The Digital Image in Photographic Culture

Daniel Rubinstein and Katrina Sluis (2013) base their two conceptions of the image on how photography is represented in two films: Titanic and Memento

In the penultimate scene in Titanic, the photographs that appear beside Rose on her death-bed illustrate significant moments from her life, ordered chrologically after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. If a person's life could be retold in sentences, then the photographs would be the full stops, exclamation marks and question marks. They represent significant, memorable events which can be viewed and compared with each other, chronologically. 

Meanwhile, Memento includes a series of polaroids, to help Leonard, an amnesia sufferer, identify his wife's killer. The photographs give Leonard 'points of access that allow movement from one temporality to another' Rubinstein and Sluis, 2013: 23). Instead of one chronological route through the photographs, there is a multiplicity of storylines.

Photo albums enable us to organise and catalogue photographic memories. If they are stored in a physical album, then they will usually be in chronological order. This enables the viewer to move forwards and backwards through time. Meanwhile, photographs which are stored digital are able to be accessed in a multimodal fashion. This can include clicking on links for different categories or typing in keywords to retrieve images with a corresponding tag. Furthermore, 'Timehop', on Facebook, pushes images taken in previous years. Distant memories are brought to the forefront of a person's thoughts.   

Rubinstein and Sluis (2013) refer to photography as a 'two-faced Janus', because it points in two directions. Firstly, one side faces the 'real world' people, places and events, transforming them into a two dimensional object. Meanwhile, the other side faces the repetition and reproduction of those photographs.  

 

Assignment 4: Digital identities 1

Task: Develop a project around the theme of identity within the current digital climate. 

Mind map of ideas

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As I was thinking about digital identity, it became very apparent how broad this topic is. This meant that it would be very difficult to narrow my ideas down to create a meaningful project.

 At first, I considered how identity effects our relationship with the surrounding environment. This included how augmented reality is enabling us to merge both real and imagined worlds. With so many people with their heads fixed on their screens, it would appear as though the only way for them to acknowledge their surroundings is if it appears on their screen. In other words, if it isn’t on-screen, then it isn’t there. However, when I looked back at the assignment brief, I felt that this was going off-track in relation to digital identity.

Meanwhile, incidents involving people taking selfies seemed to be a regular occurrence in the news, and I started to be drawn to the role of the selfie, and what motivates people to take selfies. 

Initial Themes 

  • Identities can be manipulated

  • a person’s digital image can enable them to occupy multiple digital spaces at the same time for as long as they wish

  • a persons face can be their password

  • selfies enable the photographer to present themselves in the best possible way

  • interaction with the surrounding environment - including how digital imagery is used, such as for advertising


Project Ideas

 1. Ego

2. Interface - how images can be manipulated to conceal / change identities

3. Pixels looking at the photo stream on my phone reminded me of pixels  refer to embroidered images  

Ego

Each project idea was inspired by the previous one. Ego was based on how selfies are still a prominent aspect of digital culture. Even Channel 4’s ‘The Bake Off’ required the contestants to create their selfie! Taking selfies is something that I have never really been in to. I didn’t need to  take a photo of myself in a particular place, to say ‘I was there’. Since I had taken a photograph of a place or occasion I already knew I was there. For me, photographs are like bookmarks in time. When we look back at them, they enable the viewer to travel back in time. Other people take photographs of me, so there isn’t any need for me to take photographs of me. I spent a lot of time investigating the idea of the motivations of people taking selfies and how they are drawn to similar locations to take their selfies. However, I wanted to push my creativity further and I felt that basing a project on selfies was limiting. More information about this idea can be found here.

Interface

This idea developed from ‘Ego’. Digital software enables users to manipulate their image, such as using filters, in order to achieve ‘likes’ on social networks. Cyberspace provides another dimension in which we are represented by our digital-self 24/7. Avatars interact alongside tweets, likes, and comments. Therefore they’ve got to look their best.  

