All posts in design

Generating Contextual Narratives

Generating Contextual Narratives: Test_01 from Mark Selby on Vimeo.

Generating Contextual Narratives is a project, made in collaboration with Mike Golembewski, about exploring ways of generating more experientially and contextually appropriate narratives. The broad concept here is that current technological trajectories suggest a future where all data is captured indiscriminately and profusely, and so it will become harder and harder to engage with records of experiences in personally meaningful ways. Rather than ‘total capture’, the recording of everyday experiences might be tied more closely into the enactment of those experiences through the objects that we use to do so. The resulting data (photos, texts, sounds etc) are contextually specific to the events that they depict, allowing for more meaningful narratives of those events to be constructed and consequently, enable more meaningful encounters with memories of experience in the future.

Bicyclopse (working title) is the first (rough)  prototype in a series of devices that investigate how we might use technologies to achieve this. It’s a camera made with an arduino controlled iPhone running a custom application mounted on the front of a bike. The iPhone’s camera is triggered by a tone sent fron the arduino everytime a reed switch attached to the bikes fork is closed by a magnet on the front wheel.  This means that one photograph is taken for every revolution of the front wheel.

These still photographs are then compiled to make a film. Visual and temporal distortions of the video narrative are determined by the function of the bike – as the bike speeds up, the rate of capture increases and so the footage appears to slow down.  Visual distortions occur when the bike turns a corner or is ridden over a rough patch of road. This is caused by the quick movement of the camera, and the  way that the iPhone camera’s CCD is scanned from side to side (See Wikipedia for explanation). In combination, these effects give a point of view specific to the bike and the way in which it is ridden.

Camera Explora at Territorial Play

camera explora_territorial play

Camera Explora recently appeared at Radiator’s Territorial Play , the opening event of their Tracing Mobility programme. Unfortunately I didn’t get much chance to publicize this fact in the run up to the event as I was too busy trying to work out what kind of string would give the most friction on a rubber pulley.
Embroidery cotton is quite good.

There were two main elements – activity and installation. The activity bit involved people going out and exploring the city using the camera, which is now a repackaged Google G1 phone running a custom made Android application. That bit was programmed by Sam Meek, who’s done a great job in spite of the somewhat … ‘limited’ hardware.

Those that took part seemed to respond well to the experience. A few said that they found it frustrating at first to be so constrained in what they could take photos of, but eventually began to resist the urge to photograph the first thing they came across and took the time to have a proper look around first.

camera case prototype

The second part – the installation part – was an arduino controlled CNC plotter (hence the business with the string) that drew lines onto a paper map of the city between  the locations where each photograph was taken, as they were being taken. Each photo represents, in theory, something the photographer found interesting or noteworthy. Physically connecting these instances on a paper map ties them all together. It links them in memory and space, as well as providing a tangible, non-photographic mnemonic of those experiences.*

The aesthetic of the plotter is quite rough. Although it’s absolutely a work in progress this was, for the most part, intentional – because it was an installation rather than a product design I wanted it to look like the kind of eccentric, unrefined, but very personally engaging and valuable machine that someone might have built for themselves. The details of that were worked out by just building as much of it as possible out of stuff that I had lying around. Whether or not that was the best strategy is up for debate.

plotter closeup

The projects is about exploring new places, so one concern leading into the event was that because most of the participants would be from Nottingham, the intended experience might be somewhat diluted. However, even those that were familiar with the city enjoyed actively seeking out things that they might not have seen or noticed before, which certainly seems to suggest more attentive exploration of the city. Some even requested to keep the photos they had taken, as well as the route map that had been drawn, when they returned. It’s nice when things like this come out in testing.

Anyway, not an especially in depth write-up just yet – think I’d need to run it again to do that. There were also a few minor technical issues that we couldn’t iron out in the time available. So although things didn’t run quite so smoothly as we would have liked, it helped us see exactly what was and wasn’t right about the prototype both technically and in terms of the design. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed.

Not bad for a first go. Fun too – it’s always good to see people using and enjoying something that you’ve made.


* This is not to say that tangible things are necessarily, or inherently any more or less valuable than digital things. One of the aims of the project is to investigate ways of generating meaningful records of experiences, and the play between digital and physical things is just one way of looking at how to do that.