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Nazaré and Immersive Media: New Approaches to Cultural Heritage through Mixing Old and New Media

DOI: | Issue 7 | Oct 2021

Celia Quico (Lusófona University)


This article focuses on immersive representations of Nazaré, starting with stereoscopic photos from the early 20th century and finishing with 360º videos from the early 21st century. Located in central Portugal, the coastal town of Nazaré has inspired many visual representations by painters, photographers and filmmakers. During the first half of the 20th century, perhaps no other photographer captured Nazaré and its inhabitants as richly as the amateur photographer Álvaro Laborinho (1879-1970), who also experimented with stereoscopic photography. Today, immersive media are somewhat different from these stereoscopic photos, certainly with a greater degree of technological sophistication, but probably with less durability over time, given the quick obsolescence of current immersive technologies. More than a hundred years after the creation of these stereoscopic photos we arrive at 360º videos like Surfing with Pedro Scooby in VR and Nazaré, Mais que Mar é Mulher, produced respectively by Red Bull Brazil and by Marina Oliveto.

Yet another kind of representation is offered by the trans-disciplinary exploratory project Nazaré Imersiva (Nazaré Immersive) from Lusofona University, based on the stereographic photos of Álvaro Laborinho, whose images were remediated and repurposed for the current immersive media technologies. This project aims to contribute towards the promotion of Nazaré’s cultural and natural heritage in an innovative way, mixing traditional and contemporary representation technologies. Furthermore, the project addresses current issues such as pollution and the impact of tourism, challenging its participants to speculate about possible futures for Nazaré – that is to say, for other similar coastal towns in Portugal – and beyond.

Introduction: Seascapes, Landscapes and Respective Representations

To see and to feel the sea, but without being by the sea. Here, immersive representations of a particular Portuguese seascape are presented, from early 20th century stereoscopic photographs through 360º videos from the early 21st century. In particular, the focus will be in the immersive representations of Nazaré, a coastal town located in central Portugal.

A meeting point between sea and land, the Portuguese coast has been captured and revered by writers, poets, painters, photographers and filmmakers. The perception and contemplation of the coast is the basis of the concept of seascape. The definitions of landscape are diverse, especially formulated in the fields of Geography and Arts: however, in essence, these have in common the idea of perception and contemplation of a given extension of territory – natural or humanised. Thus, the concept of landscape can be divided into natural landscape and cultural landscape, the former corresponding to a natural environment without human intervention, while cultural landscape is a humanised environment. In other words, it is a result of human action in a given location.

Seascapes can be considered as intangible heritage and as a cultural identity asset, rooted in national history and also potentially contributing to a sustainable tourism model, in the perspective of Maria Manuel Baptista Assunção (2016). In Portugal, the maritime landscape as a painting genre has undergone a remarkable development in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries: António Carneiro, António Ramalho, João Marques de Oliveira, José Malhoa, Silva Porto are some of the visual artists who became known for painting landscapes (Assunção, 2016).

Photography would also take the landscape as a preferred genre. In Portugal, pioneering photographers such as Carlos Relvas and João Francisco Camacho would be reference figures for their landscapes and views, ‘two paths in which one can read the duality of the sense of landscape photography’, considers Emília Tavares (2015: 34). It should be mentioned that Carlos Relvas was also noted for stereoscopic photography, being one of its precursors in Portugal, alongside Aurélio Pais dos Reis, Francisco Afonso Chaves, Arthur Freire, Artur Benarus, among others (Flores, 2016). Stereoscopic photography is part of the long history of immersive techniques and technologies – or immersive media – which are presented briefly below, before we develop further the particular case of immersive representations of Nazaré's seascapes.

Immersive Media: Definitions and a Brief History

Creating an immersive experience can be considered an abiding obsession in the arts, although today the technological apparatus and sophistication is greater than ever. Nowadays, successful immersive media experiences involve the user in a simulated environment, to the point that the user has the feeling of being in another space or time, in which visual, auditory, tactile and even olfactory sensations can be stimulated.

