Featured Researcher – Seth Thompson, CAAD

The library is pleased to feature the influential and cutting-edge work of our AUS faculty researchers. In a newly launched library series, faculty from across the schools discuss their work and areas of research focus.

AUS Featured Researcher: Seth Thompson, Associate Professor – Art & Design, CAAD

Much of my research and practice focuses on the re-presentation and interpretation of visual culture and heritage using panoramic imaging and hypermedia systems. Media art history with special emphasis on the panorama plays a critical role in this investigation.

image of Seth Thompson smilingWhile the word “panorama” has become commonplace—evoking such ideas as sublime vistas—it should be noted that when the word was invented in the late 18th century, its usage was much more restricted, referring to a unique purpose-built structure containing a large 360-degree painting, constructed to create an illusion of standing in the middle of a place and/or event. The themes for the panorama have ranged from re-presenting locations such as Paris, Rome and Constantinople to events such as the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of Gettysburg. Conceived as a commercial endeavor to both entertain and educate the general public, a goal of the painted panorama has been to create an immersive environment that reproduced the real world with such skill that viewers would have difficulty distinguishing between “reality” and illusion. In a sense, this invention by Robert Barker is a 19th century version of virtual reality, but using the technology and tools of its time.

Of particular interest to me is Virtual Reality (VR) Panoramic Photography, which I define as the science, art and practice of creating interactive and navigable immersive 360-degree screen-based images, usually depicting a place and/or event. As part of my endeavors, I am interested in creating a history for VR panoramic photography—establishing it as an artistic medium—not only in relation to the development of illusion and immersion, but its content, so that those who are working within VR panoramic photography are not “reinventing the wheel” and a greater critical discourse may take place as this medium develops.

Recently, I was elected President of the International Panorama Council (IPC), a Swiss-based non-government and not-for-profit international organization committed to supporting the heritage and conservation of the few existing panoramas dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the promotion of knowledge and awareness of the panorama, including its current relevance and development. Since its founding in 1992, annual conferences have been held worldwide offering intense encounters that connect the past, present and future of the panorama phenomenon. IPC also publishes books, a journal and a newsletter.

The opportunity to serve as the President of the International Panorama Council allows me to not only facilitate efforts in the promotion, preservation and interpretation of the panorama and its related forms, but enables me to consider the future of panoramic imaging for cultural heritage purposes by looking at its past and present—empowering me to consider what changes, what doesn’t and what’s next in the quest for creating and delivering immersive narrative experiences that encourage enriching personal and cultural exchanges with the re-representation and interpretation of heritage.

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