The parallax view: the military origins of holography

In Jens Schröter & Stefan Rieger (eds.), Das Holografische Wissen. Dortmund, Germany: Diaphanes. pp. 33-57 (2009)
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The title of this piece is meant to evoke at least three sources. The first – and perhaps the only obvious one – concerns the ability of holograms to display parallax, a shifting of visual viewpoint that allows a three-dimensional image to reveal background objects behind those in the foreground. This parallax view is a unique feature of holograms as visual media. A second allusion is to the American film The Parallax View (1974, director A. J. Pakula), a rather paranoid thriller focusing on conspiracy theories concerning government and corporations. To a casual observer, the bare details of the military origins of holography suggest just such cynical and centrally-directed development, although I hope to dispel such simplistic ideas here. And a third passing reference is to the book The Parallax View (2006) by Slavoj Zizek, a wide-ranging and deep exploration of duality in political views, ontological interpretations and scientific methods, among other topics. Zizek’s theme, as well as Pakula’s, is relevant to my approach, which focuses on a parallax of both practice and intent. During the first successful decade of holography, conflicting viewpoints developed between distinct communities: the militarily-guided engineers who invented practical holography, and the later imaging scientists and artisans who stressed three-dimensionality and other attributes instead of the original goal of optical image processing. I argue that distinct groups of users had different perceptions of what holography is and what it is for.
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