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Your Geo-Tagged Photos Could Be Part Of These Ghostly Light Paintings

"Location-Based Light Painting" turns big data into ominous images, and then imagines what it would look like if all the people who uploaded photos at a given spot reappeared there simultaneously.

by Zach Sokol
Aug 20 2014, 6:30pm

Every time I visit an internationally renowned locale or tourist hub, I'm reluctant to take a photo despite the obvious urge. All I can imagine is how many other people have previously stood in my exact footsteps, and snapped near-identical photographs. Furthermore, I can't help but imagine what it would look like if every single SLR owner simultaneously reappeared in the given spot, creating a ghostly army of Flickr fiends. 

Interactive designer Philipp Schmitt is exploring such a phenomena with a project titled "Location-Based Light Painting," which turns geotagged photographs into phantasmal long exposures. Created for a data visualization course in at HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany, the series essentially highlights photography hotspots through location data, and then imagines what the hotspost would look like if every photographer was hanging out there at the same time. 

Schmitt elaborates on the project page:

"For any city, thousands of geotagged photos are available online. This project maps these photos in the places where they were taken. The amount of existing photos is just extraordinary. According to Wikipedia, Google Panoramio alone archives more than 65,000,000 geotagged images. Popular landmarks are so thoroughly documented by photographers that PhotoSynth can create 3D models of these places just using pictures."

To achieve the effect, the designer custom-built a camera flash and smartphone combo that he self-programmed through a web application. Then, using a Flickr and Panoramio API, Schmitt customized his set-up so as he walked pass a location where there was a geotagged photo, the camera would flash, which he subsequently turned into night shots with composited light-painted data. 

Schmitt described part two of his project as images filled with "ghost photographers" or "holograms." After he took a few test shots, the student wanted to imagine the scenes with both the geotags and the people who tagged them. "By pointing the flash at a second person instead of the ground," he explains, "I was able to place photographers' ghosts where they must have stood when shooting their picture."

In a video detailing "Location-Based Light Painting" (viewable below), an ominous ambient score slowly lurches underneath the footage. In a way, the project imagines data visualization as more than just math and code. Schmitt's project is a subtle exploration of how modern day data collection ties our identities to physical locations, even it's our web presences and not our tangible bodies. We may have only stood in front of the Louvre or the Statue of Liberty for a few minutes while we snapped that photo, but big data has the power to chain us to the space, turning us into specters comprised of 1's and 0's. 

For more of Philipp Schmitt's excellent work, check out his website here: http://philippschmitt.com/

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