Chris Milk is everywhere. He made a name for himself directing music videos for the likes of Kanye West, U2, Arcade Fire and Green Day, but now the scope of his work extends well beyond the arena of MTV, as he’s become more than just a great storyteller, but one of the pioneers innovating how we tell stories. Straddling the realms of art, photography and film, Milk’s comfort zone seems to lie on both the technical and creative frontiers — he’s always pushing for new methodologies of experiencing content.
The collaboration between Milk’s companies, Vrse & Vrse.works, and The New York Times Magazine will be a bellwether experiment for the practice of virtual reality enhanced journalism. With their partnership launching at NeueHouse Madison Square early this November, NeueJournal caught up with Milk hoping to learn how this particular marriage of technology and storytelling may change more than just how we get our news.
NeueJournal: How can VR bolster the power of good journalism?
Chris Milk: Journalism is about conveying the truth. And in pursuing that truth, you hope your work affects people. So to craft a journalistic piece in VR simply means using a fresh, different tool to reach people. We as an audience have been inundated with good journalism through the written word, radio, and visual media – like TV and documentaries. But TV and documentaries are meant to “show” you something, whereas VR is meant to take you somewhere. What we try to do is craft stories that literally teleport the viewer, or at least their consciousness. VR can give people a different perspective, instead of just showing them one.
NJ: People mostly imagine VR as a tool for gaming or entertainment. What are some possible uses for VR that you think could extend beyond that realm?
CM: A lot of people are thinking about VR in so many different ways, and that excites us. We want to see this new medium grow in surprising capacities, and I think it will. I’ve seen some promising directions in medicine, therapy, and especially education.
VR, for me, can be an experience maker. What are the moments of real life that we find intriguing, beguiling, or intoxicating? It could be sitting next to a couple at a café in Milan, catching intimate snippets of their conversation. Or it could be a car chase. What I find important is the medium’s ability to share our human experiences, and potentially help people understand one another.
NJ: How do you think VR will affect our powers of imagination? Will it cause them to atrophy? Will it enhance them?
CM: The same question was asked of radio, cinema, and television. And look at the beauty and scope of imagination that came of those tech / human interactions.
What’s so great about VR right now is that no one really knows with certainty what shape it’ll take, or what it’ll inspire us to achieve. But all the previous modes of storytelling have broadened our capacity for imagination. It’d be strange to think of VR’s impact as anything short of that.
Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal