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Physical Photography

A new type of interface for the ipad will make the virtual easily accessible to everyone.
I have been interested in 3D scanning since 2000 when I was first introduced to the possibilities of scanning and 3D printing whilst studying for my postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Arts Schools. Our links with the Royal College of Art and the influence of the Sculptor Phillip King, the President of the RA at that time, meant that we had an insight into a 3D holographic display that was being played with by the Royal Academicians and some of the students. There was also a lot of discussion and experimentation into the forms of 3D printing around at that time, all be it on a very large and technical scale. The question that interested me about all this new technology was how do I capture the world around me, in some three-dimensional digital format and then play with it from there.
For the Turner Prize in 2004 the artist duo Langlands and Bell created an interactive environment ‘The House of Osama bin Laden’, the viewer navigated their way round the three-dimensional mapped site of Osama’s home, exploring the virtual environment and becoming an active part of this visual paradigm. The work, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, was for me an important mile-stone in artists appropriating this virtual physical aesthetic and subverting our awareness of the ‘new aesthetic’ that would soon enter our living rooms in the form of first person shooters such as ‘Call of Duty’.
The House of Osama bin Laden
I have recently been building my own 3D scanners as a way of capturing paths, terrains, and objects and manipulating them within a computer environment. The Heath Robinson looking contraptions are bulky and awkward to move when taking them on a walk but have produced some interesting results, it is likely that the difficulties and short comings of my home-made devices add something unique to the creative process that I am applying to the acquired footage, as if placing a bit of my own psyche within the machine.
home made laser scanner
It was with much surprise that whilst searching for some code on the web, that would help me convert my ipad into a portable scanner, that I was confronted with a new device that would make all my previous tools obsolete. A new kickstarter has enabled an American group of developers called ‘Occipital’ to manufacture the ‘Structure Sensor’ or ‘isense’. The beautiful looking device attaches to the ipad and using the ipad’s camera and a laser in the device, it scans the world around you in three-dimensions, this is exactly what I was doing before only smaller, lighter and more efficiently. In essence this is being heralded by the developers as ‘Physical Photography’, making an image of the world with physical depth that can be interacted with. What possibilities might there be for photography itself? Will cameras go from having the ability to take stills and as is common in most digital cameras the option of making high-definition movies to the additional option of scanning virtually. Will contemporary photographers be interested in this jump into the virtual world?
object scan
A question did spring to mind as I salivated over the possibilities for extending my artistic practice with this little device, artists will no longer be able to keep up with the wave of technology and the future as we once did, are these new technologies changing too fast for art and artists to come to grips with? One of the biggest changes to effect artists was the creation and operation of the printing press in the 16th Century and then the advent of photography became one of the most significant influences on artists and the way we look at the world. It seems to me that there is a delayed reaction to artists appropriation of a new technology and then eventual creation of meaningful artworks related to it. For example, one of the artists that interested me whilst I was doing my Degree was the Korean Artist Nam June Paik, his ‘Fluxus’ video art works made an impact on the art world in the 1970’s and christened him as the founder of ‘video art’, this is a good 20 years after the universal availability of the TV in the 1950’s. The use of Computer Generated Imagery in TV, Films and Advertising is now ubiquitous to our lives and has its genesis at around 35years ago and it has only been in the last few years that artists are starting to appropriate it within their practice.
As I learnt whilst on my Sculpture Degree in Winchester, you have to pick materials and tools up and start playing with them, allowing your imagination to loose itself within the creating process, this will go for virtual materials as well as real ones!
For more information visit ‘Langlands and Bell’ ‘Structure Sensor’ and ‘The New Aesthetic’

Posted by author: Doug Burton
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