Vancouver Street View, Circa 1948

When the award-winning artist Stan Douglas wants to visit the past, he makes it happen. The process might start with gathering historical research —maps and photographs of his hometown, Vancouver, in the years following World War II, just to take an example — but he doesn’t stop there. Douglas’ new collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, led by Loc Dao of the NFB’s Vancouver Digital Studio, goes all the way to full-on time-machine territory.

The project, entitled Circa 1948, comprises an interactive art app for iOS devices — demonstrated in the video above — that will launch on April 22, as well as a full-body immersive experience, which will be on view at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City starting April 23. Each incarnation of the project provides a window through which the user can visit Vancouver during that period of social and economic change. In the April 21 issue of TIME, on newsstands now, Douglas and Dao discuss how the project came about and what it means.

Grant Harder for TIME

Grant Harder for TIME

Stan Douglas (left) with Loc Dao, holds the iPad version of Circa 1948, which reimagines postwar Vancouver in virtual images

Douglas’ research into the history of Vancouver started with maps and photo and, after being traced by the NFB’s team into the 3D rendering program Maya, turned into a fully explorable virtual world. It sounds sort of like a game, but instead it’s a story, complete with plot and dialogue, and a clue as to a possible future for storytelling. That’s a future in which the National Film Board of Canada and the Tribeca Film Festival can present something that doesn’t look like anything you’d recognize as a movie.

And, just as Circa 1948 is not a film, it also uses no real photography — though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the detailed nature of the computer renderings.

Making an interactive experience has many things in common with making a picture. It’s a question of traditional media versus technical media, Douglas explains. Traditional media — film, painting, poetry, writing — is how he defines art that’s about having an idea, processing it through a human mind and recreating it in the world. Technical media are the forms in which a machine steps between the idea and the finished product; Maya software and a camera can both do the trick.

But it’s the differences between photography and Circa 1948 that may end up having the most extreme ramifications.  Terminology from the dominant storytelling formats of the past has altered the way we see our lives, as metaphors from photography and film inform the way we talk about sight and experience. But, Douglas says, those ideas aren’t true mirrors of the way the world actually is. Sight is far from the only way we perceive our lives, and immersive storytelling — perhaps a dominant format of the future — is a chance to open up further possibilities. For example, while a photograph dictates which angle something must be seen from, Circa 1948 allows the user to look at the space from infinite possible directions.

 

Courtesy The National Film Board of Canada

Courtesy The National Film Board of Canada

From left: A historical look Vancouver's Hogan's Alley, a poor neighborhood raised in the 1960s and a 3D rendering of the same area as seen in the Circa 1948 project

In the world as in Douglas’ career, photography can coexist with many other media. The artist sees long-term advantages in adding to the list of ways for art to represent the world — and Circa 1948 is, for now, the newest addition to that list.

“We use our technologies to make representations of our perceptual faculties, and in doing so maybe lose all the [range of] possibilities of those faculties,” Douglas says. “If we only see vision as being photographic, we lose the ways in which those things are meaningful as well.”


Stan Douglas is a visual artist who lives and works in Vancouver. Since 1990 his films, videos and photographs have been seen in exhibitions internationally. Loc Dao is the Executive Producer & Creative Technologist of the NFB Digital Studio in Vancouver.

Circa 1948 is premiering at the TriBeCa Film Festival. The project launches with an interactive installation, live event, website and immersive art app on April 23 at Storyscapes. 

Lily Rothman is a reporter for TIME.com.


Related Topics: , , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,271 other followers