In William Gibson’s novel Spook Country released last year, artists create a new generation of “locative art.” Peer through goggles at a real-world scene, and see something that isn’t literally there. Few would say it was Gibson’s best novel – perhaps partly because the plotline didn’t live up to how compelling the locative art ideas were. But the art has already moved from science fiction into reality.

Microsoft’s superb Photosynth tool is not to be confused with QuickTime VR, even though some of its lineage clearly lies there. Photosynth stitches together conventional snapshots into 3D worlds, pulling geometry out of the images themselves so effectively the results really do seem magical. Two-dimensional images become suddenly alive and have depth. If this research can find its way into other tools, it’s not hard to imagine live performance and live visuals working with the idea. (In fact, for sheer artistic effect, you might be able to hack together something that runs with the concept – even if it doesn’t work as well as Microsoft’s rendition, it could be interesting.)

The bad news is, you’ll need a Windows machine to run the results, though I’m hopeful that will change soon (and, on the upside, Firefox on Windows works just fine).

It’s well worth finding a PC to look at these. If you haven’t seen it live, it’ll make you think about the possibility of still images in new ways.

Sam Boles ( writes to remind us of the awesomeness of the technology and sends along some of his favorites:

You may already be aware, but Photosynth has been live to the public since August. Having thrown up a couple of sythns already, I have to say its incredible. It must be the easiest and cheapest way to do 3d modelling, albeit in a closed format.
Anyway, knowing that you guys are big into Flickr, I’d love to see what synths you could put together of visualist setups and the like.

Oh yeah and here’s some of my favourites:
Houdini on Mass Ave. Bridge

The Boxer

Hong Kong at Night

I especially enjoy the Houdini example, pictured at top, because it shows the Gibson-like potential of mixing time as well as space. (The interface actually falls short in that instance – see the interesting discussion that ensues in comments.) And okay, yes, not technically “locative” unless you stand with a device in the actual location … but surely, with Google Streets already on mobiles and other products coming, that’s next.

Got Photosynths of your own? I think we’ll have to try making one of these at the next CDM event.

And whatever your feelings about Microsoft, the company supports a lot of “pure research” in directions we really appreciate.

Photosynth @ Microsoft Live Labs