had a rough cut of the film (no small feat with over 60 hours of footage to reduce), Glass was brought back into the process.

Although Visitors is at this point as much of a pastiche as it is a poem—its combination of sound and image recall any number of things from Warhol’sScreen Tests to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to examples from Reggio’s own oeuvre—it is nevertheless a film that demands to be seen. Its most powerful argument is for the medium itself, the manner in which cinema—or viewing—can be mulled over. For Reggio, who believes that the “meaning is in the form,” this is perhaps the greatest achievement of all.

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Stunning Portraits Of The World’s Remotest Tribes Before they Disappear

Living in a concrete box with hot water pouring from the tap, a refrigerator cooling our food and wi-fi connecting us to the rest of the world, we can barely imagine a day in a life of, say, Tsaatan people. They move 5 to 10 times per year, building huts when the temperature is -40 and herding reindeer for transportation, clothing and food. “Before They Pass Away,” a long-term project by photographer Jimmy Nelson, gives us the unique opportunity to discover more than 30 secluded and slowly vanishing tribes from all over the world.

Spending 2 weeks in each tribe, Jimmy became acquainted with their time-honoured traditions, joined their rituals and captured it all in a very appealing way. His detailed photographs showcase unique jewellery, hairstyles and clothing, not to forget the surroundings and cultural elements most important to each tribe, like horses for Gauchos. According to Nelson, his mission was to assure that the world never forgets how things used to be: “Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

All of his snapshots now lie in a massive book and will be extended by a film (you can see a short introduction video below). So embark on a journey to the most remote corners and meet the witnesses of a disappearing world. Would you give up your smartphone, internet and TV to live free like them?


Kazakh, Mongolia

Himba, Namibia

Huli, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Asaro, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Kalam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Goroka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Chukchi, Russia

Maori, New Zealand

Gauchos, Argentina

Tsaatan, Mongolia

Samburu, Kenya

Rabari, India

Mursi, Ethiopia

Ladakhi, India

Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands

Drokpa, India

Dassanech, Ethiopia

Karo, Ethiopia

Banna, Ethiopia

Dani, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Maasai, Tanzania

Nenets, Russia

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Cybernetic Fields: Simon Stålenhag’s incredible ‘Swedish Sci-Fi Suburbia’ paintings

Gallery Photo:

By Dante D’Orazio via the Verge

Welcome to rural Sweden, sometime in the late ’80s. Citizens go about their mundane lives and children explore the countryside. But something isn’t quite right. Robots and hovercrafts are commonplace, and decaying science facilities sprout from the harsh Scandinavian landscape. There’s even a rumor circulating that dinosaurs have returned from the dead after some failed experiment.

This is the world that exists in artist Simon Stålenhag’s mind, and it’s only accessible through his paintings. The alternate universe he’s created is inspired by the sci-fi movies he watched as a kid growing up in the rural areas around Stockholm. As he explains to The Verge, “The only difference in the world of my art and our world is that … ever since the early 20th century, attitudes and budgets were much more in favor of science and technology.” So boxy Volvos, Volkswagens, and Mercedes share the landscape with robots. But science has lost some of its luster. In Sweden, a massive government science facility (equipped with an underground particle collider, of course) is long past its glory days in the field of “experimental physics.” Despite developments in robotics and “anti-grav” technology, the difficulties of the modern human experience haven’t changed.

The artwork is impactful as a result of this juxtaposition between the harsh realities of life and the sci-fi technologies of our dreams. It’s reminiscent of worlds like the one so effectively portrayed in games likeHalf-Life 2, and like such great video games, the universe created by the artist seems to continue well beyond the edge of the canvas.

Simon Stålenhag used a Wacom tablet and pen to digitally paint the works below. More of his work, including prints and shots of some of the paintings below in detail, are at his website. All images used with permission, and copyright Simon Stålenhag.

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Che Guevara’s Letter to his Children: Grow up as Good Revolutionaries

In 1955, Argentinean-born Che Guevara met Fidel Castro and quickly joined his efforts to oust Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba — a revolution in which he would go on to play a major role and which would lead to Guevara becoming Finance Minister under Castro’s rule. By 1965, Guevara was keen to spread his revolutionary ideas: he began by travelling to the Congo where he unsuccessfully attempted to train rebel forces in the area; he then moved on to Bolivia, where he was ultimately captured by the Bolivian army and later, in 1967, executed on the orders of President René Barrientos.