In this sense, virtual reality (VR) is defined as a technology that simulates a three-dimensional environment, which can be experienced or controlled in a similar way as a real environment, involving the entire field of view of the user and using auditory and tactile stimuli to enhance the feeling of immersion. VR environments can correspond exclusively to live-action footage or to images entirely generated by computer or, less frequently, involve the creation of hybrid environments, with filmed or photographed images composed with graphics or visual effects generated by computer. Thus, immersive videos are a sub-category of virtual reality, in which a three-dimensional environment is in video format, generated from the recording of all angles simultaneously using a camera – or an omnidirectional structure of cameras. This type of video can also be called 360º video or spherical video.

It should be noted that the search for the immersion effect did not arise with the recent invention of virtual reality technologies, as noted by Oliver Grau (2003). This art historian and media theorist considered that the new forms of virtual art fit into the history of the arts of illusion and immersion, which can go back to 15,000 B.C., with Lascaux caves or Altamira caves as notable examples (2003). The trompe-l'oeil frescoes and paintings are also part of this history of immersion techniques and technologies.

One of the key events in this story is the invention of the panorama, patented in 1787 by the painter Robert Barker, who a few years later would install his panoramic paintings in a purpose-built building in Leicester Square in London. Throughout the 19th century, the panorama would become a true mass media, reaching audiences of millions, mainly to represent landscapes and historical events. The panorama would be used as a propaganda tool, but also as a spectacle for the masses. The enthusiasm for the panoramas would diminish towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

Figure 1: Barker, H.A. & Barker, R. (1792) ‘Panoramic view of London, from the top of Albion Mills which was by the south end of Blackfriars Bridge

Figure 2: Mitchel R. (1801) ‘Cross-section of the Rotunda in Leicester Square in which the panorama of London was exhibited

The return of the panorama as a spectacle would take place in the 1950s, driven by the cinema industry, which launched innovations such as Cinerama (1952), the Cinemascope (1953) or the IMAX (1970), in order to attract audiences that it was losing to television. On the other hand, the international exhibitions or thematic amusement parks also provided shared experiences of spectacular panoramas, such as Circarama, premiered in 1955 at Disneyland at the Tomorrowland pavilion, renamed Circle-Vision 360º in 1967.

In addition, new media artists would reinvent the immersive landscape, with Maurice Benayoun transporting visitors to a virtual battle panorama with World Skin (1997) using a CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment), Michael Naimark placing visitors in public squares of UNESCO world heritage sites with the 3D panorama installation Be Now Here from 1995, and Jeffrey Shaw with the interactive panorama Place that covered several cities from 1995 to 2000 (Grau, 2003).

These and other immersive techniques and technologies shared by an audience are distinct from immersive techniques and technologies for individual enjoyment, mediated through specific equipment. In this context, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of the 19th century. Although there is no consensus on the matter, many consider Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's heliography Point de vue du Gras, from 1826 or 1827, to be the first photo in history. Practically coincident in time was the invention of the stereoscope, in 1833, by scientist Charles Wheatstone, an instrument for viewing pairs of images with slightly different points of view, which create the illusion of an image with three-dimensional depth, through mirrors, lenses or prisms. This illusion is thus described by Ana David (2002: 43): ‘The action of the glasses in the stereoscopic viewer is strange, as if there were ‘a time that feels like living there’, inhabited landscape, characters ... stagings ... to which we belong’.

In the 1840s, the demonstration of the first experimental techniques of stereoscopic photography would take place and, during the following decade, one could find on the market photographic equipment for this purpose, such as stereoscopes, as well as photo cards. Thus, in the middle of the 19th century, stereoscopic photography was considered to be a cutting-edge technology, even used to represent the inaugural exhibition of the Crystal Palace in Porto in 1865, as observed by Victor Flores (2016: 19): ‘The relief photography, as it was often called, symbolized the progress and emancipation of science and industry as much as the International Exhibition of Porto itself'.

Figure 3: ‘A reproduction Holmes stereoscope’ (circa 1860)

Interestingly, the first description of a system similar to current individual VR equipment appears in 1935 in the science fiction short story Pygmallion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum. However, the invention of an individual VR system is due to the scientist and computer engineer Ivan Sutherland who, in 1968, demonstrated The Sword of Damocles, considered by many to be the first functional virtual reality system, using visualization equipment that is placed on the head (‘headmounted display’).

