Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: Computational Photography

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The latest in an ongoing series of themed collections of creative projects assembled by Prosthetic Knowledge. This edition brings together works dealing with computational photography, featuring new technologies which may alter the experience, relationship, and even definition of "the image."
 
The digital eye is an ubiquitous feature of current portable technology—webcams, DSLRs, mobile phones, tablets, even MP3 players. The Black Mirror-like ability to capture a moment and share it on social networks has shifted image recording from the creation of discrete analog mementos to an ongoing process of self-identification.

There are, however, new possibilities opening up around the next generation of mediated experiences. Of course, the artistic possibilities are tremendous, but the implications are far greater for many fields which may be struggling with their digital upkeep. From advertising to fashion, art to pornography, the photograph will not be "flat" anymore. The image can be seen from any angle, from the swipe of a touchscreen or drag from a mouse, or explored step-by-step with a headset and motion detector. "Photoshopping" will be 3D. It is not only industry-class endeavours that will change, as depth-sensing is now smaller and portable, and could give the (word-of-the-year contender) selfie an added dimension. Will the Facebooks or Flickrs support this new format? Or will another contender arise to facilitate a new process of creative self-identification?

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Photoshopped Sherman

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Images from Cindy Sherman's society portraits series (2008.)

A friend recently recounted an anecdote about teaching Cindy Sherman’s work to her undergraduate students. She was in the middle of her lecture, explaining Sherman’s elaborate, chameleonic process of casting herself in various roles in her photographs, when one student interrupted, insisting that the photograph projected on screen must have been Photoshopped, that it was impossible that the woman in this image was the same person as in the one before. The others nodded in agreement. Faced with this chorus of disbelief, my friend checked her notes: the image on her slide was from the mid-1980s, several years before Photoshop’s commercial release. The process of creating it was, indeed, analog: the photograph was shot on film, and Sherman’s apparent physical mutation in it the result of costuming and skillfully applied makeup rather than digital manipulation. However, the students’ responses raise interesting questions about how we might conceive of her work in the wake of the digital, particularly since her most recent work has, in fact, made use of such software. 

For those of us who first encountered Sherman’s photographs before “Photoshopped” became part of the vernacular, her work carries rather different connotations: it is less about a process of editing or altering the image than one of altering the self through a kind of private performance staged for the camera. Sherman transforms herself, in each image, to the point that she is not only no longer wholly recognizable, but also no longer present as “Cindy Sherman” at all, instead appearing as a litany of characters and stock types. As she noted in an interview with filmmaker John Waters in the catalogue of her current MoMA retrospective, “Before I ever photographed it, I was playing around in costumes and dressing up as characters in my bedroom.” 

It is precisely this aspect of dressing up—of adopting and embodying different types—around which much of the critical reception of her work has revolved over the past decades. Moreover, she has maintained a rigorously private studio practice throughout her career, rarely, if ever, working with assistants: Sherman is not only photographer and model, but also hairdresser, costumer, makeup artist, and prop stylist. She performs in front of the camera, but also behind it, adopting multiple roles and functions over the course of creating each photograph. When presented in serial form, the photographs reveal the meticulousness of her process, with each successive image calling further attention to the laborious transformation involved in creating the one preceding it....

 

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Paz de la Huerta Plays Michele Abeles

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Paz de la Huerta/Michele Abeles

David Velasco writes about Michele Abeles in Artforum (via Brian Droitcour.) Starting with an amusing anecdote about a project involving the Boardwalk Empire star, the piece is a look at the artist's approach to photography, given its changing nature in the digital age:

As if to further disarticulate the usual figure-ground relationship, she’ll often title her photos by rattling off some of their ingredients. The title Number, Lycra, Man, Hand, Rock, M.L., Cardboard concatenates the generic elements of that 2009 image according to the flattened order in which her eye is drawn to them as she scans the composition. The photograph becomes a sort of rebus that could be read out loud. Against photography’s materiality (the indexical trace of light on film) we have an insistence on iconicity, on the fundamental unmooring of picture from reality.

Not only do these pictures subdue the photograph’s material trace, but they also imply the elision of the photographic machine itself. The best example of this is the only one with a face: Sunglasses, Lips, Head, Reflection, 2009, a photo of a dude in pink-camo sunglasses looking at the camera, his odalisque pose reflected in his shades. Abeles and her camera should be reflected in the sunglasses too, but they aren’t. (She shot the photo from behind a panel of mirrored glass.) So it’s like he’s posing for himself, his picture magically taken without anything at all—the disappearance of the apparatus and its operator maybe signaling the eventual obsolescence of the camera in our imagemaking repertoire. We’ll be our own cameras. Of course, the camera is still there. And so is Abeles. They’re just out of the picture.

