Augmented Reality? Something Wrong With That?

Tommy Dodgen, age 4, standing by the largest lamp in the world : Tampa, Florida, by unknown photogra

The cover shot of Popular Science’s July issue, which focuses on the future of energy, uses some interesting new photographic technology—called augmented reality—to make a point. Buy a copy of the magazine, bring it home or to work, hold it up in front of your Webcam and the fun begins.

As reported in a recent New York Times article—about the slow creep of advertising onto the covers of magazines—what you’ll see on your computer screen is a Flash-based, 3-D version of the cover photo. And then, if you blow air at your computer’s microphone, the fan blades turn. Woo-hoo! Fun, right? So what’s the problem?

Well, the buzz in media is about if or how the cover further blurs distinctions between editorial and advertising space, given that GE (which makes energy products and has been promoting its augmented realty images for months) sponsored the magazine’s cover but didn’t pay for it. (General Electric did, however, buy three pages of ads in the issue.) It turns out that placing ads on the cover of magazines violates rules set up by the American Society of Magazine Editors. But tough times in the media business, with production cost rising as readership declines and the number of ad pages drop, demand new approaches. In this case, let’s leave it to others to duke this issue out.

But from our photographic perspective, questions raised by this media dust-up are interesting to consider. How far are we willing to go when we use photographs to attract attention? How much do we expect, or want, to interact with images? And what’s the next advance in photographic technology that’s going to get us there?

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