World of Interiors: Round the houses

Our huge thanks to the prestigious World of Interiors magazine and Conde Nast for their full page story about aardvark360 and our work with the Houses of Parliament. Out May 2017!
Here’s the article in full:


I can just see the Serjeant-at-Arms’ smile beneath the cardboard box pressed to his face. He is looking at a room that he’s walked through every day for the past year, and his predecessors for the past 600. But none of them have seen it like this. Kamal El-Hajji, the current guardian of the Palace of Westminster is exploring a new virtual tour of the Houses of Parliament using a Google Cardboard virtual reality headset; modern technology jarring sharply with his waistcoat and tails.
The virtual tour has been created to open the palace up to visitors from all over the world – most of whom will never see it in real life. And if it’s this exciting to someone for whom the murals and chandeliers have become office wallpaper, then newcomers ought to be blown away.
360 photography, video and the virtual reality (‘VR’) experiences they create, have exploded in recent months as the new way to consume media. News outlets, creatives, brands and bloggers alike have embraced this opportunity to make the internet more than an electronic version of the printed page. It can now host an electronic version of reality itself.
But there’s something a bit un-real – spooky even – about being a 360 photographer. With normal – ‘flat’ in industry parlance – photographs, it’s easy to imagine the photographer behind the frame. Crouched in the long grass to capture a lion’s kill, or surrounded by lights and stylists to snatch a shot of an elegant new piece of couture. 360 photography, on the other hand, is a process of continually editing yourself out; keeping clear of the all-seeing fisheye; and completing a seamless sphere so that no trace remains you were ever there. But, as a result, allowing the viewer to stand in your place.
The process itself involves a lot of walking in circles to stay out of shot as the camera rotates. So I can finish a long shoot feeling quite dizzy. Sometimes when I lie down and close my eyes I feel as though I’m still circumnavigating the tripod, like after being on a boat or skiing.
The job takes me to a broad range of locations, from One Direction’s favourite hotel room at London’s Hotel Café Royal (£10,000 per night, if you’re interested) to a fetish shop in Soho. From the windswept roof of a city skyscraper to a grimy railway station underpass. I’ve shot inside a bar made completely of ice, where I had to continually step outside to warm up my frozen camera between scenes; and I’ve photographed a Bikram ‘hot yoga’ room at 40oC with a condensation-covered lens.
Shooting in public – especially with odd-looking kit – is guaranteed to attract hobbyist photographers. On one memorable occasion, whilst stood on a table during a shoot at a Savile Row tailor, a smartly-dressed Middle Eastern customer couldn’t wait to tell me about the new Leica camera he’d ordered. A piece of kit not many non-photographers would be interested in. I eventually had to politely ask him to let me finish my shoot, and it wasn’t until he’d left that the proprietor told me the chatty guest’s identity. The King of Bahrain.
On another occasion, while capturing some exteriors for a shopping arcade, I was asked by the police to send them the contents of my memory card because I had accidentally captured a bicycle theft in progress.
New technologies are bringing virtual reality even closer to its target. Stereoscopic camera rigs mimic the way human eyes see the world to create depth, gigapixel panoramas offer scenes in higher resolution than the human eye can match and directional audio can fool the ears into hearing sounds coming from ‘over there’. Drones and submarines take us to real places we cannot go, and computers conjure up places that don’t exist. It will not be long before the vivid digital virtual world catches up with – and ultimately overtakes – our comparatively drab analogue real one.

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