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Photographs Play Music, Thanks To 'Augmented Reality' At Thornhill Gallery

C.J. Janovy

A word of advice to everyone who ventures into the new photography exhibition at Avila University’s Thornhill Gallery: Charge your devices. Also, you’ll need to download an app called Layar

Experiencing “augmented reality,” it turns out, requires a bit of pre-planning.

J. Anthony Snorgrass, a professor of communications, advertising, strategic media and branding, uses common apps and YouTube videos to create that augmented reality experience in his exhibition, called {App}erature: Photography II Art.

“We’re looking to combine several different art elements into one,” Snorgrass says. “There’s a growing debate about whether photography is actually an art – I think it is, by itself. Yet many people think about photography as a platform for other things. So this exhibit uses the art of photography as a platform to move into different media.”

Or, as Snorgrass puts it, a new type of “mixed media.”

Eye-level photographs – unframed, but matted in white board – line the gallery walls. They’re hung in sets of two. On the left is the original image – buildings, landscapes, scenery. On the right is the same image, digitally altered to look impressionistic, or like a watercolor or abstract painting. The images on the right the ones that lead to augmented reality.

When visitors scan one of these images using the Layar app, outlines of the image will shimmer for a moment and then they’ll get a message to press “Play.” Then a video will appear.

Snorgrass demonstrates using a photograph of the 18th and Vine streetscape, with the Gem Theater’s marquis lit up brightly on a rainy night. When his phone finishes scanning the image and Snorgrass presses “play,” we see – and hear – a performance by Kansas City’s jazz flute player Horace Washington, who died in October.

“This was my tribute to him,” Snorgrass says. “Many of us were very saddened by his passing a few weeks ago.”

Other images in the show link to videos from the Civil Rights era, a fireworks display at the American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue, Union Station’s recent centennial anniversary, vintage television commercials and trees changing colors in local parks, just to name a few.

Credit C.J. Janovy / KCUR
After Snorgrass scans a digitally altered photograph of Union Station, his phone will play a video of the station's recent Centennial Celebration.

With the technology, Snorgrass sees opportunities to enhance educational experiences – and because he teaches advertising, he sees marketing potential.

“Essentially the idea is to give you more to look at that just a visual image and direct your audience toward another objective, whether it’s buying something, supporting something, or volunteering for something,” he says. “There’s many different utilities for it.”

Snorgrass says he’s seen students coming into the gallery to check out the show. Luring random students into an art gallery is no small accomplishment, so Snorgrass knows he’s onto something. His next step will be figuring out which pieces are their favorites, and why.

{App}erature: Photography II Art is up until Dec. 12 at the Thornhill Galleryon the Avila University campus, 11901 Wornall Rd, Kansas City, Mo. 816-501-3653. 

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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