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PhotoEx Symposium Case Study - Creating the Illusion of Viewer Autonomy: “The Ark,” a Virtual Reality Documentary

“Virtual reality makes you feel like a floating brain of pure consciousness,” said Kel O’Neill, co-director of long-form documentary projects Empire and The Ark. Expanding upon this idea, he stated: “We make documentary work for non-traditional spaces and screens. Eline and I are always looking for new platforms that provide us with the opportunity to surprise people and to show a new way of experiencing stories… We try to offer audiences something new. To that end, we’re fascinated by the idea of viewer autonomy;  the push and pull between the author’s vision and what the audience can do within that space. We’re interested in how viewer autonomy is partially an illusion; that there is always an author or editorial team guiding the experience.”

Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma began their case study presentation with a brief introduction to their long-form documentary project Empire. Exhaustive in its investigation of documentary practice, Empire maps the legacy of Dutch Colonialism from a village in Sri Lanka to South Africa through an interactive web platform, immersive multi-channel video installations, and a print book.

With support from the Tim Hetherington Trust, Kel and Eline are continuing to push at the boundaries of documentary practice with their in-progress work The Ark. This project spans two continents and draws a line between a zoo in California and a reserve in Kenya in telling the parallel stories of American scientists and African rangers who are struggling to protect and preserve the disappearing species.

Having returned from their first trip to Kenya only few days before the symposium, the duo presented their newly shot and stitched 360 footage for the first time! Check out their presentation below.

Please stay tuned as we share more videos and highlights from the 2015 Photography, Expanded Symposium. You can view the first case study presentation of After the Storm with Andrew Beck Grace and Alex Wittholz  here.

Katerina Voegtle