Little worlds

Imagine a 360 degree photograph. What comes to mind is a wide panorama or a virtual reality program on the computer, right?

University of Calgary art professor Denis Gadbois has been bending the way 360 degree photographs are seen by warping them onto a two dimensional surface. The result of his work is being displayed during an exhibit in the U of C art department’s Little Gallery on the sixth floor of the Art Building, Oct. 28 to Nov. 8.

His images, photographed inside small spaces, such as canyons, or high above a scene, look like little planets. Gadbois takes a photograph from the ground up or from the top down, typically with a fisheye lens and then edits it on the computer to wrap it around a point in the middle of the screen. One of his images was taken from above the Calgary tower and displays all of downtown Calgary as its own minature planet.

“What I’m playing with in my exhibit is changing the perspective,” Gadbois says. “If you’re looking at purely a [virtual reality] image, it’s a little bit boring. When you look at a changing point of view — stretching it either by lifting the viewpoint of the scene — it will change the perspective completely.”

Gadbois, who taught art at the University of Quebec until 1989 and then was a professor in the U of C’s faculty of environmental design before transferring to the U of C art department this June, says the project was the perfect mix of his environmental design work and his arts background. With it he is trying to bridge his previous work with his new home in the art department.
His photographs are virtual reality representations, but he says he pushes them a little further by exploring what he can reveal about a site through his art.

“To be more than a photographer you have to be an artist,” Gadbois says. “You work until you really feel that the image is representative of what you’re trying to capture.”

To capture the images he sets up a camera on a tripod or monopod, or placed low to the ground and captures anywhere from six to 100 images that he stitches together to compose his work. Using the fisheye lens, a panoramic photograph wrapped into a 360 degree virtual image will produce some distortion at the top and bottom of the image, the north and south pole of the sphere. His process of wrapping the image on a two dimensional surface reduces one area of distortion to a pinprick at the centre and hides the other at the edge of the frame.

He says his process of producing the image can create incredible high-quality images up to 44 feet in diameter. He’s only limited by the software, which supports up to 30,000 by 30,000 pixels.

“It’s a very big time commitment,” Gadbois says, “but it is really rewarding.”

For the project, he says he had to learn a lot more about the aspects of printing — learning about optimising colours and negotiating the types of paper and types of ink to get the best result.

Some photographers have been experimenting with 360 degree photographs by projecting them onto domes that people can look around inside, but to Gadbois there’s something about simply enjoying them from a traditional viewpoint.

“This is something that the artists have neglected in some ways,” Gadbois says, “to look at these images from a purely photographic point of view and just enjoy them as they are, which is a completely different world, but purely based on photography.”

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