Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pattern Recognition

It was around ten years after being given my first SLR camera that I finally began to take an interest in studying photography, as opposed to simply using my camera as a tool to record images of places and events that I felt were significant to me alone. In the same way that I had once wanted to understand how I had become strong through seemingly random training and lack of structure, I now wanted to take my unconscious and random non-approach to photography and to develop it into something focused, thoughtful and with greater purpose.

Initially, my ideas for projects were clumsy attempts that involved simply transposing certain scientific/rationality concepts from written ideas onto the photographic medium. At this time it was clear to me that I had something concrete that I was passionate about and wished to express to others, but I lacked the means by which to do it at all, let alone coherently or artistically. I felt that the complexity of the ideas was too great to be compressed into a form that lacked words, especially considering that my subject of interest was often something that didn't immediately lend itself to visual representation to begin with, such as cognitive biases for example.

At some point I think I gave up in trying to make my interests match my preferred medium, but my love or attachment to photography is what made me continue seeking a way to do so. But when I left the house in the summer of 2013 I had no pre-defined subject or idea which I wished to express, and instead went on the search for one in my local surroundings. Having moved from London almost a year earlier, to the small dormitory town located within viewing distance of the plastic paradise known as Disney, I asked myself the important question 'what is particular or specific to this environment?'. With fresh eyes, or at least with a different pair of glasses on, I looked at my town, searching for something of note in amongst everything that had become so extremely familiar.

Walking up and down the long, rigid roads reminded me of how strange the town had at first seemed to me, and deliberate focus on this aspect of its design re-awakened and slowly reinforced a sense of intrigue that remained with me until the day I left. It was the streets that had captured my imagination, but it was the trees lined along them that I finally decided to concentrate on and to make the subject of my first series.
The systematic placement of each tree served as a reflection of the overall design of the town, and as I would later come to conclude, it was a reflection of Man's nature in general.

Bussy-Saint-Georges is a real-life SimCity, where a small inventory of building shapes and colours are pasted into place and connected via a lattice of confusingly similar roads that appear as a modern attempt at perfection through symmetry. Given a chance to start it all again from scratch, it appeared that man had decided that form was paramount, and that the perfect form was the straight line itself.
Being careful not to ignore the biophilia of the new residents, each street was endowed with a set of trees which ran in rows along their length, with sometimes as many as four rows per street, two for each side of the road. Mindful of the perfect design and the grand scheme of things, the workers took their time in making sure that each tree had a uniform distance between itself and the next, and a tolerance of up to two feet was established.

Having ruled out depicting each street as an ultra-long panorama made by stitching hundreds of images together, I settled on photographing each individual tree in sequence, starting at one end of the street and ending at the other, or the point at which the sequence ended, whichever came first.
I made an effort to exclude all traffic and pedestrians from my compositions, but opted to leave in other non-important elements such as parked cars that often made it difficult to continue shooting in the loosely standardised way I had chosen. I felt that it wasn't necessary to be as strict and rigid with each photo like is evident in the work of Bernd and Hilla Bescher, as my focus was on the effect created by viewing a large number of images in sequence, where the role of any individual photo was to provide further support the group to which it belonged. Furthermore, my interest was never in creating a typological piece, but instead to create a sort of snapshot of specific areas within a designated locality.

During this period, photography became an instrument with which to collect evidence, in the same way that a crime scene photographer collects evidence, or records the scene for its information content and not its aesthetic content.

An example of one of the montages from this series can be seen here in the form which it was originally intended: 

While I carried out this work I had the notion that a transhumanist society was inevitable, based on the many ways in which man changes himself and his surroundings, from small modifications like body marking and use of simple tools to augment abilities, to more pronounced changes like reconstructive surgery, and the mass extraction and transportation of materials such as stone and fossil fuels. This initial project therefore serves as a relatively gentle (perhaps too subtle?) introduction to this idea, further backed up by other works which have grown out of an exploration of themes such as Nature and the nature of man.

