Ready to be immersed?

It is not immediately obvious why this video is different to many video news reports coming out of Libya. But watch a little longer. The video is, in fact, a promotional trailer for a company Condition ONE, who describe themselves thus: ‘Condition ONE is a mobile media technology company developing the tools and platform for leading filmmakers, photojournalists and visual storytellers to create powerful immersive experiences for next generation devices to engage a global audience.’

So what do you think? Is an immersive war experience a good thing? If so, why? If not, why not?

And just in case you are tempted to dismiss this as something which is a bit leftfield, you should look at the provenance. Danfung Dennis is a photojournalist who has had stills published by Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Le Figaro Magazine, Financial Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Der Spiegel, and The Wall Street Journal.

Thanks to Mark for drawing this to my attention

23 Comments

  1. Rob 31 March 2011 at 8:45 am

    Film is certainly the way that journalism is going, especially now DSLR cameras have video modes. A good thing or a bad thing? Maybe just moving with the times.

    The Condition ONE video feels like it should be in a film with Arnie or Cruise though – I found the finger a little comical at first.

    Reply
  2. Mark 31 March 2011 at 9:25 am

    I’ve had a few thoughts on this since mentioning it to Gareth.

    Its being marketed to photojournalists specifically and has people like Danfung Dennis involved (Danfung is currently completing a documentary filmed on the 5D and supported by Channel 4 docs). But where does it leave the much maligned and supposedly struggling photojournalism?

    Now I’ve never really believed in the idea that photojournalists are telling some kind of objective truth. Indeed people like Magnum’s Chris Anderson prefer the term editorialist as he acknowledges that you’re only seeing his version of events.

    But what is left if you take away the photographer’s decision making ability? Take away the need for composition or decision of when to press the shutter. Is all that’s left to being a photojournalist the skill and contacts to be able to get to remote or dangerous places?

    Then capture everything in an all encompassing 360 degree view, where the viewer makes the decisions. Is this a good thing? Or voyeuristic in the extreme (see the moment when the video pans down to the person injured on the ground). Is it making war into too much of an arcade game experience? Making an augmented reality experience almost seem less real as its more akin to the virtual realities Hollywood and games manufacturers have gotten us used to.

    Or maybe it’s just another tool to tell a story? Getting people who are normally all too apathetic to events in other parts of the world engaged is a good thing, isn’t it? In the end that’s what most good journalists care about, telling a story and getting it to as many people as possible and in the medium that does that the best.

    Hence Tim Hetherington getting his work in Afghanistan out there as stills in magazines, newspapers, gallery installations but also as video in television news spots and documentaries shown in cinemas.

    So I don’t see photography going anywhere. Its not as if moving image reporting is anything new. DSLR’s might be able to do video now but the flow of still images certainly hasn’t stopped and I doubt it will.

    For photojournalists I doubt the decision making has really been taken away either. If anything its been made all the more difficult. Should a live news event be captured as a still? Or maybe video? Or now in 360 augmented reality? You can only do one at a time. Which one would you choose?

    Reply
  3. CliveW 31 March 2011 at 9:28 am

    It’s a presentational technique. It’s the narrative that’s the thing and there’s always been a battle for control of it. New ways of presentation provide new opportunities for wresting that control.

    Reply
  4. Keith Greenough 31 March 2011 at 11:04 am

    I am all for new ways of presenting things and the idea of being able to navigate around the scene on screen is an interesting one. Alternative means of communication should enrich the overall news media experience. As has been stated by others though it is just a technique. The important part of photojournalism is to get the story over – this is the really hard part. It is pretty clear that instant video coverage via satellite is the major source of instant photographic news coverage today. I do believe however there is a role for still photography. Photographs allow time for contemplation of an event and reflection on what it means. Stills are also much more memorable. How many news video clips can you remember?….well maybe the planes hitting the World Trade Centre…

    Reply
    1. Rob 1 April 2011 at 8:34 am

      Think Japanese earthquake/tsunami – do you remember video or stills footage?

      Stills have got heritage, video is still (relatively) the new kid on the block.

      Reply
  5. Christian 31 March 2011 at 12:54 pm

    The French theorist Jean Baudrillard provocatively suggested in a series of essays that the first Gulf War did not take place because of how the war was documented, communicated and experienced by viewers. It was a predominantly virtual experience viewed through the consoles of bomber pilot’s video footage and as a media spectacle played out on TV. Unlike other wars we have been involved in, it was both a very visual experience but also extremely distant – we saw it on our screens, but how did we know it was ‘real’ – how could we actually relate to it, how many people do we know who could talk to us directly about their experiences of it?

