Martin Edström
Martin (right) and Katja Adolphson (left) step out into the Garden of Edam inside the largest cave in the world, Son Doong in Vietnam. Author: Mats Kahlström
2024

Martin Edström

immersive storyteller & director

narratives in the age of virtual frontiers

meet martin

Swedish director and photographer Martin Edström excels in employing immersive methods such as 3D-scanning and virtual reality to narrate stories of global concern. He has led numerous expeditions, documenting hidden wonders like Yemen’s Socotra and Vietnam’s Son Doong Cave. In 2019, Edström directed groundbreaking VR projects for National Geographic on Mount Everest and along India’s Ganges River. His innovative storytelling extends to pioneering open-source 3D mapping to aid field scientists in real-time. Edström’s dedication to combining storytelling with advanced technology goes beyond artistic expression, significantly contributing to research and conservation initiatives. With a unique blend of technology, storytelling, and environmental advocacy, Martin Edström aims to raise awareness about remote, vulnerable areas of the world and make a meaningful impact on the science and conservation of our planet.

narratives in the age of virtual frontiers
Nominated by: Callie Broaddus, MN'21
Class of 2024 Location Sweden
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Martin standing on top of a spiral stalagmite inside the doline called ‘Watch out for Dinosaurs” in Hang Son Doong
Martin standing on top of a spiral stalagmite inside the doline called ‘Watch out for Dinosaurs” in Hang Son Doong Author: Mats Kahlström

I believe that the future of exploration and conservation lies in using new technologies to unlock innovative ways to interact with the world. Being on the frontlines of science and conservation has long been reserved for very few people, with fieldwork in remote places where new discoveries are possible closed off to most. While stories from expeditions and travels have been told on TV and in films, only a select few have been able to experience these places and happenings in real life. I want to help bridge that gap between frontier science and the public, and I believe that the key is new technology and new ways to tell these stories.

By using next-generation tools like 3D-scanning, virtual reality, and interactive gamified narratives, we can transport people through time and space to experience places and stories they would otherwise probably only have seen on a screen. Not only does this serve purposes of knowledge-sharing, learning, and educational aspects of science and exploration, but it also helps increase access to our common natural and cultural heritage. Using new technologies to enable access to inaccessible field sites and places of natural and cultural heritage helps us build a community around science and conservation, ensuring we are building a new generation of stewards for the planet.

I’m proud that many of my prime works have utilized Virtual Reality and interactive storytelling to inform policy-making and raise public awareness of conservation topics, with most of my impact measured against a target group consisting of teens and young adults in classrooms. For solving the most important issues of our time, those are the people we need to reach and engage with, and they are the ones I want to inspire to care about our planet.

“By using next-generation tools like 3D-scanning, virtual reality, and interactive gamified narratives, we can transport people through time and space to experience places and stories they would otherwise probably only have seen on a screen.”

- Martin Edström
Martin Edström and Katja Adolphson setting out on packrafts over a mountain lake in the Kok Kiya valley in Kyrgyzstan
Martin Edström and Katja Adolphson setting out on packrafts over a mountain lake in the Kok Kiya valley in Kyrgyzstan Author: Mats Halström

The most meaningful parts of my work have been seeing it significantly impact people’s understanding of the world and advancing scientific discoveries. One early expedition took me to Vietnam’s Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest cave discovered in 2012. I captured 360-degree images there for a Virtual Reality interactive story, widely published by National Geographic. Though the story’s most meaningful impact was in Vietnam, where it supported an activist network’s campaign against an exploitative tourism project in 2015. I offered my VR experience for their campaign, which they utilized across Vietnam at universities, community gatherings, and political rallies. This allowed tens of thousands of Vietnamese, who might never personally venture into the cave, to virtually visit this national heritage wonder. The VR story thus played a crucial role in garnering support for the conservation of Son Doong Cave.

Another example was when my team and I helped scientists quadruple their field research output in remote Kyrgyzstan. Using innovative methods in rapid photogrammetry and 3D-scanning, we assisted geologists in digitally indexing a significant portion of the Tian Shan mountain range. This enabled a new method for finding potential cave entrances, previously done manually on foot. By using drones and 3D technology, we streamlined their process. During a month-long expedition, we confirmed 45 new cave openings to science, with 11 being previously undiscovered caves.

These experiences have opened my eyes to the significant contributions that my team and I, as storytellers and technologists, can make in the fields of science and conservation. Applying new technologies and collaborating across disciplines has been both challenging, fun, and rewarding, and is truly what gives meaning to my work.

never stop exploring

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