Category Archives: Part 2 – The Archive and Found Image

Photography and New Materiality

This post is another background one for Assignment 2. I first came across the concept of materiality in photography a couple of years ago, while watching Rachel Smith’s (2016) OCA symposium lecture  on ‘The Materiality of Images: exploring creative practice‘. In essence the materiality of photographs relates to the examination of objects themselves rather than the images for which they provide a framework. These objects hold information and contextualise the image quite apart from the information held within the frame. For example, the images below are of items I own – a family wedding album (1) and a collection of found photographs taken in 1949-50 by someone working in the Andaman Islands at the time of their appropriation by India (2).  The physical objects tell stories of their own, even without looking at the images held within.

This is part of a much larger debate about materiality throughout the humanities which is presented in this article, Sanzo, (2018) and which argues that in any subject one needs to consider the subject’s relationship with its environment as much as the subject itself. Smith argues that the physical nature of the photograph includes its surface, the processes involved, it’s history and its current location. While Geoffrey Batchen argues that in order to see what a photo is of, we need to supress our consciousness of what it is, (Batchen, 2000:82-107)  and Flusser defines the object as ‘something that stands in our way’ (Flusser, 1983:84), i.e. both felt that the physical object was an irrelevance and merely a vehicle for the subject, a materialist approach embraces the physical part of the photograph and brings the meaning of that into the equation.

There are a host of photographer/artists who are known for their work in this field, including Gerhard Richter’s over-painted images, Wolfgang Tillmans’ exploration of what makes an image in his Paper Drop and Lighter series, various of Thomas Ruff’s series (see this post for more detail), Aliki Braine’s Folded, Barbara Kasten’s Photo Mixed Media and Thomas Demand’s reconstructed images, to name but a few. These photographers work within the physical sphere, using images and objects that exist in reality.

The arrival of digital photography brought a whole new area for exploration of materiality and the image’s relationship with its location, processes, surface and history and some photographers who are interested in this area of study include Joan Fontcuberta, Anastasia Samoyova, Richard Prince, Sabato Visconti and Daisuke Yokuta. Each of these considers a different aspect of the nature of the digital image, using it as a basis for exploring ideas such as replicability, mass media, mapping, and appropriation.

However, one photographer’s work particularly interests me, because it considers how we, as humans living in our versions of reality (see The Matrix (2019) and Baudrillard(1994) ), relate to the digital world, and how that relationship can be expressed. I came across the work of Mark Dorf on the recommendation of a fellow student, Emma, and was immediately wholeheartedly engaged with it. I would like to specifically consider two of his series of work, which I find particularly interesting and which I would like to use as a starting point for my next assignment.

Mark Dorf axiomstimulation01

© Mark Dorf, 2011

Dorf is interested in our relationship with our digital as well as our physical environment, and how those two environments function together. In Axiom and Simulation (2011), he considers how the subject of a digital image becomes divorced from its real life counterpart through its computer coding, and the subsequent nature of the digital image as something without its original referent, a copy with no definitive source. He makes landscape images and then overlays them with digital interventions, or even removes the original altogether, to encourage the viewer to consider whether what we are seeing is wholly real or entirely constructed. (At the same time, he is also interested in the colour palette of the images, which is something I have explored before in previous modules using similar techniques).

In Parallels (2014), he reflects upon how the internet has come to overlay our interactions with the physical world in a way that functions in real time and make work that expresses his own navigation of a route between the two and his manipulation of them.

So many interesting ideas to take forward in this aspect of photography.

References

Batchen , G. (2000) ‘Post-Photography’ In Each Wild Idea: Writing Photography History. London: MIT Press. pp. 82-107.

Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism). University of Michigan Press.

Flusser, V. (1983) Towards a Philosophy of Photography.[online] At: http://cmuems.com/excap/readings/flusser-towards-a-philosophy-of-photography.pdf. [Accessed 6 March 2019].

Leigh, D. (2019) ‘From red pills to red, white and blue Brexit: how The Matrix shaped our reality’. In: theguardian.com 21.01.19 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jan/21/from-red-pills-to-red-white-and-blue-brexit-how-the-matrix-shaped-our-reality [Accessed 6 March 2019].

Lensculture (nd) About Mark Dorf. At: https://www.lensculture.com/mark-dorf [Accessed 6 March 2019].

The Materiality of Images: Rachel Smith lecture (2016) YouTube video, added by Open College of the Arts. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rRzMeAkULc [Accessed 6 March 2019].

