Defining a New Era in Visual Culture

Google Glass & Augmented Reality Eyewear: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

Augmented Reality eyewear and Google’s Glass will take us to new heights, quite literally: the first sequence in the “How It Feels [through Glass]” video was shot via Glass in a hot air balloon.


It was 155 years ago that the first aerial photograph was taken on a balloon flight in 1858 over Paris, France by artist Nadar (born Gaspar Félix Tournachon)(1820-1910). A pioneer in the newly emerging medium of photography, Nadar also attempted underground photography using artificial light to produce pictures of the catacombs and sewers of Paris. Nadar’s technical experiments and innovation took us to places via his camera that were previously inaccessible to photography, inspiring new ways of seeing and capturing our world.

AR eyewear and Glass offer this same opportunity at a time when AR is emerging as a new medium, which will give way to novel conventions, stylistic modes, and genres. Referencing Dr. Seuss’s book in the title of this article, AR also promises to transport us to wondrous, magical places we’ve yet to see.

This article is a follow up to a post I wrote a year ago posing the questions: Will Google’s Project Glass change the way we see & capture the world in Augmented Reality (AR) and what kind of new visual space will emerge?

As both a practitioner and PhD researcher specializing in AR for nearly a decade, my interests are in how AR will come to change the way we see, experience, and interact with our world, with a focus on the emergence of a new media language of AR and storytelling.

I’ve previously identified Point-of-View (PoV) as one of “The 4 Ideas That Will Change AR”, noting the possibilities for new stylistic motifs to emerge based on this principle. I’d like to revisit the significance of PoV in AR at this time, particularly with the release of Google Glass Explorer Edition. PoV, more specifically, “Point-of-Eye”, is a characteristic of AR eyewear that is beginning to impact and influence contemporary visual culture in the age of AR.

AR eyewear like “Glass” (2013) and Steve Mann’s “Digital Eye Glass” (EyeTap) (1981) are worn in front of the human eye, serving as a camera to both record the viewer’s environment and superimpose computer-generated imagery atop the present environment. With the position of the camera, such devices present a direct ‘Point-of-Eye’ (PoE), as Mann calls it, providing the ability to see through someone else’s eyes.

AR eyewear like Glass remediates the traditional camera, aligning our eye once again with the viewfinder, enabling hands-free PoE photography and videography. Eye am the camera.

Contemporary mass-market digital photography has us forever looking at a screen as we document an event, rather than seeing or engaging with the actual event. As comedian Louis C.K. so facetiously points out, we are continually holding up a screen to our faces, blocking our vision of the actual event with our digital devices. “Everyone’s watching a shitty movie of something that’s happening 10 feet away” he says, while the ‘resolution on the actual thing is unbelievable’.

Glass presents an opportunity where your experience in that moment is documented as is without having to stop and grab your camera. Glass captures what you are seeing as you see it through PoE, very close to how you are seeing it. Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin states, “I think this can bring on a new style of photography that allows you to be more intimate with the world you are capturing, and doesn’t take you away from it.”

Recording video with Google Glass, “Record What You See. Hands Free.”

Recording video with Google Glass, “Record What You See. Hands Free.”

I agree with Brin; Glass will bring on new stylistic modes and conventions through PoE, which also appears to be influencing other mediums outside of AR.

Take for instance the viral Instagram series “Follow Me” by Murad Osmann featuring photographs of his hand being led by his girlfriend to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks.

Photographs by Murad Osmann, “Follow Me” series, 2013.

Photographs by Murad Osmann, “Follow Me” series, 2013.

The article “How Will Google Glass Change Filmmaking?”, identifies two other examples in contemporary music videos: the viral first-person music video for Biting Elbows and the award-winning music video for Cinnamon Chasers’ song “Luv Deluxe”.

In “The Cinema as a Model for the Genealogy of Media” (2002), Andre Gaudreault and Phillipe Marion state, “The history of early cinema leads us, successively, from the appearance of a technological process, the apparatus, to the emergence of an initial culture, that of ‘animated pictures’, and finally to the constitution of an established media institution” (14). AR is currently in a transition period from a technological process to the emergence of an initial AR culture, one of ‘superimposed pictures’, with PoE as a characteristic of the AR apparatus that will impact stylistic modes, both inside and outside the medium, contributing to a larger Visual Culture.

Gaudreault and Marion identify key players in this process as: the inventors responsible for the medium’s appearance, camera operators for its emergence, and the first film directors for its constitution. ‘Camera operators’ around the world are beginning to contribute to AR’s emergence as a medium, and through this process, towards an articulation of a media language of AR. Mann, described as the father of wearable computing, has been a ‘camera operator’ since the 90’s. In 2013, Google Glass’s early adopter program selected 8000 ‘camera operators’ to explore these possibilities, with Kickstarter proposals since from directors for PoE film projects including both documentaries and dramas. What new stories will the AR apparatus enable? Like cinema before it, what novel genres, conventions, and tropes will emerge in this new medium towards its constitution?

Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter: I’m @ARstories.


Helen Papagiannis