The mystery behind the helmet cam

Helmet cams have become a staple of modern entertainment, giving viewers a feeling of participation never before allowed in the history of moving pictures. But the history of the helmet cam has been shrouded in mystery, until now.

Ever since man sloughed off his bony exoskeleton and learned to walk upright he has yearned to capture imagery of his action-oriented lifestyle. In the early days, he'd walk around with a stick and a conch shell full of elk's blood, quickly sketching out things he'd see in the wild — hunts, kills, maimings, lions playing the piano. He'd make his sketches on a notepad fashioned out of a cured elephant's ear. As man evolved, he abandoned the practice. Deeply distracted by their work, "videographers" of the era would all too often walk straight off the prehistoric cliffs to their deaths. Others stumbled blindly into an ambush by lions, who could smell the elk's blood ink from half a mile away.

Later on, man discovered he could employ newly-invented photographic equipment for a similar purpose, that is, capturing his own point of view as he performed stunts popular during the era, like full-contact horticulture and reconnoitering. Sadly, this practice too was abandoned, after Samuel Elle Jaqueson, a beloved "action portraiturist" of the day was killed in 1847, crushed under thousands of pounds of daguerreotype equipment he'd balanced on a self-made "skull bracket" during a circus expedition to the former republic of Qafqazbaijanistan.

Soon, technology caught up with man's desire for point-of-view imagery, and as camera equipment shrank in size, experiments in you-are-there filmmaking increased in scope. The first "helmet cam" has been attributed to pharmacist/inventor Barkert D'Moone, who used a prototype camera to film what would be his magnum opus, on location at Chicago's Marshall Field's department store. Audiences beset by the Great Depression flocked to see the strange film that put them right into the kind of action once enjoyed only by the nation's wealthy. The Selecting of Footwear is still taught in film schools today, nearly eighty years after its release, with modern directors still paying homage to its groundbreaking "squeezing to find my toe" scene. Tragically, D'Moon was killed in a horriffic accident shooting his second film, Mattress Shopping at Sears.

The mystery behind the helmet cam

In the 1980s, new video technology met the expanding field of extreme sports — and brought this article into the realm of truth — as videographer Mark Schulze strapped RCA's first chip camera to a crash helmet to shoot an early mountain-biking video. In those days, cameras were tethered to separate recording devices (in this case a VCR), which Schulze stuffed into a padded backpack. More mountain-bike and BMX videos followed, and then ESPN producers came knocking. Soon, the helmet cam was a standard piece of gear.

In the mid-1990s, the fledgling World League of American Football allowed players to strap on the first football-helmet cams to let viewers experience first-hand what it was like to be stepped on by 300-pound men in stretch pants. The cameras had shrunk in size since the 1980s and the gear was rugged, but it was still bulky — weighing two pounds per cam — and players complained. More than that, TV networks were put off by how aggressive things got in the heat of gridiron battle, and nixed the cams.

We now live in a golden age of the helmet cam. These days, GoPro and other such cameras weigh just a few ounces. Aspiring racers can take a virtual lap of almost any track in the world — like this awesome kart lap of Laguna Seca — before ever setting foot in an actual car. For this, we can thank the pioneers of point-of-view action videography, some of whom fictionally gave their lives so we can see what others see, as if we were tiny people strapped to their heads.

Photo Credit: Coolamundo