Inside Kodak’s Memory Observatory, a group of South By Southwest attendees lie on the floor gazing at an image of a man projected out of a kaleidoscope. The man in the image sits at the crowd’s center as a recording of his voice plays aloud, recounting his image’s backstory and personal significance. Within a few minutes, the entire crowd is in tears.
“It was a photo of a guy holding out a spoon,” Zac Rolland, one of the viewers, said. “At first we were like ‘What?’ But [the recording explained] it was his grandmother’s spoon, and she had just died three weeks ago. Everyone in the whole place was crying.”
The observatory, created to promote the new KODAK MOMENTS photosharing app, is housed within a white dome inside the Austin Convention Center. Once a participant enters the dome, director and artist Marcos Lutyens sits them down for a one-on-one interview about any photo they select from their smartphone's library.
Behind the scenes, two other artists listen to the interview and curate natural sounds and smells that correlate with the memory attached to the photo. Next, the participant moves into the kaleidoscope room to lie among the viewers. Their audio is then played aloud, interspersed with curated sounds and smells.
Together, the group of strangers re-live the participant’s memory together. Rolland, a viewer and lead director for Junior, the design and technology company that built the exhibit, said sharing personal memories and hearing stranger’s stories are impactful experiences.
“How much you put into it is how much you get out of it,” Rolland said. “The deeper you go, the more vulnerable that you are and the more incredible the experience is going to be.”
Rolland said, as a listener, he was most moved by the stories that included personal, emotional content, such as one man’s story about dropping his son off at college.
Lutyens said hearing such intimate stories from strangers taught him that people want to open up.
“I think it kind of shows us that people really want to communicate what is deep inside of them,” Lutyens said. “We communicate love on social media, but it's at a surface level, whereas in this particular instance, people are given the opportunity to go deeper into their memories and share the emotions, and we heighten those emotions in the observatory with color and smell and sound.”
The observatory ran from Saturday through Tuesday. After leaving South By Southwest, it will tour across the country promoting the app.
“What we are doing is creating an exhibit where you can explore a particular memory,” David Newhoff, Kodak’s VP of Mobile, said. “Just like the app, where you can tell stories through your photography, you can tell a story here.”
Correction: The lead director of Junior's name is Zac Rolland, not Nick Rolland.