The 1980s and 1990s were particularly intense with the commercialization of individual use VR systems – such as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, Sony Glasstron or Jaron Lanier’s EyePhone – but which ended up not being successful, either because of the prohibitive prices for ordinary mortals, or because of the low quality of computer-generated graphics and poor interactivity.

More recently, new hopes arise for the mass adoption of VR, especially thanks to the Oculus Rift, an equipment first developed by Palmer Luckey, whose company Oculus VR would be acquired in 2014 by Facebook. Other companies followed the example of Facebook by investing in VR, such as Google and Samsung: the latter decided to partnership with Oculus VR to develop the Samsung Gear VR, in which the Galaxy 6 series smartphones and beyond are like the brain of the system. In the case of Google, the option was for a low-cost and more universal solution, compatible with most mobile phones: Google Cardboard, a device curiously similar to stereoscopes of the 19th century and to View-Master displays of the mid-20th century. However, after a period of excitement for VR in 2015 and 2016, as of 2017 this enthusiasm seems to have cooled or even faded (Olson, 2017) – until the next cycle of hype, or, finally, until its mass adoption.

Figure 4: Google Cardboard (2014)

Nazaré and Immersive Media From the Early 20th Century:

Stereoscopic Photos

As with other Portuguese fishing communities, Nazaré has inspired many visual representations from painters, photographers or filmmakers (Santos, 2015; Quico, 2008). Almada Negreiros, Stuart de Carvalhais, Abel Manta, Guilherme Filipe, Lázaro Lozano and Abílio Mattos e Silva were some of the visual artists who took this territory and this community as a major theme for their body of work (Santos, 2015). Nazaré would also be a source of inspiration for national and foreign photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean Dieuzaide, Sabine Weiss, Bill Perlmutter and Stanley Kubrick, among others, who mostly came to this coastal town after the Second World War (Quico, 2008). In the case of Portuguese photographers, one should mention Artur Pastor, Carlos Afonso Dias, Gérard Castello-Lopes and Eduardo Gageiro (Santos, 2015), who documented Nazaré for posterity mainly during the 1950 to 1970s.

However, in the first half of the 20th century, perhaps no other photographer has captured Nazaré and its inhabitants as prolifically and well as Álvaro Laborinho, producing photos that represent a valuable source of information about this fishing community (Santos, 2015). Born in Nazaré in 1879, Álvaro Laborinho became a well-known and reputed local merchant, with a store in the main square of the village. Álvaro Laborinho also took an active part in local politics, having founded the Portuguese Republican Center/Centro Republicano Português in Nazaré. The ‘true and constant passion for his land and his people’ (Lúcio, 2002: 26) that motivated Álvaro Laborinho was also tangible in his vast photographic work, almost two thousand images (Nabais, 2002), which since 1980 is part of the collection of the Museu Dr. Joaquim Manso at Nazaré (MDJM), previously offered by the Laborinho family.

An amateur photographer – in the deepest sense of the word, ‘the one who loves’ – Álvaro Laborinho represented Kodak in Nazaré, subscribed to several photography magazines, frequented photography salons in Lisbon and even exchanged correspondence with other amateur photographers (Lúcio, 2002). This profound interest in the various photographic technologies and techniques led Álvaro Laborinho to experiment with stereoscopic photography as well, having purchased his own equipment for this purpose and having printed several cards for sale in his own store (David, 2002).

Figure 5: Laborinho, A. (1915) ‘Bois puxando barco de caranguejo’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

Figure 6: Laborinho, A. (1913) ‘Na praia à hora do banho’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

This collection of stereoscopic photographs includes glass plates and stereoscopic cards, dates from 1913 to 1932, covers themes such as landscape, bathing at the beach, fishing, and processions, and is also part of the MDJM's estate. This ‘adventure’ in the stereoscopic image is considered as ‘perhaps the most interesting aspect’ of Álvaro Laborinho's photographic journey, for the researcher Ana David (2002: 39).