    What I found interesting about Gareth’s post is whether this mobile technology adds to that illusion of truth, making it even more virtual and distant or whether it cuts through this illusion and provides something we can relate to in a much more direct way?

    Personally I think it’s just shifted the goal posts to make the war feel like a blend of youtube and 3-d gaming environment – we can relate to it because we can relate to mobile footage and playing a game, but where’s the analysis and a sense of somebody trying to present a viewpoint, however biased or objective? Making war feel like playing ‘Conflict: desert storm’ or referencing a home video program just feels wrong.

    Reply
  6. nmonckton 31 March 2011 at 9:34 pm

    “Stills are also much more memorable. How many news video clips can you remember?….well maybe the planes hitting the World Trade Centre…”

    An interesting challenge – 30 seconds gave me, the twin towers (well you gave that to me), Princess Di’s funeral cortege, Raymond Burke’s Sahel drought footage, yeltsin on a tank, the Berlin Wall coming down, shock and awe in Iraq, Armstrong on the moon, Concorde’s first flight (I was young and impressionable at the time).

    It’s not the format that prevents contemplation and memory, it’s the time we’re prepared to set aside, and the context. Memorable video shares with memorable stills the ability to make you stop, think and wonder. I don’t think it’s wise to suggest that one is somehow superior in this respect to the other – they’re different

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  7. nmonckton 31 March 2011 at 9:48 pm

    On the trailer itself I thought the idea of using a war, and people wounded, perhaps even dieing, to advertise a technology to be almost obscene. What should we take from this – that anything can be used in the pursuit of commercial gain?

    I don’t think this short will ever be memorable because it could be any random piece of war footage – the use of the wide angle is just an irritating gimmick (and ooh! let’s squeeze in an i-pad to show how sophisticated we are) How can I be immersed in total war when I’m sat here pontificating with a beer in my hand? I had assumed that the role of a journaist was to present, explain, interest and this does none of these. The memorable stils and videos we carry in your minds do all of them – that’s probably why we remember them.

    Reply
    1. Mark 31 March 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Just to be clear, the wide fisheye isn’t the view you would actually see in the footage of a real report. That (or actually a 360 degree view) is mapped to a virtual 3d dome which corrects for the fisheye like distortion and then the viewer is able to pan/scroll/tilt around the scene at will.

      The video above isn’t a piece of journalism about a war in its self (so shouldn’t really be judged by those standards). Its only a technology demonstration to other journalists and film makers and is being developed in conjunction with those who happen to cover amongst other things, conflict.

      Of course the moral/ethical question of reporting war using this technology is another question entirely just as it is with traditional photography and videography. Except with the added complexity of not having several layers or picture editors to remove imagery that isn’t deemed broadcast-able/printable. With a 360 view, the viewer makes their own decision on whether its right or wrong to look at something shocking.

      Reply
      1. Rob 31 March 2011 at 11:33 pm

        “Except with the added complexity of not having several layers or picture editors to remove imagery that isn’t deemed broadcast-able/printable.”

        Lets be honest, this is Google Street View type technology but with video – just because we can choose where to look doesn’t mean it won’t be edited for content, either for something that’s questionable for taste or political reasons. What will likely happen is that this panopticon of surveillance video will provide the powers that be with more power – first of all in having the ability in seeing everything then in providing the public the edited highlights. We won’t get to see raw footage.

        Whilst it feels like a game or a sci-fi movie, the truth is technology marches ever onwards. The problem will be that there is so much footage that it will become impossible to look at it all so it will sit there unwatched. There’s an article in Aperture about Red Road and Look this month, and I’m pretty sure I read that this is already the case in there.

        Will there always be a place for stills? I’m not so sure. OK, they will be around whilst I’m on the planet, but video is coming in more and more, there’s even video in magazines now (some mags last year had a special insert with some advertising video – the technology will only get better). Also, think about the film Minority Report – yes, it’s science fiction, but if it’s a good idea then it will be investigated and become reality. We already have iPad and Kindle, so paper pubs will begin to diminish.

        Reply
  8. Mark 1 April 2011 at 8:03 am

    I think that’s an interesting comparison (the google street view). Look at all the moments that have been recorded there, people falling over, doing inappropriate things etc. It becomes inevitably a lot harder to spot content that would normally edited out or pixelated once you have 360 degrees to look at.

    I photographed a national junior sports event last weekend and there were several participants I couldn’t photograph due to child protection issues etc. Now that’s fairly easy to do when using a still camera with a limited field of view. But with video 360 degrees? That’s time consuming and images needed sending out within a very strict timeframe.

    Also it depends where you’re looking for content. I think the mainstream media in the west is often too cautious as to what it shows us. Not that shocking images should be beamed into our homes all the time. But on occasion I think the severity of a story warrants it.

