Creating overlays with Aurasma: an Xmas project

Updates: Copenhagen got sliders! Københavns Statsarkiv has a set of photos comparing Copenhagen at around 1900 with today, while Time Travel Aarhus blends photos dating back to the late 19th or early 20th centurywith a new picture taken between 2013-14. Then there’s Edinburgh: then and now, where little seems to have changed other than the street furniture, and Moscow: ditto and account, plus the Barbican.

An alternative app is Layar, used here in Los Angeles. Plus Time Window Weimar, mapping the town’s history using augmented reality.

Interesting event at #beinghuman15: Expl[AR]ing humanities in Belfast, highlighting “new ways to think about the city, history and its gentrification”.


I discovered the Aurasma app via Tracey Benson (@bytetime), who uses it to create augmented reality walks revealing historic images by overlaying old and new photos of specific locations. Three of her walks are currently being exhibited as Finding ghosts (review) in Canberra, with one, Walking backwards to find the future, set in Dragør. See also Walks of absent memory in Dunedin.

The approach is similar to Guardian Cities’ Street View sleuth, which superimposes old images over Google Street View (see classic paintings | 18th century paintings | WW1WW2 | classic album covers | Ghosts of London’s Xmas), sliders showing development over time (London’s Olympic Park | Before and after the shard | Before and after the London riots), or plain old holding a postcard up to reality – all present a layered geographical narrative.

2014-10-03 13.34.46

Peggy Guggenheim on the balcony of her home on Venice’s Grand Canal – OK, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Aurasma describes itself as the “world’s leading augmented reality app”, developed by old friends Autonomy.  It’s a bit difficult to get your head round – according to the site it uses image recognition technology to allow a smartphone’s camera to recognise real world images and overlay rich media (videos, webpages) on top of them, creating “an augmented world where every image, object and place has its own aura”. Basically, hold your phone up to a building (or just the image of it), wait for a few seconds and the linked content will float above (or cover) the image on your phone – try one out here, or see Tracey’s instructions for the Dragør auras (the historical images are also presented on a conventional tour page).

TBH I’m not sure Aurasma adds that much to simply displaying two photos side by side, although there is more you can do with it, and if presented as a component of a larger project, augmenting for example a guided walk, event or piece of writing, it may well be quite effective. I’ve several ideas, which I will out as my Xmas 2014 project. The tutorial for creating auras makes it look manageable once you get in the swing.

Tracey is also collaborating on the Long time, no see? project led by Linda Carroli, which combines an app, visualisation and series of events aimed at engaging walkers in their local community. See her posts on creating walks for the project. Might be worth a punt.

A final aspect of Tracey’s work which is of interest is that a number of her tours have been developed without ever being physically present in the place, opening up a range of experimental possibilities:

I was becoming a ‘remote’ tourist, discovering locations from afar and building a knowledge of a place, which may or may not have any truth ‘on the ground’.

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