3/26/14: The Power of the Image

This week in the Digital Humanities Lab, we were presented with two new programs that allow people to create 3D models. At first, it was slightly harder to understand their applications to humanities – they seemed more like engineering tools than programs designed for history majors. Both Sketchup and PhotoScan look a lot more complicated than many of their previous programs we discussed. (It might just have been me though – I’m not the most adept person when it comes to manipulating image programs.) But in their increased level of difficulty, they provide greater opportunities for entertainment and research.

PhotoScan was presented as a very practical, analytical tool. Essentially, PhotoScan involves taking a lot of careful, distinctive photos of an object or place and aligning them to create a model. I can see that it takes a lot of time and precision, but the end result truly is amazing. It could take into account the depth, texture, and color, and ultimately provide you with an image very similar to the actual object (that is, if you do it right.) I wonder how it would work with photos not necessarily taken from the same camera – for example, could you recreate the day of JFK’s assassination from the various filmstrips and videos that are available? Can we recreate moments of history, or at least attempt to, in order to get a better sense of the moment?

Sketchup, on the other hand, seemed to have more theoretical applications. What I loved about Sketchup is that not only can you have an idea of what a space looks like, but you can also see the possibilities a space can provide. It reminded me of shows on the HGTV Network, where they convince that you in five minutes or less that the awful backyard or fixer-upper home can become the dream paradise you want it to be. It’s a program that would’ve been great for all those times I tried to rearrange my room as a kid, only to find out that placing my bookcase by the window would cover up the majority of the outlets. And imagine what my childhood on the Internet would’ve looked like, creating worlds in Sketchup. I could have rearranged my room within worlds like Hogwarts, Westereos, or Middle Earth (though I might not have had the patience to do that.)

But think of the archaeological applications of Sketchup – take a room like those of Pompeii. What could have taken place in there? What was its purpose? How does it fit in with the rest of the building, or even other buildings around it? Can we begin to theorize how people used this space, and how to present that to the public?

In both programs, I thought of the same question: how does your perception of an object or space change when you can see all of its aspects? How does your perception change when you can see things on a large and small scale? When you have the ability to see more than one perspective, the possibilities are endless. 

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