Most of these images are practically unknown, either by specialists in stereoscopic photography or by the general public. However, some of these images and the photographer's equipment publicly surfaced in the exhibition ‘Revisitar a Nazaré by Álvaro Laborinho’, which took place at the Galleria Paul Girol located at the Municipal Library of Nazaré in April and May 2018, an exhibition produced by MDJM and curated by his great-grandson Bernardo Lúcio. In the MatrizNet catalog of the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage / Direcção-Geral do Património Cultural, there are at least 40 pairs of stereoscopic photos by Álvaro Laborinho, of which 23 pairs can be categorized as Nazaré seascapes.

Figure 7: Laborinho, A. (1930 ) ‘Trecho praia de banhos’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

Figure 8: Laborinho, A. (1930) ‘Batelinho que chegou’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

Álvaro Laborinho’s motifs in stereoscopic photography are extended to his standard photos, as it would be expected: rocks, boats, nets, bathers, women from Nazaré, fishermen: ‘The marine and humanized landscape of Nazaré, meetings of friends, and the family are a mark the photographic production of Álvaro Laborinho’ (David, 2002: 44). At least three pairs of stereoscopic photographs represent Praia do Norte, one of them with the Forno d’Orca cave in the background and in the foreground the writer, politician and freethinker Tomás da Fonseca.

Figure 9: Laborinho, A. (1913) ‘Thomaz da Fonseca, um trecho do Forno d’Orca’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

Figure 10: Laborinho, A. (1930) ‘Forno d'Orca e Augusto’, Col. DRCC / MDJM

Nazaré and Immersive Media Since the Early 21st Century: 360º Videos

About a hundred years after the production of these stereoscopic photos, immersive media today are somewhat different, certainly with a greater degree of technological sophistication, but probably with less durability given the rapid obsolescence of digital formats.

In 2016, Red Bull Brazil produced and launched the 360º video Surfing with Pedro Scooby in VR, lasting 2 minutes and 20 seconds, taking advantage of the wave of global interest generated by the giant waves of Praia do Norte of Nazaré. ‘You can enter it in the Nazaré tubes. To look everywhere and have the feeling of being there, without having to leave home’ is the promise made by the company (Pabst, 2016). Red Bull has been sponsoring several big-wave surfers, as well as other extreme sports, with the production and dissemination of online content at the heart of its activities, to the point where it can be considered as ‘an empire of content production that also sells drinks’ (O'Brien, 2012). In this case, for the experience to be more immersive, Red Bull Brazil marketed a special package for 6 cans of energy drink, to be converted into virtual reality glasses. This edition of the ‘VR Pack’ was limited to 100.000 units, distributed in approximately 500 points of sale in Brazil.

Another perspective of Nazaré is shown in the 360º video Nazaré, Mais que Mar é Mulher, launched in the end of 2019, directed and produced by Brazilian journalist Marina Oliveto – at the time of writing this article, also a PhD student in Communication Sciences at Lusofona University. This 360º video – available on YouTube – is defined by the author as a film about Nazaré, from the perspective of its women, with testimonies from different generations who share their memories and expectations about their hometown. The linear version of the 360º video, almost 8 minutes long, is complemented with ten extra videos in the same format, with excerpts from the interviews conducted with ten women from Nazaré – extra videos are available online.

Figure 11: Oliveto, M. (2019) ‘Nazaré, Mais do que Mar é Mulher’

The idea to produce a 360º video about Nazaré came to the journalist and VR filmmaker during the master’s degree she was pursuing in Germany. The first concept was, in the words of Marina Oliveto (2020) ‘taking the giant waves to this dome that would cover the entire screen above and around people with a great image’ (information provided by the author by email, 2020). The research started in 2017, but it was only in 2018 and 2019 that it was possible to record on site.

However, this initial focus on the giant waves of Nazaré was to be modified since, according to the author, the giant wave surfers did not show interest to the project, despite the various contacts made for this purpose. However, the trips that Marina Oliveto made to Nazaré motivated her interest in getting to know the people of Nazaré, their traditions, their opinions and aspirations, and in particular, learning more about the women of Nazaré. The project was supported by the Museu Dr. Joaquim Manso da Nazaré, whose coordinator Dóris Santos facilitated contacts with several women from Nazaré - and the museum also was used as the scenario for the 360º video.

