Designing an experiential, augmented reality exhibit taught me how relative “truth” is.
I started my commercial advertising career as a photojournalist with fine arts training. That training taught me that every photograph deceives us, just a bit.
We think a photograph is recorded truth, but ultimately, it’s a selective interpretation. Sometimes, the photographer's fiction conveys more truth than reality itself. For some photographers, this wonderful moment is the nexus of our art’s power. A springboard for our search for meaning.
It also makes for great ads
The best visual advertising creatively manipulates photography’s subversive quality. But as consumers have become more sophisticated, and deep fakes have become a cultural phenomenon, the line between what’s true and what’s not is wavering.
And yet, expressing the truth has always been at the forefront of my strategic approach to brand building. So where does that leave me? Where does it leave everyone else who seeks to create art that is commercial, but also transformative?
It can get complicated
Much of my non-commercial work explores shifting definitions, slippery slopes and complex ideas. My work in photojournalism touched the same territory. So I’ve come to realize that truth is an even more fluid concept than I ever thought. It shifts with context.
Let’s start with changing reality.
Not long ago, we pointed a camera phone at a cereal box, followed a QR code and experienced a 3-dimensional object in register with the box. AR was a parlor trick that mixed reality.
Then the mixing got more sophisticated. My work in experiential art began with startup that pioneered projection mapping. It helped fashion both a new art form and new way to engage brand loyalty. Along the way, I collected six patents.
Welcome to the Vortex of Truth
After seeing my work at Klip Collective, New York City's digital art collective CADAF (https://www.cadaf.art) invited me to join their exposition. My AR collaborator Howard McCabe of Dream Syndicate and his team of developers and artists joined me.
The Vortex Of Truth began with both old-fashion pencil sketches and an AR Instagram filter that I invented. They showed six busts on pedestals of historical figures who spanned the entire history of human knowledge. Gandhi, Buddha, Maya Angelou, Aristotle, Confucius, and MLK Jr. each offered up their vision of what truth is. Recognizing that young people learn digitally and differently, we used great music and vibrant color to keep the experience short–two to four minutes–but technologically fascinating.
Viewers got the message quickly
Exploring the mixed reality, confronted by the different quotes, visitors soon understood that truth is relative, and never black and white. Vortex of Truth created buzz in Manhattan, and we launched a similar experience in Paris in 2020. We hoped to inspire our hundreds of visitors to question their media outlets, political figures and teachers. To dive deep and question every proclaimed truth.
What’s truth now?
Today, our mature media landscape grapples with defining truth. The erosion of verifiable truth has also polarized our politics. It has bred mistrust and disillusionment toward government and society on an unprecedented scale. Is this at least partially, a byproduct of modern 20th-century advertising. One that has often treated the distortion of opinion and truth as a handy strategic pillar?
Easy answers aren’t coming soon.
We all know that communication advancements often have unintended consequences. When the printing press disseminated the first books, more women were burned as witches. In the contemporary landscape, entities like Russian troll farms exploit social media to propagate falsehoods, and fracture societies in the process.
No magic bullet will stop this. Instead, we all need to embrace the responsibility of deciphering truth and challenging presented narratives.
A call to all artists
It’s an artist's duty to infuse authenticity into everything we create. But those of us who synthesize art and technology to create brand stories have an even heftier responsibility to weave truth into everything we do.
First let’s remember the obvious: People know when they’re being sold. In this digital age, they decode messages with a healthy dose of cynicism. They scrutinize every morsel of brand information. So, we need to be transparent about every brand detail. When consumers ask us what’s true, we should respond authentically. When the brand’s truth evolves, we need to evolve with it.
Unbranded truth is also powerful
Brands can also harness the power of truth by dropping their branding from some content. My team and I have often convinced big brands to fund technologically masterful but expensive projection installations without brand messages. Not a word. Our clients realized that in the end, their sponsor status added unique value and stimulated real engagement.
Consider the kaleidoscope
I’d also like to offer a different way to describe the search for truth.
Following the North Star is a well-worn model. But perhaps truth is not a fixed entity like a star but more like a kaleidoscope, ever changing. Truth is not a flickering thing, far away. Truth is in your hands, its perspective perpetually shifting. When you jostle the kaleidoscope to show it to someone else, the view can change again, so no two people ever see the same truth.
Nevertheless, we should still be looking for it together.
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