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See Milwaukee through the lens of a Game Boy Camera

Josh Arter takes photos of the city through the lens of a Game Boy Camera. 

“Basically, in the '90s, Nintendo came out with the Game Boy game that wasn't an actual game,” Josh explains. “It was a cartridge that had a camera in it. I bought one a couple years ago. I've always been into photography and I've always had some Milwaukee-centric side projects and so I thought it would be really cool to roll around the city and take photos of everything with the Game Boy. I've been doing it ever since.”

The Game Boy Camera came out in 1998. Nintendo stopped manufacturing them in 2002. Josh says he got his camera off eBay and they don’t cost much. They’re roughly in the $20 range, making them fairly accessible. Josh says working with the Game Boy Camera isn’t quite like working with the powerful cameras many cell phones have today.

“It's really fun, just due to the limitations of quality,” says Josh. “It's really sensitive to light. If you're trying to shoot a picture where half of it is in the shadows and the other half is really lit up, it tends to glom on to the really lit up side of things.”

There are photos of the Hoan on Josh’s Instagram as well as Fiserv forum and the Milwaukee Public Market. All pictures are black and white and pixelated.

Starting out Josh says he had just the one camera but now he has multiple. Having more than one helps him overcome storage restrictions when he’s out taking photos. The Game Boy Camera doesn’t operate with the 64 or 128 gig SD cards that we’re accustomed to using today. It has its own internal one that has far less space than most SD cards. It can only hold up to 30 photos. With multiple cameras Josh can swap them in and out of the Game Boy as needed.

Josh Arter self portrait | Photo credit: Josh Arter

“It's kind of like a disposable camera in that sense,” says Josh. “But when I just had one in the beginning, it was like, ‘Okay, well, I have to be really thoughtful and careful of what I'm shooting and how much I'm shooting because if I hit that 30 photo limit I have to delete photos to take more photos.’”

The camera has also been used at events like the Betty Brinn Maker Faire. Josh set the camera up as a live art installation where people could see themselves pixelated in a live video feed. He’s also shot a music video for Milwaukee’s Paper Holland with the camera.

“The idea for this video was that there was a robot that comes to life and he spends a day with this guy shooting basketball and skateboarding and stuff,” says Josh. “All of the POV footage from the robot was the Game Boy Camera footage.”

The Hoan pixelated | Photo credit: Josh Arter

Through a Discord group Josh has learned from others different ways to modify the camera. For instance, the Game Boy Camera only takes black and white photos by default. Josh has learned to combine a series of shots through red, yellow and blue filters to produce color photos. He’s also found a 3D printed device someone made to extend storage capacity. Really, there’s a lot of technical things to geek out on. 

Though Josh is mostly taking portraits of the city and of people who request it.

“I try and take pictures of pretty much anything that looks cool through the Game Boy,” says Josh. “But it is really fun to get people's reactions to it, kind of like at the Betty Brinn. I had people walk by and they'd have their younger kids with them and their kids would be like, ‘What's that?’ And the parents would be like, ‘Oh, my God, I had one of those! That's amazing!’ So there is this nostalgia factor of people recognizing a Game Boy.” 

Check out Josh’s photos on Instagram and Twitter.