This week in #hist5702x, I have been introduced to the possibilities of photogrammetry. In the simplest terms, Robert Warden defines photogrammetry as “the process of achieving measurements from photographs” (6). This however is a very empirical definition, and I do not think Warden captured photogrammetry’s social and cultural value here, or in the rest of his article “Towards a New Era of Cultural-Heritage Recording” (2009). Okay, photogrammetry is still about measurements and data and algorithms. It is about entering photographs and other data into fancy computer programs to reconstruct three-dimensional models of objects, buildings, landmarks and landscapes. So, yes, there is an important empirical element to this technology. However, in reconstructing these through photogrammetry, we can gain a deeper understanding of people and culture and movement in a particular space and at a particular time.
A user created a panoramic view of the London Bridge using Microsoft PhotoSynth. The site allows viewers to scroll through the images in order to experience changes in how the space was viewed by the photographer.
Have I lost you? It’s okay, we will get there. In their article, “Networks of Photos, Landmarks and People,” David Crandell and Noah Snavely explore the photo-mapping possibilities of social photo-sharing websites like Flickr and Facebook. Crandell and Snavely see these websites as “vast repositories of online information about the world and its people” (240). These two sites alone actually have billions of digital photos documenting people and places around the world. Each photograph captures within its frame a “small part of the world” recorded “at a particular point in time and space” (240). Crandell and Snavely use this large repository of photographs, taken by many different photographers from a wide range of positions and directions, to reconstruct 3D models of particular landmarks. They were able to reconstruct the Roman Colosseum, Notre Dame, Hagia Sofia among others into 3D digital models by using the images found on Flickr. For another example, take a look at the Microsoft Photosynth website here, or the Photosynth image posted. As viewers scroll through the images taken by the photographer, that together create a dimensional and panoramic view of a certain landmark, they begin to experience the space as the photographer might have. Every photograph taken on these public photo-sharing sites represents a certain moment in time and space, and preserves a specific memory of the photographer. By then compiling the images shared on these websites of a specific places, like the London Bridge, to create a 3D model – we are visualizing the collective consciousnesses and memory of that place. To be sure, these 3D reconstructions are made up of what people remember – of what they want to remember and what they personally felt was meaningful enough to be captured in a photograph. These photographs also capture movements through space – how people see a specific space and how they interact with it. To then bring all of these personal images together into a 3D reconstruction, is to bring together all these experiences and relationships with that particular space.
So, while photogrammetry does involve the process of empirically and accurately measuring certain spaces, it also brings together the meanings, experiences and memories people from all over the world share of these certain spaces. They are connected in a 3D digital network that offers a deeper understanding of people and their relationship to the spaces they move through.