Exploring Google Cardboard Camera

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I’m enamored with Google Cardboard Camera. This app lets you take 360-degree panoramic photos and record audio while you’re slowly panning in a circle. The resulting image can be viewed stereoscopically in a Cardboard. The top and bottom of your photo are lopped off, so it’s a cylindrical, not spherical, shot.

I stood in the courtyard of my apartment building the other day in the late morning and captured a shot. When I viewed it, I could hear the ambient sound of the traffic on the street. Later, while taking a shot of my bedroom, the Blue Angels happened to fly over Capitol Hill, and their obnoxious noise got captured, too.

I took a few shots of my kids at Volunteer Park yesterday. For the first one, I had them pose and remain still next to the Black Hole Sun sculpture, the one that looks like a chocolate frosted old-fashioned from Top Pot. I told them that they could move or talk once the camera was no pointed at them. The result is a frozen little moment that promises to be a nostalgia-provoking artifact someday. There’s something incredibly powerful about pairing a still 3D photo with the noise captured at the same time. I imagine how emotional I’ll get viewing these 360 photo + audio files as an old man.

I wondered how the Cardboard Camera would deal with motion. So we went to the part of the park with those wonderful, strange-trunked conifers and as I panned in a circle my kids ran and clowned around. The result was a panorama with psychedelic distortions. I then took the 360 photo and edited a section of it into a square for Instagram, which is what you see above.

When I was in high school I had a job working for my hometown weekly newspaper, The Skagit Argus, as a sports reporter/photographer. I had a 35mm camera and access to the dark room, where I’d develop my film and print my photos. I used that darkroom recreationally for my own photographic experiments, blowing up shots of my band, solarizing prints, making double exposures. Playing with Cardboard Camera, Instagram, and my phone’s built-in editing software is reviving that same sense of fun I had with photography when I was working with an enlarger and various chemicals as a teenager.

I love when media doesn’t look perfect. I am drawn to lo-fi textures and imperfections, flaws and oversaturation. I like how imperfections date a photograph, like sepia tone conveying the formality of nineteenth century portraiture, or pixelly early digitial photos that capture some sense of what it felt like to be alive in the late nineties.

I only wish there was an Instagram-like site where I could share and view Cardboard Camera images. I would be surprised if Google weren’t working on such a project right now.