Objectivity in the times of Virtual Reality

РSairam Sagiraju 
MONDAY JUNE 13, 2016
While art forms allow artists to reconstruct realities, being objective and true in representation is a prerequisite for journalism. Sometimes, documentary filmmakers and photographers have to deal with the urge to abandon objectivity for the sake of aesthetics.
Celebrated photographer Steve McCurry has been criticised after several of his photos have been found to be digitally manipulated. This assumes seriousness, for his photographs have been featured by newspapers as anthropological accounts of places and people.
A traditional camera allows a photographer or cinematographer to frame a shot that is convenient to his/her ‘vision’ while ignoring the reality outside of the frame. The liberty to frame a shot is in itself the biggest subjective decision a documentary filmmaker or photographer makes during a shoot.
Enter Virtual Reality and this freedom is taken away from the filmmaker. In VR there isn’t a frame, the viewer is simply transported to the scene with an unhindered 360 degree view. The only subjective decision a VR filmmaker makes is when and where he places his camera. Once the camera rolls, there is nothing that can be hidden from the viewer.
Documentary filmmaker Sreya Chatterjee says, ‘what is off frame is no longer a speculation but almost a tangible reality, which is just a glance away in VR. The medium would play a pivotal role of diminishing the barrier between the ‘seen’ and the ‘depicted”
While the medium of VR takes away the little subjective freedom that a documentary filmmaker enjoyed, it makes up with the empathy that it lends to the subject. Spending time in a war zone with refugees in VR can have a deep impact on the viewer.
As a new medium, VR demands its practitioners to unlearn the craft of conventional filmmaking.
Photographer and journalist Chandak Pradhan feels, ‘VR makes the process more objective and transparent, leading to democratisation and demystification of filmmaking’
Charlotte Michel, a French cinematographer says ‘VR gives the viewer the freedom to look where she wants, creating her own film. Giving the viewer this freedom restrains yours as a Filmmaker’
Newspapers in the West have introduced VR for reportage. The New York Times has collaborated with Vrse to bring out news stories in VR. On a quiet morning, NYT subscribers were surprised with a cardboard VR headset attached to the newspaper. Viewers have access to a host of VR videos on the NYT-Vrse app.
Closer home, we at Meraki partnered with Firstpost to bring out a news story in VR. We are also working on our first documentary in VR. Aided by technology and our values, we intend to bring objectivity to our journalistic pursuits.
The author is a VR director and Co-founder of Meraki.