    But other broadcasters in other parts of the world aren’t so strict in what they show. And let’s not forget the rise of social media, the main broadcasters already get a large chunk of their content from YouTube and the like. Sure still edit it to the same guidelines as their own content but there’s nothing stopping you going to the original source. I can only see this method of disseminating content becoming more prevalent particularly once a way is found to monetize it effectively. Who will edit then? Government?

    With regards to video becoming more prevalent. I think it’s a yes and no to be honest. There’s a large ‘gimmick’ element to it at the moment. But it’s not as easy as that. Just as people get new equipment that can do something it becomes the new fad. But then after a period of time they realise it’s a lot harder than it looks. Just because you have a camera with video doesn’t mean you can make meaningful films (see the Jon Levy article on technology).

    But it’s exactly the same with media outlets. Suddenly photographers had the equipment available to them at no extra cost to do video content for their agencies/papers. So editors got a little excited and I think thought they could reverse their fortunes by becoming almost small broadcasters. But I’ve had several editors at nationals tell me they really don’t know what to do with video. They think it is a gimmick and not as easy or free as they thought. Go to a regional level and the problem Is even more dire (one editor I know thinks not editing your content gives their viewers more for their money!? Even if it’s 10 minutes of unwatchable dreariness).

    So in fact video has a hidden cost, if you ask your photographers to do video at the same time as doing still then I can guarantee that quality suffers. It really is a case if doing one or the other or accepting that something has to give. I think parts of the industry are starting to realise that and have done deals with the broadcasters to just use their content anyway.

    That’s not to say there won’t be more video, I can say myself I do more video work than anything at the moment (though partly that’s a personal choice to pursue that work), but I really don’t see at this point that it’s a replacement for still. As I said earlier it comes down to what gets your message across the best and often it’s not going to be video. Sometimes it’s a lot better to see one great still than 5 mins of bad unedited video (the BBC website was guilty of using the video unedited at one point but it seems they go more for stills now).

    In the same vein I saw that video front cover to an iPad magazine last year and to be honest it was awful. I didn’t need to watch 2 minutes of irrelavent video to tell me what was inside the mag. It was a case of they did because they could without thinking of how useful/useable it actually was.

    I also think e-ink will help stills. Looking at the iPad magazines still is no less prevalent. Video is an extra. Having digital paper gives editors the chance to use more photograph in more interesting ways such as multimedia slideshows or something like the NYT’s Lens blog without the cost/space restrictions of traditional printed media.

    Blimey….that was a lot to type on a phone!

    Reply
    1. Rob 1 April 2011 at 8:31 am

      ” Who will edit then? Government?”

      Yes, the government for one, but also the powerful multi-nationals that prop up the governments. There’s too much to lose for an unbiased and unedited view to be set free.

      I’m with you on the video/stills at the moment – I don’t think video will kill stills within my lifetime (I’m lousy with video, so it better not). As Sontag said “Photographs may be more memorable than moving images, because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow. Television is a stream of underselected images, each of which cancels its predecessor” (On photography, p17-18) But I believe we are ultimately a technologically deterministic society, and that what is a gimmick now will become mainstream in one form or another (VHS/Betamax or Blu-ray/HD-DVD aside). You say video is more work, but back in the early days of photography, it was scientists and enthusiasts that persevered with the hard stuff and moved things forward. Video is coming along that same route and is just a button press away.

      It would be interesting to see what gets more hits – You-Tube or Flickr.

      Reply
      1. Mark 1 April 2011 at 11:35 am

        I’m sure i don’t have to point it out but good content is always more than a button push away no matter the medium or technology 🙂

        As for governments editing. There’s always ways around things. In China, Libya, wherever. Technology will no doubt always be a cat and mouse game in that regard.

        Reply
      2. Rob 1 April 2011 at 1:26 pm

        Poor quality content is better than no content, but I know what you mean and I wasn’t trying to belittle the process.

        Reply
    2. CliveW 1 April 2011 at 12:33 pm

      The thing is everyone’s view is partial and perhaps, as Peter points out, the first thing we look for is confirmation that we were right all along.

      The ‘truth’ is a very movable feast that very often is taken to be the same thing as the media’s narrative; shift the narrative and you shift the truth; a lesson the U.S. learned when it was unprepared for unfettered coverage of Vietnam.

      Mrs Thatcher took that on-board with the Falklands, having one official who intoned as monotonously as he could the ‘news’ about the war, and also in denying the IRA ‘the oxygen of publicity’.

      Now we have embedded journalists who are allowed to experience the ‘official version’ of a war; step outside of that and you could be a victim of ‘friendly fire’.