Figure 12: Oliveto, M. (2019) ‘Nazaré, Mais do que Mar é Mulher’

Both 360º videos were produced by Brazilian professionals, both videos were based on the big waves of Praia do Norte at Nazaré, but the similarities may end here. The 360º video Surfing with Pedro Scooby in VR is promotional content for an energy drink brand, in which no native of Nazaré stands out. The village is practically ignored, being visible in the background for only a few seconds, in the quick travel made by the surfers until they reach the waves of Praia do Norte. The 360º video Nazaré, Mais que Mar é Mulher, on the other hand, is a short documentary centred on the people of Nazaré, in particular its women, who despite belonging to different generations and having different life trajectories, end up sharing the same passion for their land – and sea. For the author of this 360º video, in addition to the technical experience acquired, there was the drive to deepen her knowledge of Nazaré, in order to better understand the impacts of increased touristic pressure, whether economic, social or environmental (information provided by the author by email, 2020).

More than a hundred years set apart Álvaro Laborinho's stereoscopic photographs from the 360º video produced by Red Bull Brazil and the 360º video directed by Marina Oliveto. While Nazaré offers the same land and sea, these works offer very different perspectives and different degrees of immersion – literally or figuratively. The distance and proximity to Nazaré and its people is reflected in these images – consciously or unconsciously. And the truth that the images convey – or what they may hide - demands reflection from the viewer. Critical thinking is required in relation to these and other representations: may contemplation be the first step towards questioning and inquiry.

In this same line of critical thinking, it should be noted that Lusofona University produced the interactive web documentary Cavalgar a Onda da Nazaré (Riding the Nazaré Wave) in 2015-2016, with the goal of reflecting upon the changes underway in Nazaré since late 2011, when Praia do Norte was the stage for biggest wave ever surfed. The web documentary – available at – is based on the production of an interactive multimedia web documentary and, also, a linear non-interactive video version, in Portuguese and in English. The web doc was produced by a team of Lusofona University professors and students, coordinated by Célia Quico, who also directed the video and wrote the script for the linear and interactive version.

Figure 13: Quico, C. (2016) ‘Cavalgar a Onda da Nazaré’

Highlighting other waves of the Portuguese coast, Lusofona University produced the 360º video A Lagoa Vai ao Mar, about the static waves of Lagoa de Santo André, during 2017 and 2018. This is also a quite unique spectacle of the Portuguese coast, which takes place every year at the spring equinox. The annual opening to the sea of Lagoa de Santo André is a fundamental procedure for the renewal of water that accumulates during winter, which has been carried out artificially since the 18th century. The production of the 360º video was a special multi-disciplinary project, again with the participation of professors and students from the Cinema and Media Art Department, the Life Sciences Department and the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports, directed by Rafael Antunes, script by Célia Quico and scientific consultancy by Gonçalo Calado. The 360º video can be watched in full below.

Figures 14: Antunes, R. (2018) ‘A Lagoa Vai ao Mar

Figures 15: Antunes, R. (2018) ‘A Lagoa Vai ao Mar’

Returning to Nazaré and to Álvaro Laborinho ‘for the youngest, who did not know Nazaré in the first half of the 20th century, Álvaro Laborinho's photographs are a safe and true ground of memories’, wrote Raquel Henriques da Silva, then director of the Portuguese Museum Institute (2002: 7), adding that if these photos no longer constitute a future, these are like a ballast of an age-old culture, ‘one of the most intense in the entire Portuguese coast’.

This safe and true ground of memories offered by Álvaro Laborinho must deserve the most attentive and profound contemplation in order to understand the challenges of the present, as well as to imagine future scenarios – especially considering the processes that are transforming Nazaré. His works serve us, in order not to forget and have an obligation to preserve the natural and cultural heritage, and remain, in the words of Raquel Henriques da Silva (2002:7), ‘a body of study and an open set of inheritances that can enrich and qualify the lives of all of us’. They help us to revisit and recreate representations of the past to rethink the present and, more importantly, to shape the future. And what legacy will we leave? And 100 years from now, what other immersive representations will Nazaré inspire?

