Campus Grad Student Founds Global Camera Project

Photo: Kevin Huynh, a UC Berkeley grad student, founded the Common Camera Project. Soon, hundreds of cameras will soon be sent around the world, passing from person to person.
Shannon Hamilton/Staff
Kevin Huynh, a UC Berkeley grad student, founded the Common Camera Project. Soon, hundreds of cameras will soon be sent around the world, passing from person to person.

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With 300 disposable cameras shipped out this week, each traveling to a different person across the world, a UC Berkeley graduate student is looking for inspiration.

The idea of Common Camera Project is simple: take a photo of something that inspires you and then pass the camera on. The last person to take a photo mails the camera back, and the pictures will be uploaded to a website.

"This was an idea to make something bigger than myself, bigger than the campus," said project founder Kevin Huynh, a UC Berkeley graduate student in mechanical engineering.

It all started with a class assignment. In fall 2009, Huynh was told to come up with a way to generate $20 million over three years. Huynh thought of disposable cameras.

But although his class moved forward with a different proposal, Huynh's idea did not die. Instead, he reached out to friends and developed his idea.

"It's a good and interesting way to look at people's behavior," said Vince Law, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and one of 134 financial backers of the project. "People like being part of something bigger."

Huynh kicked off the project with a test run last spring when he gave out 40 cameras, funded by himself, to friends and family. The cameras traveled across the world - including Iceland, India and Vietnam - although only one has been mailed back so far after it passed through a San Jose high school.

This time around, he raised money through the online fundraising site Kickstarter. Huynh said he met his 35-day goal of $1,000 within 24 hours. He ended up raising $2,366. Huynh said all of the funding will go toward paying for the cameras and the postage to get them from place to place.

Huynh's friends have been eager to join him, even when that means spending a Saturday cutting out stamps and putting together the camera packages.

"I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of this project," said recent UC Berkeley graduate Jane Lee. "I intended on being his first camera purchaser, but I was at work and someone beat me to the punch."

Although Huynh is working away to complete his master's degree by the end of this semester, his creative mind never rests, which is evident in his bedroom. White papers cover the wall beside his bed, each paper displaying Huynh's ideas and thoughts to develop the Common Camera Project.

"Everything is really simple, but it's funny how much thought we put into every step," Huynh said.

In fact, Huynh said he spends 30 hours a week working out the details, hoping the extra effort will make the project a resonating experience. With this batch, people can check in a camera and follow its journey online. People can also write their stories about the cameras.

"It's one thing to take a picture with your iPhone ... It's another thing to think about this physical object," Huynh said. "This camera changing hands 27 times, and it traveling around the world and back. It's kind of an artifact when it comes back."

Although Huynh said he has dreams for a coffee table book or an art installation, he is not making any plans yet.

"We want to see what comes back first," he said. "Maybe the more interesting part is the story that people typed about their camera."


Mary Susman covers Berkeley communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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