      Reply
      1. Rob 1 April 2011 at 1:27 pm

        Is the ‘official version’ the ‘sanitised version’?

        Reply
      2. CliveW 1 April 2011 at 1:46 pm

        It’s a partial version. ‘ }

        Reply
  9. Peter Haveland 1 April 2011 at 10:20 am

    Christian – I also thought of Baudrillard as soon as I saw this. Like Mark I have always distrusted the possibility let alone the desirability of the objective view but I wanted (want?) committed as opposed to objective work (even despite the impotence of this practice in the long run); but this is too inconvenient for any establishment with their need to promote their own interests.

    Ii would like to think that as we move out of the post-modern era, as the days of art-as-text and art-as-simulacrum are perhaps giving way to an interest in critiquing a society that confuses reality and simulation, a society that doesn’t think that Big Brother is real life and the tsunami is a computer simulation (yes I have heard that!)but in the mean time I suppose we will have to put up with all sorts of attempts making conflict situations look more and more like Call of Duty and even interactive photojournalism. We already have the iphone taking over from the reporter maybe next the news will be made on Cinema 4D (a computer program for making 3D computer aided graphics)

    But then does it really matter? (here the deep cynic in me speaks!) I suspect that images only speak to the converted, reinforcing our currently held position (do I mean prejudices?) and not changing anything…John Hartfield and AIZ didn’t stop the rise of Nazism, the Vietnam war on the tea-time TV in America did not stop the war but they both might have helped, I am not sure about turning conflict into Command and Conquer though!

    Reply
    1. Christian 1 April 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Hi Peter – Adam Curtis talks about a shift in TV journalism away from contextualising world events to simply presenting them through a lens we could relate to – shifting from a world view to one populated by our own concerns. That ultimately they’ve given up trying to tell us why things might be happening to just showing us the images of what is happening. You could argue that this simply mirrors a shift from the written to the visual which is taking place elsewhere.

      Reply
      1. Peter Haveland 2 April 2011 at 12:16 pm

        I am afraid that I am too much of an old cynic to accept that anything is ever “simply present[ed]…[]…through a lens we could relate to” All messages are mediated and when it comes to the mass media, perhaps all media, it is the establishment views that rules supreme. I suspect that it is another manifestation of the Spectacle that Capitalism uses to obscure the reality from the population, make people think that they are seeing un-mediated footage, that they are truly in control of all the meaning but in fact reinforcing the ideas that, for example, West is Best, their violence is dispicable, ours is justified etc. etc.. I am beginning to feel that it might be time for a Neo-Situationism, Guy Debord rides again 🙂

        Reply
  10. nmonckton 1 April 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’m not sure about the irrestible spread of technology implicit in some of the discussions above. At the present moment its accesible to a modest proprotion of the world’s population – but large parts of Africa, India, China and the rest of Asia get nowhere near it. I’m not sure the world has the resources to roll it out – and as a result paper – which has worked fine for 3-4000 years in one form or another – and simpler communication technology will continue to dominate. I think there’s a tendency to think about this sort of thing in a first world context – which is very techno-centric and resource intensive. I doubt ‘immersive warfare experiences’ are going to come to a peasant farmer in the third-world anytime soon – except in reality sadly.

    Reply
    1. Rob 1 April 2011 at 6:34 pm

      Technological determinism might not happen tomorrow, but soon…

      As for large portions of China, Asia and whatever getting nowhere near, to be honest in many cases they’re actually nearer than we are in the west. If you take broadband Internet as an example, 10 years ago when I studied digital telecommunications as part of a degree, I was stuck on basic ADSL – 512K down, 128K up if I remember correctly. Things have moved on here, and now I can get up to 8MB (supposedly) down now. This is because we have legacy systems in place and it’s too expensive to replace them. The course notes reported that in previously underdeveloped countries, they were going straight for fibre-optics and mobile telephony at much higher speeds. They were leaving the west standing. I’ve not experienced Chinese tech, so can only take the notes as read.

      OK, not everyone in those countries will be able to afford it…

      Reply
  11. AMANO 3 April 2011 at 10:17 pm

    What a fascinating discussion!
    Last year, I heard Simon Norfolk (a war photographer who often uses large format) saying that most war photography is not front-line these days; well this video and a lot of stuff coming out of Libya is front line and that is encouraging as far as seeing what is actually going on matters. As usual with photography, the exact method and way material is recorded and then selected before being widely distributed is questionable.
    Stills and video (360 too!) … the more means of communicating the better! If advertising as well as news agencies are going to get involved, this is surely another plus though it is likely to bring further controls on what we see.
    Amano

    Reply

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