Before he left for Bolivia, Guevara secretly visited his wife back in Cuba and gave her a letter, to be read by his five children in the event of his death; the next year, he wrote a similar letter just for his eldest daughter, Hilda. Both are below.


To my children

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, And Ernesto,

If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.

Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.

Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.

Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.

Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.

A great big kiss and a big hug from,



February 15. 1966

Dearest Hildita,

I am writing you now, although you’ll receive this letter much later. But I want you to know that I am thinking about you and I hope you’re having a very happy birthday. You are almost a woman now, and I cannot write to you the way I write to the little ones, telling them silly things or little fibs.

You must know that I am still far away and will be gone for quite some time, doing what I can to fight against our enemies. Not that it is a great thing, but I am doing something, and I think you will always be proud of your father, as I am of you.

Remember, there are many years of struggle ahead, and even when you are a woman, you will have to do your part in the struggle. Meanwhile, you have to prepare yourself, be very revolutionary-which at your age means to learn a lot, as much as possible, and always be ready to support just causes. Also, obey your mother and don’t think that you know it all too soon. That will come in time.

You should fight to be among the best in school. The best in every sense, and you already know what that means; study and revolutionary attitude. In other words: good conduct, seriousness, love for the revolution, comradeship, etc.

I was not that way at your age, but I lived in a different society, where man was an enemy of man. Now you have the privilege of living in another era and you must be worthy of it.

Don’t forget to go by the house to keep an eye on the other kids and advise them to study and behave themselves. Especially Aleldita, who pays a lot of attention to you as her older sister.

All right, old lady. Again I hope you are very happy on your birthday. Give a hug to your mother and to Gina. I give you a great big strong one to last as long as we don’t see each other.

Your Papa

Original article:  Letters of Note

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Eyes Wide Open: Photos From A 1972 Rothschild Surrealist Dinner Party

No, these are not stills from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film, “Eyes Wide Shut”.

It’s December 12 1972, the night at which Marie-Hélène de Rothschild held her famous Surrealist Ball at Ferrières. As you can probably guess by her surname, she was a member of the ultra-wealthy Rothschild banking family. Few made the guest-list but if you did, it was the ultimate seal of approval from Parisian high-society.

The requirements for the evening were “Black tie, long dresses & Surrealists heads” nothing more, nothing less. In keeping with the theme, the invitation which she sent was actually written backwards – to read the invite you had to hold it up to a mirror.

Now when money is no object, the only limit is ones imagination and it’s fair to say that Marie-Hélène certainly had plenty in supply. Firstly she insisted the iconic Château where the party was to be housed, be floodlight with sweeping amber lights, designed to create the illusion the building was on fire. Once instead, she made sure the entire staircase was filled with servants and footmen dressed as cats – all in various poses of sleep.

And once you’d overcome that initial shock, guests were then forced to enter a hellish labyrinthine maze – where should you get lost, one of the “cats” would rescue you and whisk you away where you’d be formally greeted by Marie-Hélène herself. On this particular night, she was wearing a ginormous giant’s head that was crying tears of diamonds.


Even the great Salvador Dali was in attendance that evening, no doubt being bewitching and entertaining in equal amounts. This is just an account from just one of her parties – she had many. But whatever the date, whomever attended, she was meticulous in planning every finite detail, making sure each gathering was an intriguing (and clearly intoxicating) blend of art, literature, haute couture and dance.

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

Extraordinarily Odd Photographs From A Rothschild Party In 1972

via Alex Wain, So Bad So Good

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When Sartre and Camus Met Hoover’s G-Men

By D. D. GUTTENPLAN via the New York TImes

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ''littérature engagée,'' or ''committed literature,''  in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ”littérature engagée,” or ”committed literature,” in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

In April 1945, while World War II still raged in Europe and Asia, an emissary from recently liberated Paris arrived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The setting was the Maison Française at Columbia University, a town house on 117th Street devoted to bringing French thought and French thinkers to New York. The messenger was Jean-Paul Sartre, not yet 40 years old, but already acclaimed as a playwright and philosopher. His message, delivered in a seminal lecture later published in Vogue magazine: “Literature is no fancy activity independent of politics.”

Expressing for the first time to a public audience his idea of “littérature engagée,” or “committed literature,” Sartre held up his friend, the novelistAlbert Camus, as a model of a writer who, far from turning his back on conflict and controversy, was fully involved in the burning questions of his day. Sartre himself was in New York on assignment for Combat, the clandestine French resistance newspaper edited by Camus.