Sanzo, K. (2018) ‘New Materialism(s)’ . In: Criticalposthumanism.net/ 25.04.18 [online] At:
http://criticalposthumanism.net/new-materialisms/ [Accessed 6 March 2019].

 

What happens when one rephotographs an object?

In the feedback from my last assignment, my tutor made this comment:

You mention that ‘the originals have a physical element that is impossible to replicate’. However, I think it’s the re-photographing or scanning of the original’; (very much as with John Stezaker’s work, where the original montage is re-photographed as the final act of making before presentation) which then allows you to move beyond the physical act of cutting and stitching and also play further with scale, which I think is interesting.

And as it has come up again with my second assignment, I felt that some research on how re-photographing affects the making process was in order. By understanding this, I may gain a better meaning of what I am producing, as a good deal of my work involves physical presentation, and this needs to be re-photographed for sharing.

First of all though, what is the difference between taking and making a photograph? The world, and particularly the digital world is awash with ‘taken’ images – photos shot to record a moment or a place – many of which will end up on Instagram or in digital family albums. The purpose behind the action of taking a photograph is to record, without any particular thought about what they mean. I am guilty of this myself, particularly when on holiday. On the other hand, ‘making’ a photograph is a deliberate act. As Stephen Shore puts it:

When I make a photograph, my perceptions feed into my mental model. My mode adjusts to accommodate my perceptions (leading me to change my photographic decisions)….. It is a dynamic, self-modifying process. It is what engineers would call a feedback loop. (Shore, 2007:132)

As a general rule, the concept of rephotographing refers to the taking of new images in the same location as older ones, after a period of time has elapsed. An example of this is Mark Klett & Byron Wolfe’s Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. This work takes historical images of the Grand Canyon and overlays a new image over the original to suggest consideration of the effects of time on the location. Another example, which I referred to in Assignment 1 is Abigail Reynolds’ cut images of landmark locations using old travel guides. However, it is not the process of making the work that is concerned here, but the ‘final act’ of rephotographing it, which my tutor says gives another layer of meaning, but also allows one to play with the scale, i.e. either much bigger or much smaller.

Take, for example, the work I showed at the ‘Time’ exhibition. The flat image of the final piece brings a sense of clarity and unity because of its size, which is less obvious in the real life version.  As well as adding a feeling of completion, one can also further reconfigure the image bringing out particular aspects for extra consideration. I have been playing around with this concept and came up with the experimental images shown below. In the first set, the image is cut, backed with text and then sewn over. I then played with the angles and produced some new versions of it. Doing this allows one to consider particular aspects of the work in detail which are not really visible in the original, but I am also wondering whether it alters the meaning so much that the original idea is lost.

The concept of rephotographing is inherently bound up with a post-modernist viewpoint of the arts. Richard Prince, notorious for his appropriation of other people’s images, contenxtualises his work by arguing that by making it again, he is making something new and taking ownership of the ideas and that it is pointless to try to make new work because everything that can be photographed has already been done (Grundberg, 2003:171-2); a concept that Eric Kessels also works with. However, in both these cases they are using other people’s work, and what I am doing here is rephotographing my alterations to someone else’s work. I am clear in my own mind that this work is now mine, not the original photographer’s – somehow the process of reworking has transferred ownership from him to me, and it now occurs to me that my rephotographing of that rework completes that transfer. It is now wholly my own.

I have just had a Eureka moment! My rephotographing of my own work on someone else’s original image makes it fully mine, and thus allows me to add whatever meaning I wish to present on top of what was there before through my own interventions.

References

Grundberg, Andy. (2003) ‘The crisis of the real: photography and post-modernism.’ In: Wells, L (ed.) The Photography Reader. London: Routledge. pp. 164-179.

Klett, M & Wolfe, B (2011) Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. San Francisco: Univ. of California Press.

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs. London: Phaidon.

 

Unencoding the digital image

We are all subliminally aware that the digital image is constructed from computer code, without having to understand the details of exactly what is included in the information making up the umpteen megabyte files that we save on our computers. As part of this assignment, I became interested in understanding a little more than this, in particular to pick out which elements of the file contain the actual image data, and which are associated metadata data of various forms.  This article (1) was helpful  and although I have absolutely no understanding of computer coding, using it I was able to decode the data for the 6 x 6 pixel image that is the first image of the assignment, with the help of my partner, a computer scientist. The simplest way to understand the data is to change the file format to BMP (bitmap) in the cleanest version possible, without any compression. (A reasonably understandable explanation of the BMP file elements can be found here (2) in Wikipedia). I then displayed the contents of the BMP file using a hexadecimal editor.