Nazaré Imersiva: Bridging the Gap Between Old Media and New Media

A possible answer to this question is offered by Portugal's Maritime Landscapes and Immersive Media: Nazaré Imersiva, a transdisciplinary exploratory project aiming to develop and evaluate immersive experiences of this particular stretch of the Portuguese coast, financed by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), with the support of Lusófona University/ Research Centre in Applied Communication, Culture, and New Technologies (CICANT) and Museu Dr. Joaquim Manso da Nazaré. The basis for the immersive experiences of Nazaré Imersiva is the above-mentioned collection of stereoscopic photographs by Álvaro Laborinho. The re-mediation of these stereoscopic photographs – in the sense of Bolter & Grusin (1998) – allowed the project team to produce and demonstrate a package of analogue and digital materials, such as printed cards of stereoscopic photos, a 360º virtual reality video, a low-cost dome for shared VR experiences, a mobile application and a responsive website, in which most of the content developed during the project is available:

The specific objectives of this project were the following: to digitise in high-quality the Álvaro Laborinho collection of stereoscopic photographs of Nazaré; to re-mediate and to innovate, giving new uses to 100-year-old stereoscopic photographs, in particular, by producing an innovative package of immersive analogue and digital content; to develop and to evaluate different ways of experiencing VR, analogue and digital, individual and shared, linear and interactive, with emphasis on the production of a short 360º video and its interactive application; to develop and to evaluate a low-cost, easy-to-assemble, transportable and reusable exhibition solution, which includes a VR dome, carrying out pilot installations in at least three spaces, such as museums, educational institutions and libraries; and to produce and to disseminate results in the academic context. The Nazaré Imersiva project was planned to last twelve months, gathering a team of Lusofona University professors and students: coordinated by Célia Quico, the team also included Pedro Sousa (art direction, motion graphics, post-production), Rafael Antunes (360º video shooting and editing, colour correction), João Alves (sound-track and sound design for the different audio versions of the 360º video), João Neves (design and production of the exhibition materials, including the dome, with support of students from the architecture department), Valter Arrais (web design) and Vírgilio Azevedo (stereoscopic plates digitization and correction). The project started to be pre-produced in May 2020 and it is due to be completed by June 2021. Most of the production occurred between June and October 2020, namely, digitizing stereoscopic plates, shooting on location the 360º video, producing the animations and visual effects, producing the soundtrack for the videos, developing the responsive website and the mobile application, as well as designing and building the exhibition materials. Overall, the project was ready for its first public demonstration six months after its kick-off, even facing limitations and constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project’s main goal is to build bridges between the tradition of stereoscopic photography and the innovation of 360º videos. The primary piece of content is a 5-minute 360º video, which can be succinctly described as a time-travel experience taking place in Nazaré, covering two hundred years. The 360º video integrates live-action video – panoramic views of Nazaré and Praia do Norte – with motion graphics animation, and three different soundtracks. It can be watched in full below.

Video: 'Nazaré Imersiva: 360º video’

The 360º video starts in 1920, by displaying a poetic recreation of Nazaré based on the stereoscopic photos of Álvaro Laborinho, taken from 1913 until 1932. Then, the video jumps to 2020, showing Nazaré’s main beach and Praia do Norte as they are today. The video finishes in 2120 by displaying a dystopian future, in which Nazaré is over-polluted, over-urbanized and over-touristified. However, the last seconds of the video present an alternative future to this dystopia, concluding with a hopeful scenario, rather than a grim one.

Figures 16: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: 360º video’ – screen shots from part I – 1920’s (2020)

Figures 17: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: 360º video’ – screen shots from part I – 1920’s (2020)

Figures 18: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: 360º video’ – screen shots from part III – 2120’s (2020)

Figures 19: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: 360º video’ – screen shots from part III – 2120’s (2020)

The 360º video has three soundtracks: ethos version, with voice-over in Portuguese and English: texts by Raúl Brandão (1923) and Jorge Louraço (2012); logos version, with voice-over in Portuguese and English: informative text about Nazaré, with relevant demographic indicators, as well as references to significant audiovisual representations; and pathos version, only with music and sound effects, no voice over. All soundtracks have in common the recreation of a traditional popular song from Nazaré Ciúmes do Mar, which in the pathos version is recreated in three distinct ways, to create a soundscape for each historical period: the past in 1920s, the present in the 2020s and, finally, the future in 2120s.