A year later, in March 1946, it was Camus’s turn to visit New York. According to Andy Martin, the author of “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre versus Camus,” both men’s lectures at Columbia University were well attended by students and faculty members — and by agents from J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.

Later, Sartre and Camus would quarrel over Soviet communism and the political use of violence, but at that time they were comrades of the left. Yet Sartre, on his visit, was actually invited to the Pentagon; Camus, in contrast, “was stopped at immigration,” said Mr. Martin by telephone. “Hoover sent out a ‘stop letter’ to all U.S. customs agents saying this man should be detained,” Mr. Martin said. Eventually, Camus was allowed to proceed to New York, where his novel “L’Étranger” (“The Stranger”) had just been published in English.

On Sep. 18, Mr. Martin will give a talk at Columbia on “The F.B.I. and French Philosophers,” discussing what happened when Hoover’s G-men met France’s leading Existentialists. The lecture is part of an exhibition and events, starting Sep. 10, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Maison Française.

The idea of a home for French culture on a U.S. campus was the brainchild of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945. “Butler had lived in Germany and France after he finished his own studies here,” said Shanny Peer, the current director of the Maison Française. “He used to boast: ‘I know every important man in France,’ which was probably true,” she said. “He was also president and founder of the France-America Society, whose membership was a who’s who of New York society.”

When it came to campus outposts, the Germans got there first: The Deutsches Haus at Columbia was founded in 1911. The Maison Française came two years later, after an agreement between Butler and Louis Liard, the head of the Sorbonne in Paris.

A. Barton Hepburn, the New York banker who donated the house on 117th Street — the institute has since moved to nearby Buell Hall — told Butler that he wanted “to place the French interests in this city on a par with the German,” according to an essay in the exhibition catalogue written by Ms. Peer.

The university also organized what may have been the first U.S. study abroad programs, sending students and faculty members on tours of Paris and the French provinces.

“The idea was to create a network of elites in France and America,” said Ms. Peer. For France, the motivation was clear: to make sure that in the event of a war with Germany, the United States would side with the French.

When World War I broke out in 1914, J.P. Morgan, the treasurer of the France-America Society, became the purchasing agent for both the French and British governments, while his eponymous banking firm raised hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to France and Britain.

“You have to remember that before World War I, the United States had much stronger ties with Germany than France,” Ms. Peer said. “There were many more Americans of German origin, and in academia especially, German universities were particularly influential.” Yet, “by the end of the war, French had replaced German as the most studied foreign language in the U.S.,” she said.

According to Michael Rosenthal, an English professor at Columbia and the author of “Nicholas Miraculous,” a biography of Butler, the shift in allegiance was wrenching. “Butler loved the Germans, Kaiser Wilhelm above all,” Mr. Rosenthal said. But after publicly praising the Kaiser, to whom he wrote a lengthy testimonial in the New York Times Magazine in June 1913, Butler welcomed the opportunity offered by the Maison Française to “cover his pro-German tracks,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “He was obviously horribly embarrassed by what he had done.”

Though the Deutsches Haus was shut during the war — its premises were used as part of the Columbia War Hospital — the French link flourished, with the university awarding honorary doctorates to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces, and to Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1921.

When hostilities between Germany and France resumed in World War II, Frédéric Hoffherr, a professor of French and the director of the Maison Française, formed a committee to support the efforts of Charles De Gaulle. He later worked for the U.S. Office of War Information, the propaganda agency that invited Sartre to the United States.

“Sartre was part of a group of journalists brought over by the O.W.I.,” said Mr. Martin. “They were trying to put out good propaganda, and Hoover wondered what kind of good propaganda you can hope to get out of the author of ‘Nausea’ and ‘Being and Nothingness.”’

“Hoover thought there must be some kind of conspiracy between communists, blacks, poets and French philosophers. He was hoping for some kind of evidence of conspiracy,” he said.

The F.B.I. was baffled by Sartre. “These agents were trying to work out what the hell existentialism was all about,” said Mr. Martin, adding that “20 years later there’s a note in Sartre’s file saying ‘I can’t work out if he’s pro-Communist or anti-Communist.’ They were still baffled!”

At least they spelled Sartre’s name correctly, unlike that of Camus, who is identified as “Canus” or “Corus” in his file.

“Camus had been a member of the French Communist party, but the F.B.I. didn’t seem to know that,” said Mr. Martin. “The thing that disturbed them was that he was a member of the resistance.”