Here is the full BMP file for the image in hexadecimal format, converted using https://onlineimagetools.com/convert-jpg-to-bmp   (3)

bmp file for image

Using the information, and without going into too much detail, the three sets of columns correspond to

  1. offsets – these are dividers to enable the data to be read more easily.  In reality the code is a single long line of information without any breaks.
  2.  This is the column which shows the actual data as a series of hexadecimal values. (Hexadecimal is a way of compressing information so that it is shorter, using the numbers 0-9 and the letters A-F). In the central section, there are also a variety of 00s and FFs, which are dividers between the pixels. Each pixel information unit consists of six characters, in three groups of two, which correspond to red, green and blue, although bizarrely, back to front. Thus, the last pixel above, corresponding to the bottom right one in the image consists of 7D (red), 65 (green) and 80 (blue) in hexadecimal code.
  3. The third column is an attempt by the hexadecimal editor to turn the information in the second column into text using the ASCII coding scheme. In this example, there is no text so it makes no sense, but sometimes one can see location information, titles, etc. in this column, which have been gleaned from the hexadecimal data.

Another way of picking the image apart is to select only the pixel colour data in RGB format, which is a decimal code and therefore less compressed than BMP. I was able to do this using MATLAB, a program which is not readily available, and the results look like this.

6x6 rgb file

The first section is red, the second green and the last blue, i.e. three 6 x 6 columns. These can be thought of as layers of information about the image which correspond to the red, green and blue channels in Photoshop.  On pages x,x and x of the assignment I have printed the three colour channels for the image, and when they are laid on top of one another, they produce the full colour version. To show how it relates to the data in the Bitmap image above, the bottom right pixel in the image can be viewed as either #7D6580 in hexadecimal or 135, 131, 144 in RGB.

A third way of deconstructing the pixel values is using Base 64 code, which is what I did for the image shown in page x of the assignment. Again, I used onlineimagetools.com to convert the BMP to Base 64, and the result looked like this.

6x6 in Base64 text

In this version, the As are not relevant, while the data between each slash corresponds to the information for one pixel. The information is shown in ASCII code, and more information on Base 64 can be found here.(4) It is generally used to make files more easily printable and only uses letters and numbers, rather than the myriad of symbols which feature in ASCII.  Just to see what happened, I then converted this back into a BMP and then a JPEG, and the result was exactly the same as the original, so it works. This leads to consideration of how the data in an image can be altered with or without changing the image itself, and the arts of steganography, something I may delve into in Assignment 4.

References

  1. https://engineering.purdue.edu/ece264/17au/hw/HW15
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMP_file_format
  3. https://onlineimagetools.com/convert-jpg-to-bmp
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base64

A2 – some Instagram experiments

I am interested in how much Instagram knows about each of us and how their offering differs from person to person, so am therefore doing some experiments to see how much variation there is in what one person sees from another. Having recruited a small group of helpful fellow students, I asked them to do a screen shot of the first nine images which appeared when they pressed the Explore button, Here are some of the results, all made in the last couple of days. Interestingly, bearing in mind that it is five days to Christmas, festive images seem in very short supply.

Alongside this, I have been doing some research on how Instagram algorithms work, which will be the subject of my next post.

 

 

A2 – some background research

Yesterday, I was in London and popped in to The Photographers’ Gallery to check out the exhibition All I Know Is On The Internet, the title of which has been taken from one of President Trump’s excuses for not knowing about something. I had hoped it might be helpful for my assignment and was not disappointed. The introductory blurb states that the aim of the exhibition is to

consider the digital conditions under which photography is produced and the bodies and machines which help automate the processing of visual content online.

As such it is a combination of very disparate ideas and formats, not all of which gel together. There were several video exhibits which I could not get close to as a group of school students was mesmerised by them, so this review will concentrate on some of the other work. I am not going to look at everything, but will pick out some of the most relevant exhibits for what I am thinking about, which is how our individual use of the internet mediates what it offers us to look at.

First up was a Heath Robinson machine to flick through Instagram images randomly in order to trick the algorithms into offering a more diverse content. It is part of the #stopthealgorithm campaign, a reaction against the big business tech companies directing our viewing content through their system algorithms. The #stopthealgorithm website is a mine of potential ideas and I will be delving into it in more detail later on.

