A new VR collaboration brings a full exhibition space and the iconic imagery of the World Press Photo 2017 competition into the living room
Visiting a gallery is now just a virtual reality (VR) headset away thanks to Canon’s VR experience, which allows people to explore a full photographic exhibition from the comfort of their home through the World Press Photo app.
The innovative, immersive app places the user in a vast gallery space surrounded with images from the 60th World Press Photo competition. Created by the team at irista, Canon’s photography management platform, it brings the 45 World Press Photo winning images, over half of which were shot on Canon, to life through VR.
Images celebrating the best in visual storytelling are displayed in a virtual gallery that evolves based on each user’s interaction. Focusing on an image ahead causes the user to glide forwards until they are looking up at an imposing high-res photograph. Looking around or behind will move you to other winners’ images, while the stories behind the photographs are narrated by Stuart Franklin, the Magnum photographer and Chair of the General Jury at World Press Photo 2017.
Exploration is deliberately slow, with the app designed to encourage a gentle pace, quiet contemplation and enjoyment of the novelty of having a gallery all to oneself.
We are offering the chance to visit the exhibition without having to travel.
“We are offering people the chance to visit the exhibition without having to travel to the biggest cities in the world and I think that adds a lot of value,” says developer João Gil, Lead User Experience for VR. “I also think the space we created is very different to a lot of other current VR experiences.
“We developed this project so that it would create a contemplative environment where the user is not distracted by any element except the photograph, where interactions are very limited and only defined by each user’s engagement with the shot.”
João’s background in industrial design helped him “deconstruct what a gallery could mean in a virtual space.” Gone are the vast expanses of white walls, which would be blinding in a VR headset, in their place a dark, catacomb-like background, where translucent walls appear as a veil, offering teasing glimpses of the bright photographs beyond.
This World Press Photo VR exhibition is part of Canon’s ongoing exploration of how new technologies can enhance traditional photographic storytelling. Photojournalism provided a fantastic starting point for the developers, offering a wealth of rich stories and high quality visual material to work with, along with the challenge of showcasing 2D images in VR.
“At the moment most people who are doing photography VR are using 360 photos and video because that naturally lends itself to the technology,” says David Haynes, Canon’s VR Tech Lead. “But, for us, taking what Canon has spent decades and decades refining – 2D imagery – and putting that inside a 3D environment really enabled us to create our own take on it.”
This new approach, released as Canon and World Press Photo celebrate a 25-year strong partnership, acknowledges that while its content is not new, the presentation is unique.
“The photos have already been seen online and if you want to quickly scroll through while on the bus home you can, but that wasn’t for us,” explains João. “VR has the power to transport you to any reality. We created a reflective environment for people to explore and engage at a deeper and more intimate level. We also wanted to create something that people could go back to and get something new from the experience during each visit.”
For World Press Photo Foundation Managing Director Lars Boering, this virtual environment simply “enables the world’s best photojournalism to be showcased in a new way, taking us to the stories behind these incredible pictures.”
With an ever-increasing hunger for visual imagery and world news, this model for witnessing the powerful documentary imagery could be the beginning of a new immersive form of news delivery.
The World Press Photo app is available for free download from the Oculus store, including on GearVR, with a Daydream release to follow. Find a local World Press Photo exhibition, or follow the tour on Twitter via #CanonVRtour