The website is the central repository of the project, containing all the different audio versions of the 360º video, access to the mobile application, a selection of the stereoscopic photos of Álvaro Laborinho, bibliography, main results, project making-of, plus information about the team, as well as the institutions and individuals that supported the project.

The mobile application allows the user to access the different audio versions from the 360º video, plus offers an interactive version, which enables the user to view the stereoscopic photos while viewing the video: the photo cards appear when the users focuses their attention for a few seconds on the blue hotspots, which indicates that that picture is different from others in the 360º panorama.

Figures 20, 21: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: website’: (2020)

Figures 22, 23, 24: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: mobile App’ (2020)

To evaluate different ways of experiencing VR – analogue and digital, individual and shared, linear and interactive – was among the specific objectives of this project. For project dissemination, three public demonstration events were planned, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic constraints, the second and third demos had to be postponed – dates and places to be defined. The exhibition materials and low-cost dome were produced by University Lusofona’s LabTec, a digital fabrication laboratory located on the university’s main campus.

Figures 25, 26: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: first public demonstration’ (29-30 October 2020)

The demonstration is set-up to offer five different moments for the participants, which corresponded to five areas of the exhibition: first, the participants have a brief introduction to the project, also supported by an exhibition panel with basic information about Nazaré Imersiva. Then, the participants are introduced to Nazaré in the past, more specifically, to the 1920s: key-demographics indicators are displayed (also, these demographics indicators are further developed in one of the 360º video version – logos). Besides information about demography, the participants also are introduced to Álvaro Laborinho, with a short-biography, plus a video slide-show with a selection of stereoscopic photos, which included the photos incorporated in the 360º video.

The second part of the demo is focused on Nazaré in present time, comparing the previous key-demographics from 1920 with the latest available public data, such as the general population, the percentage of young people aged 0 to 15 years and the percentage of elderly people with over 65 years of age. During the third part of the demo, the participants are then invited to experience different immersive media: to view the Álvaro Laborinho stereoscopic photos cards using stereoscopic viewers produced by the London Stereoscopic Company; to experience the 360º video via the Samsung Gear VR headset; or to watch the same 360º video projected in a low-cost dome, which enables up to four people to have a shared immersive experience.

The fourth part of the demo put forward some critical questions about the future of Nazaré, in order to stimulate participants to think about future scenarios: ‘What does the future hold? What do we want for the future? How can we shape the future? These questions are open, today maybe more than never...’. This area also included a continuous screening of the web documentary Cavalgar a Onda da Nazaré (Riding the Nazaré Wave), produced in 2016 by University Lusófona, about the social, economic and environmental impacts of the global popularity of Praia do Norte’s big waves. The participants had the opportunity to access this web doc via QR code, which was also provided to enable a simpler access to the Nazaré Imersiva website.

The last part of the demo was intended to show contributions from the participants themselves: a mural with written sentences, but also with drawings about Nazaré future(s). As part of the demos it was planned to have speculative futures workshops, in which participants would be asked to collaboratively imagine possible futures for Nazaré, having a printed panoramic of Nazaré as the back-drop for the exercise. However, as we write, it was still not possible to organize these workshops, due to the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Figures 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32: ‘Nazaré Imersiva: first public demonstration’ (29-30 October 2020)

The first public demonstration of the project took place in University Lusófona’s library atrium, from the 29th of October to the 4th of November 2020, integrated into the program of the second muSEAum conference. The event is part of a research and training project in branding and digital marketing for sea-themed museums, led by a team of researchers from University Lusófona’s CICANT – more information is available online here. The conference was held in a hybrid model, in-person and virtual, in which most of the participants and speakers joined via internet, rather than being on location, due to the exceptional times we are facing (still, as we write). Even so, it was possible to organize several demonstrations during the conference, in small groups: about 120 undergraduate students from University Lusófona were asked to experience, and then to evaluate, this demonstration, replying to a quantitative survey online, plus providing a written report in free format. The main findings from these participants’ evaluations are to be further elaborated in other publications, namely, their overall satisfaction with the experience and the specific evaluation of each of the main pieces of content displayed during the first demo. Also to be presented are the main themes and topics which were drawn from the comments and suggestions provided by the participants – most of them between 18 to 21 years-old – which include technical and experiential improvements, as well as reflections on the issues raised by the project, such as pollution, climate change and touristification.