IMG_0093v2

I also very much enjoyed the concept of the Captcha wall, where the artist had made a screenshot every time a Captcha screen came up on his computer for five years. Captcha was started to try to differentiate humans from bots and is a feature of many sites’ joining instructions page.

IMG_0097v2In a similar vein, but with a different context was the Batallions of Simcards exhibit, combining hundreds of used simcards taken from the phones which had been used to make fake accounts to be used by bots, (if I recall correctly – I didn’t take a note of the details of this one).

IMG_0099v2Then there was a series of circles which showed the faces of the engineers who maintain the cameras on the Google Street View cars. As we know, Google tries to automatically disguise the faces it comes across on its tours around the globe, but it is not always successful and these are some of the results.

IMG_0106v2

Finally, there was a series of individual images which captured those times when rapid scanning of documents for internet archives was not rapid enough, and the hand of the person doing the scanning appears in the image. Visually, this was a strong series, with interesting colours and a great variety of types of document scans.

IMG_0112v2 As ever, the Gallery puts on a special section of the bookshop relating to their current exhibition subjects and I spent a considerable time looking through some of the books for sale on the digital world. I finally settled for Omar Kholeif’s (2018) Goodbye, World: Looking at Art in the Digital Age, although was also strongly tempted by Melanie Bonajo’s Matrix Botanica: Non Human Persons, in which she addresses why we take and share so many images of animals doing strange and funny things.

Footnote

I always find an unexpected gem in the exhibition space downstairs, where individual artist’s prints are for sale. This time, I was struck by Alma Haser’s 3D collage Calatheas, shown below. I’ve been following her work on Instagram for several years, but had not realised she had moved into 3D work. It was very much in her style, but had the feel of a jigsaw puzzle, and I was intrigued by the different layers peeping through the surfaces.

IMG_6999v2

 

Assignment 2 – concept

12 random wordsWhat connects these words together? The answer is nothing – I produced the list from a random word generator as a list of 12 and these came up as the first selection. In this assignment, I will be considering the randomness of the internet archive and how little control we really have over what information is presented to us.

Plan – Make one image referencing each of these words and then compare them with the same hashtagged words on Instagram. I will not look at the Instagram feed before I have made my own images.

Second thoughts for assignment 2

Another week has passed and to all appearances, I have not progressed any further with my idea of considering the stories that particular family photos don’t show, so I have decided to put it on the backburner for now. I may revisit it in one of the later assignments.

On the other hand, after numerous pop-up experiments which did not have the right connotations for me and some of which are shown below,

I have settled on a firm idea for this assignment, which will be looking at those tropes which are the backbone of the family album. You know the sort of thing – births, Christenings, marriages, trips to the beach etc.; all the high days and holidays that we record and preserve for future viewing. Erik Kessels (2013) in The Vanishing Art of the Photo Album argues that most family albums consist of  about eight volumes, with the following subjects:

  1. when a couple first meet
  2. the marriage
  3. the first year of the first child
  4. general family life
  5. general family life
  6. general family life
  7. general family life
  8. when the kids have left home (lots of holidays in this one)

I will go into the cultural theory of the family photography album in another post, but for now I am looking at the practical side of the assignment. A recent purchase from the wonderful £3 Book Store in Bristol was Helen Heibert’s (2014) Playing with Pop-ups: The Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs, and in it I found a template for a volvelle, as well as several artists who work with 3D paper designs and photographs. The volvelle (a word I had not previously come across) is something we are all familiar with from our childhoods, and I have seen one more recently as a colour wheel. It is a rotating paper mechanism which was originally used to make astronomical calculations. From the point of view of my assignment, it has several specific advantages, notably,

  • it continues with my theme of circles (circle of life)
  • it bears a strong resemblance to a camera shutter when in use
  • it hides and reveals, allowing more than one image to be shown as part of the same piece.

I have made a couple of test pieces, which are shown below, and the plan is to put images from my family’s legacy of albums on specific subjects behind the leaves. A series of about six will be produced, and bound into a small album style book. It will all be accompanied by a video, as part of the work is changing the image on each volvelle. And while all this is going on, I need to do the post that my tutor suggested after A1 on the symbolism of the circle, as it is relevant to this as well.

References

Clark, Tim (2013) ‘The Vanishing Art of the Photo Album’ [online] in time.com At:  http://time.com/3801986/the-vanishing-art-of-the-family-photo-album/ (Accessed on 15 November 2018)

Heibert, Helen (2014) Playing with Pop-ups: The Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs. Beverley, MA:Quarry Books.