August 20, 2019
I am combining traditional photographic and projection technologies with current and developing technologies to generate a 3-D hologram without a viewing apparatus overwhelming the experience. Can I incorporate a lens to achieve this? What would happen if I start with an image captured in virtual reality and then project it into 3-D?
• Bek Andersen, Yale School of Art ’17 (photography)
Photographer Bek Andersen carries with her a pocket-sized hologram viewer — it works with an iPhone. It is a fitting accessory for someone who has been thinking deeply about how to push our experience of the medium beyond its usual two dimensions or, as she puts it, “to get the photographic image off the wall.” For the past few years, she has been exploring the relationship between screen-based and projected images while studying the history of photography and how the art form relates illusion and materiality.
Inspired by sources as varied as the Princess Leia hologram in the original Star Wars movie, and the work of light artist Thomas Wilfred, Andersen used the opportunity provided by the Blended Reality project to work on creating a 3-D viewing experience that would combine photography with projection. Holograms and variations of the idea, Andersen notes, have been used mostly onstage, but she was searching for a technique that could provide a more intimate and more “real” experience — a true blended reality. “I wanted the result to be fully immersive without requiring that viewers enter the virtual reality space,” she says. “No one wants to live inside a box. I wanted to make it an object that could exist in the world and be viewed communally.”
In the course of her work, Andersen studied modalities ranging from traditional theater techniques such as the Pepper’s Ghost effect commonly used in 19th century stage productions, and the technology behind the camera obscura dating back to at least the 16th century, to current high definition video projection systems. She examined a variety of solutions that could combine traditional with current and developing technologies to accomplish a 3-D hologram without having the experience overwhelmed by the viewing apparatus.
For her image, Andersen chose a flower. “I wanted to project something organic and contemplative,” she says, “since so much of what has been happening in the VR world has been geared toward action.” The installation of the 3-D flower image was mounted for one day in December of 2016 in Yale’s Dwight Hall chapel — a perfect venue, Andersen says, for highlighting the meditative aspect of the viewing experience.
To subvert the usual requirement for hologram viewing — that it be done in a dark room — Andersen projected the stop motion video of the flower onto a clear plexiglass surface with a digital projector, using the Pepper’s Ghost technique. In the context of the chapel, the structure supporting the apparatus became an altar that was faintly illuminated by the chapel’s ambient light, while the projection glowed in the center. Guests were invited to kneel or sit in front of the altar, while the projection played in an endless loop.
That installation was a prototype, and Andersen continues to explore the outer limits of her medium. As she does so, she will be looking to collaborate with those from other disciplines who can help with some of the technical challenges she encountered — such as how to scale images without distorting them, and how to achieve the lighting effects she wants. “The most important point I learned,” she says, “is that the fundamental principles of light don’t change, whether you are working with a digital projector or directing sunlight through a glass. Honoring the material tradition of photography is important to me. At the same time, virtual reality is now part of our expanding universe. What I value about blended reality is that it doesn’t deny our temporal existence, but builds on it for a richer exploration.”