And while the analysis of the participants evaluation is out of the scope of the paper, it is of value to present a small selection of comments made by these students, since their feedback may support further experimentation of immersive media as a tool for speculating about the future:

‘Well-organized and elaborated project where we can get to know Nazaré from the past, which due to our age it would not be possible except through photos, to get to know Nazaré from the present because not everyone has the opportunity to visit, and the Nazaré of the future, a Nazaré that may not be the one we expect if we do nothing for the planet.’

(Ana Catarina T., Lusofona University undergraduate student)

‘In my opinion, this project clearly demonstrates the process and changes that have been happening in our coastal areas. This has consequences not only for the environment, but also for society. It changes people's quality of life, their personal and professional lives. Second, the fact that this project makes a video showing a very near future is an asset for those who see having an exact perception of the cause-effect of all these actions that individuals take. (...) More projects like these must be carried out so that more self-awareness and recognition will increase.’

(Beatriz N., Lusofona University undergraduate student)

‘This project makes us think about the possible future that we will have if we continue with the great levels of pollution that we currently have. To avoid a future like the one shown in the images, we must pay attention to pollution and global warming.’

(Beatriz R., Lusofona University undergraduate student)

‘All the experiences provided by this project take a person on a temporal journey, not only for the content, but also for the way in which it is approached. It is inevitable to consider what the possibilities of virtual reality will be in the future as it observes unrestrained technological development, however, it is also good to keep in mind the very humble fundamental concepts in the low-tech design of these same experiences.’

(Catarina F., Lusofona University undergraduate student)

‘The message I get from this project is that if we do nothing positive now so that it changes or mitigates this path that we are creating for our future, the vision at the end of the video that represents the end of the world will inevitably happen. I felt touched by this most pessimistic view and I think that this topic should be talked about more and this shock ends up making us uneasy and frightened at first, but it also makes me more attentive and aware of the various problems of the century.’

(Daniela B.)

Conclusion: Speculating About the Future with Immersive Media

This article started by presenting a brief introduction to the concepts of seascapes, landscapes and respective visual representations, followed by the presentation of immersive media definitions, plus a brief historical overview of relevant immersive experience techniques and technologies. From this macro-perspective on immersive media, the paper then focused on the immersive media representations of a specific coastal town, Nazaré, one of the most picturesque places in Portugal, currently famous worldwide due to the big waves of Praia do Norte. The stereoscopic photographs captured by Álvaro Laborinho from 1913 to 1932 were the departure point to dive into other immersive media representations from the early 20th century, such as the 360º videos Surfing with Pedro Scooby in VR and Nazaré, Mais que Mar é Mulher. Then, the transdisciplinary project Nazaré Imersiva was presented in more detail: based on the stereoscopic photos of Álvaro Laborinho, the Lusofona University project team developed a package of analogue and digital materials, such as printed cards of stereoscopic photos, a 360º virtual reality video, a low-cost dome for shared VR experiences, a mobile application and a responsive website. The first public demonstration of Nazaré Imersiva took place in Lusofona University’s Library atrium, from the 29th of October to the 4th of November 2020. Around 120 undergraduate students from this university were asked to experience and evaluate this demonstration. First findings from the written reports delivered by these students may support further experimentation of immersive media as a tool for speculating about the future.

In conclusion, Nazaré Imersiva may be considered to be a project that contributes towards the promotion of Nazaré’s cultural and natural heritage in an innovative way, building bridges between traditional and contemporary representation technologies. Furthermore, the project also addresses current issues such as over-pollution and touristification, challenging its participants to speculate about possible scenarios for Nazaré – just as they may be for other similar coastal towns in Portugal – and even abroad.


Nazaré Imersiva (UIDB/05260/2020) and muSEAum (PTDC/EGE-OGE/29755/2017) are financed by FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P.), and have additional support from University Lusófona’s CICANT.


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