As a documentarian, part of my role is to capture a specific place and time for a larger audience. In my current project, I’m using oral history interviews with World War II veterans as well as archival film footage and photographs to tell the story of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the first women accepted into the Navy at the same rank and pay scale as men.
We’ve also shot contemporary footage at locations where the women served. But during filming we were struck by the lack of evidence of not just the women but the Navy overall in the contemporary world. One facility has been transformed into a park, another is a modern college, still another (while technically military property) is a “Club Fed”-style prison for nonviolent offenders.
Philosopher Edward Casey discusses the role of displacement within memories and storytelling, seeing nostaglia as not merely regret, but a longing for places encased in our memories. To compensate, he argues that historical narrators use a technique he’s dubbed “implacement” to negotiate the natural erasing of the past (the when) from the contemporary world (the where). Implacement is characterized by specificity, tying a location to a unique temporal space.
As a documentarian, I can “fix” this problem of erasing the past from the world. But the film itself, shown on television screens and film festivals, is physically separated from the “where,” the actual historical/filmed locations. It’s an accepted limitation of the medium.
But what if the filmmaker could bring the “when” to the “where”? Augmented reality may offer a way to transform documentary storytelling. Mashable describes AR as digitally overlaying the virtual over real experience. In this project, my team is experimenting with using the AR platform TagWhat for place-based storytelling. We geo-tag various artifacts (a portion of an interview, a photograph, a film snippet, etc.) with the specific location where each occurred. A user of the smartphone-based app can then stumble across an unexpected story, seeing the traces of the Navy WAVES in the contemporary world. In this way we can help to solve the problem of displacement - while we will never completely erase the temporal divide between the past and present, we can at least allow the past to intrude upon the present and remind us of the rich history surrounding us.