Have you heard of the Lytro camera? If not, you should check it out. It allows you to take pictures that can be endlessly refocused after you take them. In a nutshell, it’s one of the coolest new consumer camera technologies on the market today. Last month, the HPI cosponsored a Lytro workshop, which was held as part of the closing event for Oh Snap!: Your Take on Our Photographs. Sam Tellman, Lytro Image Quality Analyst, and Mugur Marculescu, Member of Lytro’s Technical Team, brought 20 Lytro cameras to Pittsburgh all the way from Lytro headquarters in California to show workshop attendees the ins and outs of shooting, manipulating, and editing Lytro photographs. You can even modify some photographs from the workshop yourself!
One of our workshop attendees was Leo Hsu, a photographer and teacher at Carnegie Mellon University and writer for Fraction Magazine. His thoughts on the Lytro camera are fascinating and definitely worth a read. Leo addresses some of the issues that we’ve been grappling with as part of the larger process of the Hillman Photography Initiative.
Later that same evening, the museum hosted a panel discussion that combined our esteemed guests from Lytro with Mike Franz, Director of Products at GigaPan, for an in-depth look at how new camera technologies are changing art practices, the way we think about photography, and even how we see the world around us. GigaPan—which our Pittsburgh readers should be quite familiar with as it was born right here at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab (and, in fact, codeveloped by one of our Agents, Illah Nourbakhsh)—is another one of the coolest camera technologies available today. It consists of a robotic device that houses any old point-and-shoot digital camera and allows you to take gigabyte-sized panoramas that capture and reveal astounding amounts of detail.
I had an opportunity to take a series of GigaPans of the Oh Snap! gallery, which captured all of the nearly 1,500 photographs submitted to the project, many of which have since been tagged by their authors. GigaPan could potentially revolutionize the way museums record exhibitions for posterity. The act of exploring the GigaPan of a gallery almost recreates the experience of being in the space, long after all the work has been taken down.
The Lytro and GigaPan panel discussion, moderated by museum director Lynn Zelevansky, was rounded out by two Pittsburgh-based photographers, both professors in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University: Charlee Brodsky and Dylan Vitone. I wish I had an audio recording of the discussion that ensued onstage, not only because it was the perfect mélange of art and technology, but also because it reinforced one of my core beliefs: artistic inquiry and experimentation can yield results that are just as valid (and often much more unexpected) as those achieved through the scientific method. Sam, Mugur, and Mike captivated all of us with the capabilities of their camera technologies, but Charlee and Dylan made us question the technologies’ as-yet-unexplored potential.
As Leo discusses in his piece for Fraction, there seems to be a pervasive sense that the visual and aesthetic (dare I say artistic?) possibilities of such technologies are in a nascent stage. These two technologies have so fundamentally changed the photography game that I find myself questioning the parameters of the field itself. What will happen when more and more artists get their hands on the game pieces and challenge the rules? I can’t wait to find out!