I chose to create this video for a number of reasons; the photographs being in digital form easily lent themselves to manipulation in many different ways, and the idea of passing information through numerous filtering processes in order to highlight the changes was something I had already thought about. The second reason for using the photographs to produce an entirely different result came from the idea that each medium has its own specificities, and that in fact, just as passing dirt through a sieve is one example of a filtering process, each different medium that exists acts a filter too. This basic idea was introduced to me through the book 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' by Neil Postman, who was in turn influenced by the philosopher Marshall McLuhan, known for the phrase “the medium is the message”.

Although conceived at different times, these two similar ideas bled into one-another, and have come to form what is currently my concept of 'Environment'.

This video represents just one of many possible derivatives of the source material. The photos themselves are intended to be viewed in real life, either as part of large-scale montages, or as individually framed prints arranged in order.

In an earlier experiment I decided to take the Ten Commandments and to pass them through Google Translate via every possible language from English and back again, to see how the translation process would affect them. During this process it was evident that there were many opportunities for errors to arise which would simply become compounded as the process continued to play out.
Another idea I have, of which this video is a first iteration, is to take an image and to pass it through various processes in succession. For example, an image can be changed/translated/re-interpreted as a sound, and likewise a sound can be processed to become an image using similar software. Colours on a computer are represented by numbers, numbers can be represented by letters or positions and so on, an image being printed produces a sound which can be recorded and used to represent that unique event.
Each process has its own characteristics which influence the final output, as well as our experience of the information which has been processed and is being presented – digital photography uses the presence of photons in order to induce a unique combination of binary numbers inside a computer, which can then present this information visually. Behind the press of a button and the click of a shutter, there are all manner of abstractions and computations going on without our awareness of them. And likewise, this is true of our own visual perception of the world.

I have deliberately created thousands of abstractions, each an abstraction in itself, and combined them into video form (another abstraction), and then uploaded it to Youtube where it has undergone further degradation, and perhaps more importantly, it has been released into an entirely different environment.
The importance of environment or chosen medium becomes increasingly apparent when one works across multiple platforms and means of expression, ranging from the written (typed) word, to the printed image. For example, the default view on Youtube places the video slightly to the left of the screen, which in turn effects the feeling of 'balance' in the video, which consequently caused me to switch the positioning of the images, so that now the JPEG is on the left with the pixelated equivalent on the right.

The post-production work behind this video is much greater than the many hours I spent taking the original photographs, although ironically, the time spent creating this piece was dramatically reduced by certain software that allowed me to automate many of the repetitive tasks that made up the bulk of the work. Before I discovered this software however, while clicking almost endlessly with the right button on my tired mouse, it occurred to me that in order to produce a piece intended to be a reflection on filtering effects and the characteristics of a medium, I would have to become machine-like myself. In the end though, my repetitive interventions were only necessary insofar as beginning or restarting the the software that I had programmed to do the real work for me.

Beginning with the raw files taken from the camera I then processed them using Adobe CameraRaw in order to give a full-size reproduction in JPEG format. A copy of this JPEG file was then resized in order to save rendering time, as each of the 732 total images would then have to be processed with AudioPaint in order to produce an equivalent WAV file for each. The full-size JPEGS were also reduced to a size of 6x9 pixels before saving a further copy at this size. The colours from each 6x9 image were then copied and pasted one by one into a template made of 6x9 squares, although with a total size of 635x950 pixels. This reproduction was then saved as a PNG file which can then be infinitely scaled up or down without negatively affecting its appearance. If I had manually created each PNG file using the mouse only and without ever making a mistake, the minimum amount of clicks it would take would be around 158112 – 4 clicks to select a single colour, to change the tool and to paste into the template, repeated 54 times to fill each square in the 6x9 template, repeated 732 times for each image in the series.

The final MP4 file is 264 MB and 1 minute 13 seconds long.
Each full-size JPEG is between 2.22 and 5.12 MB.
Each PNG file is between 6.37 and 8.98 kb.
Each WAV file is between 17.2 and 34.4 kb.

The size of a real tree is approximately 0 kb.