Describing the whole episode as “the Untouchables in pursuit of the unintelligible,” Mr. Martin said that the visits of Sartre and Camus to New York had a lasting impact on both.

“Sartre mistrusted America politically. He thought there was a conspiracy to support Vichy,” the French collaborationist government. “But he loved the literature. He loved jazz. He loved the movies,” Mr. Martin said.

“Camus was much more ambivalent,” Mr. Martin continued. “He acquired a girlfriend” — Patricia Blake, a young copywriter at Vogue magazine — and “he loved ice cream and the Camel billboard in Times Square that sent out real smoke. But he found America depressing and never returned.”

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Commie Spy Costumes: The declassified fashions of East German spies

For more than three years, German photographer Simon Menner has immersed himself in the invasive culture of the Stasi, the security service that snooped on East Germans for 40 years. Officially known as The Ministry for State Security, the Stasi recruited from all walks of life, enlisting over 2.5 percent of East Germany’s adult population as unofficial informants just before the Berlin wall fell. So powerful was the agency that Simon Wiesenthal, famous for hunting Nazi criminals, said “the Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people.” For the Stasi, the key to effectively managing East Germany’s population was blending in.
While researching his new book, Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, Menner uncovered troves of documents and photographs detailing the inner-workings of the Stasi, including a dress code for undercover agents. “Once top secret, and now preposterous, these images are both comical and sinister,” says the book’s synopsis. We spoke with Menner, who gave us some insight into the disturbing reality of Stasi East Germany.

Menner’s collection includes many example disguises, which were formulated to help agents blend into everyday East German life. It’s a stark contrast to the Nazi Gestapo’s ominous black uniform, showcasing the insidious nature of the Stasi’s integration into East German life. The photographs were shown at Stasi seminars, as a guide for undercover operatives. “The sad thing is they had to try hard to dress up like ordinary citizens. Something that normally should come easily.”
“Friends of mine who are older than I am and who grew up in East Germany tell me that this is exactly what [Stasi operatives] looked like.”

“As an artist I am very much interested in how images work and how they are used to manipulate people. I did a lot of research on the nature and structure of surveillance systems, because I thought that these are the people who deal with images a lot and use them against the will of those shown – or even those who have taken them in the first place.”

Although the disguises are the most visually interesting aspect of Menner’s book, he says they aren’t the most disturbing photographs by a long shot. Above are the first images Menner ever requested, and his reason for embarking on his search for more.

“The Stasi used to perform secret house searches. They broke into private apartments to search them… The victims of these actions, the people living there, were never to learn about the fact their private belongings had been searched. To achieve this, the Stasi agents used Polaroid cameras. These enabled them to put everything back into its original position after the search had been performed. So when you see a Polaroid of an unmade bed, it is actually an unmade bed before it has been searched. I find that revolting.”
“I am not so much interested in East Germany or the Stasi than rather our own time and place.If I could I would choose the last two weeks of surveillance of the CIA, [the German intelligence agency] BND, and [the British intelligence agency] GCHQ for my project. But I can’t. These archives remain closed.”

“What does the collection tell us about the Stasi and East Germany? Maybe some things we already know… How terrible the Stasi was, and how extensive their operation has was. Maybe some things we did not expect. But a key element is missing. Was the Stasi agents’ state of mind different to those of their Western counterparts? I doubt it, but this remains a mystery.”

Menner ended our conversation with a story, relayed to him by an archivist that aided him in his research.

The story tells of the archivist’s aunt, who was unaware that her husband was in cohorts with the Stasi. While she was at work, her husband rented the private apartment to the Stasi for secret meetings. “She was the only person in the family who drank coffee, and she was left-handed.” Before she left the apartment each morning, she cleaned the family coffee maker and placed it back into the machine, handle on the left.
Occasionally, the lady returned from work and found the handle would be on the right. Her husband wasn’t a coffee drinker, and when she asked him about it, “he accused her of being paranoid.” Secretly, the husband relayed her concerns to the Stasi, who created an entire file specifically on how to correctly clean and arrange coffee makers. “She only learned of this after the wall came down while looking through her files,” says Menner, “She also learned that he spied on their entire family — her included.”
It’s a small anecdote, but one that perfectly demonstrates the extent to which the Stasi infiltrated everyday life, dividing families and creating a surveillance state.
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives will be released on November 30th. You can pre-order it here. A collection of images from the book, including more disguises, images of house searches, hand-to-hand combat techniques, hidden cameras, and even fake beards, is available free of charge at Simon Menner’s website.
Article via the Verge
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