N.B. This post should be read in conjunction with the companion one linked here:
This assignment has morphed through several different ideas since I began the research for it. Originally, I had planned to do it on some old correspondence that my great-grandfather had with the operetta composers Gilbert & Sullivan. After reading the course and reference materials though, my mind was teeming with new ideas, particularly on the subject of internet privacy and specifically, how much Instagram knows about us – or can surmise about us – given our interests and the pages and images we like. This led to further research on algorithms and how the internet stores our data, and the ‘Aha moment’ came when I printed out the digital code for a 7×7 pixel square and was astounded at the size of both. The image and the associated data now forms the first image of my assignment book.
This led to some experiments using photographs and digital image code, two of which are shown below.
At this point, it became clear that I wanted to explore the relationship between the digital image and the code that forms it. Using the program onlineimagetools,com I printed the entire code for a single 6×4″ photograph to PDF, and it came to over 1100 pages of Word, using a 3 point font. Such a huge amount of information for one image! And with so much potential for alterations, visible and invisible. This underlying matrix of coded information, particularly at the micro level, became the basis of the assignment.
Following on from assignment 1, which was influenced by the work of Kensuke Koike, Joe Rudko and Pippa Drylaga, I have continued to watch out for photographers who use the materiality of the photograph to make their points. In the previous assignment, I used found photographs, but this one called for digital images, and I have used my own photograph this time. Just the one, as my exploration is about the constituents of the digital image rather than the end result.
There are several modern photographers whose work in the this field particularly underlies the project and I would like to consider three in particular in this post. Others are discussed in my companion post on New Materialism here.
I have written about Ruff’s work before, here and here. The aspect that particularly intrigues me is his way of looking at the nature and constituents of an image and then plays with them by altering just one aspect. He has moved a very long way from his original, very typographical work, although he still revisits it from time to time. In jpegs, for example, he examines the geometric nature of the pixel and reduces the numbers to re-see the images as if to form a more limited point of view (similar to how the first digital images appeared). At the same time, he hugely increases the size of the photographs, so that from a distance, they look to include all the original information, while close-up each individual pixel square is clearly visible. On another tack, in substratum, he overlays multiple copies of an image onto each other and then plays with them in Photoshop to the point where the original meaning of the image is completely lost, just leaving an impression of the work, not its reality. (I have been doing my own versions of these, but at a lesser, more realistic level, with my mandala images, some of which I discussed here and here. In these, I retain some of the detail of the original but reworked and simpified to make a pattern which echoes the main points of the original, while producing something totally new, and hopefully interesting in its own right).
Tillmans is another photographer whose work I have looked at before. Although the range of his interests is vast, he also has a fondness for exploring the nature of the photography and specifically the relationship between subject and object. This excellent article in Dazed Magazine (Dazed (2017) refers to his ongoing interest in mistakes, darkroom accidents and interventions, which he has then explored more fully in series such as Blushes (2000) and Freischwimmer (2003), as well as the ones I mention in another post. I am fascinated by his ability to take an idea and then stretch it out to form something completely new, but which still clearly references the original.
(Speaking of darkroom accidents, and still very much on the subject of this assignment, I was in the darkroom yesterday, with the intention of printing the first image below. I had originally planned it as a digital negative, but had printed it on the wrong side of the transfer film and rather liked the results. Unfortunately, when drying the print, I put the negative alongside it for comparison, and it stuck to the print. Perhaps I should call the second image Double Digit Accident (After Tillmans).)
On a different tack, I cam across the work of Ellen Jantzen via Instagram. I love her ongoing Unexpected Geology series, in which she imports small rocks into much larger landscapes to play with their relative sizes, Coming Into Focus (2016-17), where she lifts parts of the image away from the rest to give the impression of a landscape slowly coming into focus as a whole, when initially one only saw specific elements, and Losing Reality; Reality of Loss (2011), in which shadowy figures inhabit the landscape almost invisibly. I could go on, as most of her work appeals to me. Earlier last year, I made some images using similar techniques and a couple are shown below.
In a related vein, I have an ongoing experimental series which I have called Barcodes of Nature, which uses some of the same techniques to try to capture the colour palette of a place from a single line of pixels in the image. There is more about this in my blog post here Other photographers whose work examines similar themes are:
- David Szauder – his Failed Memories series uses ‘glitch art’ to consider how our memories of events fragment over time
- Joan Fontcuberta – in Datascapes: Orogenisis/Googlegrams he takes the ideas in the opposite direction and constructs images from multiple other internet images, which have a similar other-worldly vibe, but are based on some of the multitude of online data.
- Catherine Yass – uses digital manipulations alongside both digital and analogue layering to look at how we perceive time and space. She is also a fan of the lightbox and digital negative, which are both becoming a feature of my own work.
- Samuel J Fordham – uses physical and digital manipulations to think about memories. I love the image which made the IPE 161 shortlist in particular. It looks simple enough, but the digitally altered pieces don’t correspond with the missing pieces in the main image, producing a nagging feeling of discord.
I could go on at length, but it is worth considering the works of Anastasia Samoyova, Barbara Kasten, Adrienne Hughes, and Anna Yeroshenko, to name but a few.
Finally, and in a different direction, the different ways in which pixels have been interpreted has been a subject I have explored before, here (NSFW) and here, and which was influenced by this research. It seems that I keep coming back to the same themes – of materialism and manipulation of ideas and both digital and physical images from a conceptual viewpoint. Maybe I am finding a Voice, at last.