Some pictures leave the camera behind altogether. Take the ...

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Another Book on the Bookmarks Shelf: BooksOnLine

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BooksOnLine is an experimental free access library initiated in 2006 by artist Pierre Hourquet. The website features more than thirty books by a variety of artists, with titles such as Honey blood (by artist Suzanna Zak), Slow (Flemming Ove Bech), Not in that Particular Order (Grégoire Grange), or Homeless Caravan (Damon Way), hinting at the book's content, but not revealing a thing about the artist or the designer.

"In the beginning, I wanted to publish books. Designing books and printing them is very easy. But distributing them would be a full-time job. So I decided to publish books online.

The first books were made with friends—artists or photographers—then, after making a few books, I decided to contact artist I like. Every artist I've contacted has been very glad and enthusiastic to contribute. Some of them became good friends.

I like to design the most basic book I could, a very simple one with a colored cover and few pages. So the books have the same shape, the same number of pages, and all use the same font. The layout is more specific for each book."

 

 

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Remote Presence: David Horvitz at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery

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An image from David Horvitz' Wikipedia intervention

David Horvitz's first solo exhibition in San Francisco opened August 6th at the Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. For the duration of the exhibition Horvitz is guest blogging on the Adobe Books site. He sends frequent updates of images from his daily life and documentation of other projects he's working on - he's also included some posts about the recent hurricane that passed through New York. Since Horvitz has a history of working with ideas of remote connections, temporality, and site-specificity his guest blogging isn't surprising but is a nice compliment to his work in the physical gallery space which also takes on a transience of its own.

Adobe Books Backroom Gallery is pleased to present David Horvitz' first solo exhibition in the Bay Area. Exhibited will be photographs and text that expand on the main ideas of several projects from the last two years. One of these, a project Horvitz first created for a gallery in Den Haag, Holland, has been restaged for the Backroom Gallery. For the original project, Untitled (Flowers), Horvitz spent the day travelling the subway system in Holland gathering flowers from the different flower vendors he encountered. Says the artist, "There was something about a distributed element across the country that was then slowly recollected. Reconcentrated." For the Backroom Gallery, Horvitz purchased red roses from vendors while travelling by car from Oakland to the Mission District of San Francisco, where the gallery is located. The resulting bouquet will be exhibited in the gallery space as a souvenir of his journey across the Bay.

Brooklyn-based David Horvitz's diverse projects utilize the internet (blogs, Twitter, email) and the postal system as tools of connection and expansion. For Public Access, a multi-level project that began in January of ...

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Aggregates - John Houck (2011)

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Excerpt from an interview between John Houck and photographer Matthew Porter in Triple Canopy's twelfth issue, Black Box, which considered how photography is being reframed online.

Matthew Porter: Your photograph,19,682 combinations of a 3x3 grid, 3 colors - B1D2D3, 6F9DA2, E83C2C, is part of a series titled “Aggregates” (2011) that comprises six relatively small, digitally-printed grids striated with fold marks and mounted in white frames. At 15 x 18 inches, the works in this series are relatively modest in size. Were you thinking about the resolution of the ink-jet printer? Or was it the gesture of the folds that determined the size of the works? 

John Houck: The size of the photographs in “Aggregates” was determined by what could fit in a single frame of my camera. The process of making them starts with software that I wrote. I can specify how many rows and columns comprise a grid and select any number of colors to fill it. For example, a grid with four rows, four columns, and two colors results in 65,535 combinations (hence the title of the photograph). I then use another piece of self-authored software to output the combinations as an index print on a single sheet of paper using an inkjet printer. (No commercially available software can do this.) I then crease the paper, light it in a studio, and photograph it from above. I repeat this process three or four times: printing, creasing, and re-photographing. The final print is shown with one or two real creases, and the traces of earlier creases remain as photographic representations. I found that when the paper was too large, I had to take multiple photos then stitch them all back together digitally; but at 15 x 18 inches a single frame would do. 

MP: A lot ...

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Religious Miracle and Technologic Effect

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This is a painting of Nyai Roro Kidul, Queen of the Southern Sea of Java in Indonesian mythology. This image is fan art essentially, painted by a 33 year old physical trainer who studied art abroad, and blogged about it. Notice the motion blur and lens flare that seem to radiate out to the viewer. As Karen Strassler, author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, said at a talk at MIT in April, the image "literalizes the strong affinity between the religious miracle and technologic effect...Mysticism is now represented by media." 

