DSLRs can make gorgeously cinematic images out of just about anything you stick in front of them — including war, death, and destruction. (Somehow, Hollywood-style tracking shots don’t seem an appropriate way to cover post-earthquake Japan.) Award-winning war correspondent/DSLR videographer Danfung Dennis thinks the visual language of conflict photojournalism is “dying” — and with an interactive system called Condition ONE, he’s trying to reinvent it as a full-immersion, virtual-reality-esque experience. Here’s his first beta test, conducted in collaboration with photojournalist Patrick Chauvel in Libya:
Condition ONE seeks to redesign video journalism in two key ways. First, the camera’s field of view is widened to approximate the entire human visual field, including peripheral vision. Traditionally, a 50mm lens is considered “normal” for approximating human vision in 35mm photography; Dennis’s version bends a near-180-degree wide angle view into one (albeit distorted) frame. The effect may sound like stylistic affectation, but trust me, watching explosions and soldiers (and even interviews) from this perspective already creates a viscerally immersive effect compared to “normal” videography. The distorted edges actually mimic peripheral vision in a weirdly authentic way — motion and shapes in the periphery can’t be discerned in detail without “looking right at them,” just like in real life, but you still know they’re there.
The second part of Dennis’s project is more intriguing: making the images interactive in an authentic way. On the far-out side, Condition ONE is presented as a literal media “cockpit” with a huge domed screen (kind of like a mini Omnimax) that the mega-wide-angle view is projected onto, which Dennis claims removes the distortion in the image. But for those of us with access only to iPads, the system adds interesting panning and tilting ability within the image. With the flick of a finger, you can swivel around in the video image to “look” at different things happening in real time, the same way you’d snap your head to the left if you suddenly heard gunfire coming from that direction.
Condition ONE even offers something akin to augmented reality for war journalism — hold your tablet or smartphone up as a video scene is playing out onscreen, and as you pan the screen to the left or right or up or down in physical space, the perspective of the image moves to match it like an unnervingly realistic “magic window” onto a war zone.
The point of all this, though, isn’t just to wow jaded techies. “Through our work we hope to shake people from their indifference to war, and to bridge the disconnect between the realities on the ground and the public consciousness at home,” Dennis told DSLR News Shooter. Condition ONE doesn’t just want to put you in the action — it wants to motivate you to take action yourself. Which is what all good conflict journalism is about in the end.