By Tracy Courage | Photography by Edward C. Robinson III
To experience Robison’s images as they were intended to be experienced, download his app “Eureka Springs Augmented Reality” by visiting the Apple iTunes or Google Play stores on your smartphone. The app is free to download!
Once you have downloaded the app, open it. Hover your phone over the image and watch it come to life!
The Eurekan Spectacle mural project along Eureka Springs’ downtown Main Street beckons passers-by to stop and gaze at the eight-by-eight foot art panels that showcase a mix of historical city scenes and photographs by Edward C. Robison III.
But there’s more here than meets the eye. Anyone with a mobile device can download an app that Robison has developed, point his or her device at the photos, and see the images come to life. All of the images are interactive. Some are three-dimensional, and some are time-lapse photographs that rely on augmented reality technology.
When the mural was completed, some viewers referred to the technology as “Harry Potter magic,” Robison says.
“People had never seen anything like it, and it took a lot of explaining,” he continues. “Now, in the past few years, [augmented reality] has become popular, so people kind of get it.”
More of Robison’s work will be featured this month in an exhibit opening on May 9 at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. The exhibition – “The Nature of Photography from Traditional to Augmented Reality” – runs through Sept. 1 and includes about 45 images that are a mix of film, digital photography and 14 interactive pieces.
Many of the images depict natural landscapes from Arkansas along with other photography from Robison’s travels across the Ozarks, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, desert southwest and even a couple of images from Hawaii and Scotland.
Robison, a landscape photographer, has been experimenting with augmented reality for the past five years, beginning with a collection of Ozark photographs he later published in a book.
“At that time, everyone was already on mobile devices, and I was questioning whether people were even buying books,” he says. “I was doing time-lapse photography, and I was wondering if there was a way to incorporate time-lapse with a book. No one was doing much with augmented reality, and I thought it was a cool technology.”
Robison launched a Kickstarter project for the Ozark landscapes book. He used an app developed by HP but later built his own app so that he could better manage the user experience for his second book, “Eureka Springs: An Augmented Reality Project” published in 2017. The book is sold throughout Northwest Arkansas, including the Crystal Bridges Museum Store.
Augmented reality is a way of enhancing artistic expression for Robison, who started as a painter in high school in Warrensburg, Mo. He took photography classes at the University of Kansas and later transferred and graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute.
On vacation out West with his parents, Robison came across photographs in a restaurant in Springdale, Utah, outside Zion National Park. The work was by Southwestern landscape photographer Michael Fatali.
“We visited his gallery after dinner, and I fell in love with his work,” Robison recalls.
He attended one of the artist’s workshops, which eventually led to a three-month study with the artist.
“He was doing 8×10 large format photography,” Robison says. “We traveled around the desert southwest. When I got back to Missouri, I bought myself a large-format camera.”
Today, Robison’s large-scale landscape photography is a part of the permanent collections at Bass Pro Shops, the National Arbor Day Foundation and Capital One. He freelances as a commercial photographer for a number of resorts and travel destinations, including Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock, both in Branson, Mo. Since 2011, he has worked as a museum photographer for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
In 2008, Robison opened Sacred Earth Gallery in Eureka Springs which features his photography, along with pop surrealist pieces by his wife, Janalee, and photography by his son, Eva.
The gallery name represents both Robison’s love of nature and art philosophy.
“In my early days, my focus was on the spiritual connection with nature, trying to convey a sense of energy and connection to the earth,” he says. “It still is. When I used a large-format camera, the film process of taking photos was slow. It would typically take 20 to 30 minutes to capture one photo. It was a slow, meditative process.”
The same is true for time-lapse photography which inherently requires time for images to be recorded.
“3D modeling is the opposite end of the spectrum,” he says. “I might capture upward of 5,000 photos of one object.”
Robison’s artistic eye and his use of technology have opened doors to new projects. He now has a production company, White Phoenix Films, and last year, he and his wife produced seven TV commercials for the city of Eureka Springs. They are currently working on three more commercials for the city and a 360° virtual tour of outdoor sports in the city, including the nearly 100 miles of new bike trails in Eureka Springs.