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Comment: There’s No Such Thing as a Compulsory License for a Photo

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My friend Andy has a terrific post up about his ordeal settling with the photographer Jay Maisel over the threat of a copyright lawsuit. Chances are if, you’re reading this, you know about that. If you haven’t ready Andy’s story, go and read it and then come back.

There’s one pointed question I’ve seen crop up in a number of conversations about the settlement:

Isn’t it wrong that Andy chose to pay the licensing fees for the music but not for the photograph?

This question makes the assumption that Andy could have paid the licensing fees to Maisel like he did for the music. He couldn’t have. This is because Jay Maisel refused to license the image and there’s no compulsory license for photography like there is for musical compositions.

A compulsory license is what it sounds like: the owner of the underlying musical composition is required, by law, to license it to anyone who wants to use it at a predetermined rate. This prohibits song writers from picking and choosing who gets to perform their works. It also allows Andy to license, at a fair rate, the underlying song compositions from a Miles Davis album to make a new album of original recordings (remember, copyrights to recordings are different from copyrights to the compositions of a song).

The copyright of photographic works, unlike works of music composition, is not subject to a compulsory license.

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Triple Canopy's Photography Issue

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The first digital camera, built by Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson, 1975

Photographs viewed online suffer from a crushing sameness, without the particular pleasures provided by silver-gelatin, chromogenic, or ink-jet prints. As I’ve edited the issue, the question preoccupying me has been whether it’s possible to have what Michael Fried calls an “absorptive” experience with a photograph online, in which the image can obliterate one’s consciousness of viewing it. And though this condition isn’t related exclusively to form, it requires a certain minimum size and richness of detail—enough to monopolize one’s attention and reveal the photograph’s complexities in the moment of viewing. The challenge here is to charge the JPEG—among other low-grade image-file formats common to the Web—with this task.
What a digital space lacks, it makes up for in the potential for recombination. A tactic common to the projects in this issue is emphasizing relationships among images, whether those belonging to a discrete set authored by the photographer or to the vast cache of vernacular imagery readily accessible online. This is true of Boru O’Brien O’Connell and Simone Gilge’s variations on the slide-show format, Dan Torop’s textual interventions, and Daniel Gordon’s automated amalgamations of his own photographs and those found on the Web. “I wish that each picture…was not forced to be surrounded by just two others,” Geoff Dyer writes in The Ongoing Moment, his book on photography. “Ideally some sections would be adjacent to four or eight or even ten others,” and the book would “emulate the aleatory experience of dipping into a pile of photographs as far as is compatible with the constraints of binding.” Online, liberated from the mechanics of actual space, photographs flash and dissolve, are animated and stilled, merged and isolated, replicated and excerpted. Their vitality is contingent.

—— EXCERPT FROM A NOTE ON BLACK BOX BY HANNAH WHITAKER (TRIPLE CANOPY)

More from Triple Canopy's new issue on photography.

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Photographing Screens

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Lee Friedlander, Florida, 1963


Wayne Bremser considers Google Maps Street View art, drawing an interesting comparison to 60s Americana photography capturing TV screens:

One important process-related issue with GSV images that end up as photographs on a gallery wall is this: they are not screen grabs, but photographs of a screen. Whether the camera was employed to enable more megapixels for large printing, or as part of the conceptual artistic process, images created by the GSV device and compressed for the web are transformed somehow, perhaps with the air between monitor and camera. This is especially true with Rickard’s work. Spending time at the gallery, I noticed myself switching from paying attention to jpeg artifacts and evidence of the source, to finding the right distance and appreciating the colors and Rickard’s compositions.

Photographs of screens with GSV scenes actually belong to a long tradition. How many families in America have taken photographs of the television? Of the moon landing, or the home team winning the World Series?

The transformation is similar to what Rickard and the others are exploiting: a fuzzy TV signal on a crappy TV that makes its way into a Pittsburgh home, but becomes something different when captured by a decent Nikon lens. The resulting photograph doesn’t just capture the content of the TV screen, but the person’s desire to capture what was on the screen. Today GSV is just as fleeting as the World Series was in the pre-VCR or DVR era. There’s no way to know when Google will update a location and remove a scene.

Robert Frank has a few television screens in The Americans, including one wonderful photo inside a television studio. Along with the insane pile of cables, at the same time the photograph shows both how ...

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