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January 9, 2010

VR Photography as Metaphor

by Jim

Virtual reality photography has been around a while, but is becoming more widely known as new ways emerge of experiencing media. In particular, people expect rich ways of exploring remote locations, and the emergence of touch-sensitive displays makes VR pictures very compelling. In addition to photographic value, they offer an intriguing metaphor for seeing things in the real world — for understanding our whole reality.

VR photographs are viewed interactively. They are images that show all fields of view available from a given location. Three hundred sixty degrees around, and one hundred eighty degrees vertically, the viewer is essentially inside a sphere with the ability to look in any direction and often to zoom in for greater detail.

What can this tell us about the nature of reality?

Imagine seeing a scene of impending violence, perhaps someone threatening another person with a baseball bat. Looking at the scene, what would be an appropriate response? One choice might be to yell and distract the people, hoping to stop the conflict. Or perhaps even physically intervene, if strong enough. Another option might be to back away slowly while calling for help. And for someone quite frail, perhaps running away would be the best choice.

Now imagine if you could look around, away from the scene described. As you change the view, you see someone standing with a bored look holding a clipboard. Hardly the kind of thing you would expect at a confrontation. Continuing to pan the picture some more, you see lights on stands, several more people watching the confrontation, and finally, a movie camera.

Suddenly the context changes completely as you realize that this is a movie set. Now what are some reasonable actions?

Perhaps good choices would be to stand still, or applaud at the right point, or perhaps get out of the way of the camera. In any case, the correct set of actions is completely different now that we have the full picture.

So it is with reality. When we look around with natural eyes, we see only part of reality, only the material. It’s as if we’re looking at a VR photograph in only one direction. But the whole existence of reality includes both spiritual and material, and in fact, spiritual reality is more significant. I think we get a glimpse of this limited natural perspective through things like poetry, art, love, etc. We know that there’s more to human existence than the natural world shows. So as we walk through life, we must be sure to have the complete picture in order to take the right actions.

With this perspective, we can begin to recognize the presence of God and the reality of His love for us. His nature is not something that makes intellectual sense, but rather, is a person we need to know. Odd as this sounds, that relationship starts by recognizing what He did to make it possible. I’ve found Christ’s sacrifice opens our eyes to the rest of reality. It allows us to look around and see how He can lead in our lives to bring wholeness, direction, and peace. Over time, I hope to express some of this understanding into my own VR photography.

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