The Timeless Need for Preservation

Humanity’s most innate desire is to survive.  It is our biological and evolutionary need to repopulate and pass our knowledge down through generations, enabling others to survive after us.  But humans went a little farther than other animals in the sense that they developed a sense of sentimentality.  Their passing on of knowledge exceeded the lengths of teaching offspring to just survive – they passed down oral stories of culture and religion.  They then preserved literature and artifacts.  And eventually, they evolved to the point of preserving pretty much everything they could see… or could simply imagine.  We have reached a point where we have the technology to rebuild ancient structures, recreate cracked vases, and preserve all ancient findings for all future generations to experience.  This sense of sentimentality has led to the creation an immense archive for the future: one where everyone can access the past, all thanks to the internet.  It is really quite incredible.

What’s even more incredible is how early we were able to find ways to document the past and present using technology.  I was shocked to learn that Albrecht Meydenbauer pioneered the use of photogrammetry as a way of documentation in 1858.  He believed that photographic images could store an object’s information in great detail.  He created graphical reconstructions of buildings through the use of his photography and geometry – a method that proved quite reliable.  In 1885 he  succeeded in establishing the first photogrammetric institution in Berlin for cultural heritage objects.  The institution recorded roughly 2,600 objects using around 20,000 images.  It is important to keep in mind that a functional camera (as we know it) did not exist until around the 1830’s!  This incredible dedication to the preservation of culture is an excellent exhibit of the lengths people take in order to ensure future generations can experience the art, architecture and objects of the past.


Here are a couple examples of the type of projects Meydenbauer worked on.  By combining geography with photography, he was able to create projections of 3D objects on paper.


Nowadays we apply the same techniques and mentality in a more advanced way.  The current leader in photogrammetry is Agisoft.  This software company allows anyone to piece together an object in 3D virtual space using just a few simple photos!  After uploading a set of photos of an object (whether it be a small flower or a large building), the software takes over and creates a replication of the object on screen.  It can be spun 360 degrees, zoomed in, zoomed out, etc.  So unlike Meydenbauer, these photogrammetric projections can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, in little time!  In addition, as shown by our demonstration of Agisoft in class, the software is incredibly user friendly!  It takes just a few minutes and a basic iPhone camera to create a 3D projection of an object.  In an age of technology, the tools to preserve our world are so accessible and easy.

(However it is important to mention that there are downsides to this technology – as it is fairly new, it still has its problems!  Also proved by our experimentation in class, the software occasionally has trouble recreating an object depending on its texture, background, shape, etc.  With the constant improvement of our technology, these bugs out should be worked out soon enough!)

In conclusion, I believe that humans have an internal need to be remembered.  If they create something, achieve something, or discover something, they want people to know.  But not only do they want to be remembered for their accomplishments, they want to share the accomplishments of others who may have inspired them or created something worth remembering.  That is why techniques like photogrammetry exist.  Whether it be used to recreate one’s own work or that of another, its entire purpose is to spread art and knowledge.  And this human desire clearly has not changed much in the past couple hundred years!  I imagine that in the future, even more advanced techniques will exist to create objects in virtual spaces – whether that be through virtual reality or holograms!  Human accomplishments are being preserved in better and more permanent ways.

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