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Thursday, May 9, 2013

So about that 360-degree tour of Pullman Yard...

What's the best way to show readers a fenced-off, awe-inspiring place? Words work. Still photographs can easily do the trick. But if you can give people the option of touring a space themselves from the comfort of their laptops, tablets, and other doohickeys, then why not use it? For this week's cover story about the future of Pullman Yard, CL partnered with Dan Smigrod, an Atlanta-based freelance photographer who specializes in spherical panoramas and the chief marketing officer of TourWrist, a website where people can record, view, and share 360-degree spherical panoramas, or "panos." In the Pullman Yard photos, viewers are placed in their surroundings and can "explore" the area. We chatted with CL Photo Editor Joeff Davis and Smigrod about the experience. To view larger versions of the images, check out "The future of Pullman Yard."

Why this approach?

Davis: We were in the cover meeting and thinking about creative ways to show people this tremendous space. It's tremendous in terms of size, texture, and its environment. And we hit on this original idea. I was trying to think of a new and fresh approach to this story. We've seen these 360-degree images and you had this contact... All credit goes to Dan, who worked tirelessly on this project, and Thomas, who helped with the vision and provided the connections.

I've been to Pullman Yard and it's an impressive space. Nature and rust have combined into one gigantic canvas. And then you have this gritty artist element of people going in there for years and creating powerful and intense murals. One thing that separates this space from almost any one that I've been in is the light. It filters through the buildings in so many ways. You can have a black hole next to the most intense, saturated colors you've ever seen. This was the opportunity to allow people the feeling of walking through there and walking around.

I think a still shot is the most powerful way to tell a story. And I don't believe this approach is necessarily true journalism. These images combined elements of HDR, which is combining three photographs into a single photo. The process of creating this isn't a journalistic process. But it's the best way to tell this story because things in this space don't change as they do in others. You can still use this approach and still be true to the story.

Smigrod, via email: Pullman Yard is a special place. Few people get to walk inside, let alone spend an afternoon shooting spherical panoramas of nearly every space and exterior. When you reached out to me, you had me at "Pullman Yard." It's a space I've always wanted to see and photograph. Now, everyone - viewing my spherical panoramas - can feel like they have 'teleported in' to experience this historical site.

What was it like setting up and visiting Pullman?

Davis: Luckily, [Smigrod] was gung-ho to work on the project - and might have not slept for days to finish this on deadline. We were also able to get in touch with the Georgia Building Authority, which owns the property. They allowed us on the property but told us we had to hire a Capitol Police officer. We shot for five hours from noon to 5 p.m. [last] Tuesday.

What was it like shooting out there?

Davis: It was so hot. It was a really hot day. It was like having a museum to yourself for five hours. It's really quiet. I had a really, really intense bird song experience there. Nature is encroaching on this property in so many places and no one has touched it for so long. And then there's this creepy element and all you hear in some spaces is dripping water. You know when you get up in a big city at sunrise and you're the only one walking the street. It had that feel. There's a ton of energy but you're the only one there. And there was no one telling me where I could go and what I could do.

Smigrod: Shooting spherical panoramas at Pullman Yard was a magical experience. As I stepped into each cavernous space, I felt like I was traveling back in time. Time almost standing still: except for trees growing inside and modern-day graffiti art covering the interior walls.

While I felt lucky that I got to wonder through this abandoned place, I also felt the responsibility of documenting each building with a spherical panorama to enable Creative Loafing readers to feel like they have 'teleported in' for a tour to experience the same moments in time - from their perspective.

With just five hours for our photo shoot, I moved quickly from space-to-space, balancing my personal desire to take-in-every-moment with the need to create a time-capsule of spherical panoramas of Pullman Yard.

What kind of gear was needed? What was the production process?

Smigrod: These spherical panos were shot/created with dSLR camera, fish-eye lens, special tripod head, tripod, and wireless remote. All the interior images were 3-shots bracketed (to get the lighting to look nice inside and outside) "times" a set of three images every 60ยบ. That's 18 images to stitch together. Then add the logo to cover where the tripod was... To shoot the interiors of the Pullman Yard - with minimal natural lighting - you need pro gear/software/expertise.

What was your favorite place inside Pullman Yard?

Davis: I have one room that I love the most. It's this room [ed. This one]. It has the architectural elements. Peeling paint. It's so powerful for me. Aaron Siskind, one of my favorite photographers, did a project with peeling paint. And it happened to have a huge puddle in it this time around. Not only was it three-dimensional but now it had another dimension. And then there's this fence. Where did this come from? And then it's like you're walking in a castle. And the light was perfect.

What would you like to see happen to Pullman Yard?

Smigrod: I would like to see the community surrounding Pullman Yard decide the fate of this state-owned property in their backyard.

Davis: I'd like to allow two or three people go in there a day and check it out. I'd like to see the fences removed and the site preserved how it is exactly. I think people should be allowed to continue the graffiti projects. Now it's being used by film and TV and the average person doesn't get to go in and check it out. It's a pretty special place.

I'm all for soccer fields and stuff like that. You know when you ride along the Beltline and there are amazing things and buildings to check it out. To me, development would make it feel generic. If you're going to put in affordable housing where I can live there, that's great. But if it's going to be high-end, suddenly private property, this mysterious place is going to become even more restrictive.

As soon as I left, all I could think about was going back.

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