Pixels 

With GDPR being a focus in protecting identity, my ‘Interface’ idea had led me to think about how images could conceal other information. Earlier in the course, I had thought about how QR codes could be hidden in photographs to create multi-layered images in which the viewer is able to interact with. I explored using a QR code as a mask over a portrait photograph. The block design of the QR code reminded me of pixels, the basic units of all digital images. Also, when I was looking through the photo stream on my phone, to find images for ‘Interface’, the year view also reminded me over pixels. After weeks of deliberation, I had finally narrowed my thoughts down to the focus for assignment 4 and 5.  After exhausting my ideas for ‘Ego’, and wanting to push myself creatively, ‘Pixels’ is the idea that I would like to put forward for my assignment.

 Pixels

 Digital scanned image of Russell Kirsch’s son, Walden, in 1957.

Digital scanned image of Russell Kirsch’s son, Walden, in 1957.

The digital images that we see on the screens of our digital devices are made up of pixels, the smallest units of a digital image. These basic building blocks can be in the shape of dots, lines or squares. Frederic C. Billingsley was the first to publish the word, ‘pixel’ to explain the picture elements that he saw being beamed back to Earth from the Moon and Mars.

Surprisingly, the first ever digital photograph was created by Russell Kirsch in 1957, when he scanned a photograph of his 3 month-old son. It produced a blurred 176 x 176 digital image. It reminds me of the many hundreds of photos that I have taken of my children.

The more pixels that there are in a digital image, the more detail that there is captured in the resulting image. Ever since the first digital images were created, the quality of image resolution has improved incredibly since Kirsch’s digital image. Currently, the world’s

Containing over 201,948 different images in 450 rows and 450 columns, this image of Queen Elizabeth II, is one of the largest photo mosaics in the world. The 33 gigapixels are made up of drawings for the Face Britain project running by The Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts to celebrate HM The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. By clicking this link you can zoom into an interactive version, which enables you to see all of the combined images.

 Photo mozaic of Queen Elizabeth II. http://www.mazaika.com/33_gigapixel_photo_mosaic_face_britain.html

Photo mozaic of Queen Elizabeth II. http://www.mazaika.com/33_gigapixel_photo_mosaic_face_britain.html

I like how this type of photo mosaic conceals other images. It is also reminiscent of how we tend to gloss over digital photographs nowadays. We are surrounded by so many images, that we fail to interrogate them fully. Digital identities can be very superficial, that only need to catch a glimpse of the viewer’s gaze for a matter of seconds.

Despite the drive to create hyper-real imagery with recent advancements such as HDR and 4K television, there is still the appeal of low resolution pixel imagery, especially for computer games. For example, Minecraft is still extremely popular and yet the graphics are basic. Pixellated characters inhabit online worlds which they are able to shape by moving and removing sequences of pixels.

A simple, basic online presence is all that is needed to have a digital identity. What matters is that you have created a set of pixels and they occupy a space in the digital world, to give the user a voice and to say ‘I’m here!’

 Minecraft character

Minecraft character

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Whilst I was looking through my archive of images, I noticed how the yearly view resembled a photomosaic, as if each photograph was a pixel. Having grown up with both analogue and digital, I wanted to explore the very boundary between these two types of media.

Whilst monochrome and sepia photographs remind people of times-gone-by, there is something nostalgic about pixellated images, having grown up play computer games on a 48K ZX Spectrum.

Photographers

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Johan Rosenmunthe

In projects, such as ‘Off II, Johan Rosenmunthe references the digital medium to our analogue lives. In Off, pixellated figures appear isolated and fractured against the surrounding environment. Rosenmunthe has selected people who he only knows online. This juxtaposition of the two could possibly be a reference to how we inhabit two worlds: the real, and the virtual. Not only are they isolated from their surroundings, but they are inaccessible from those they are with. By being online we cut ourselves off from the real-world. Without this social interaction, people online become anonymous background features.

In his Enlargements project, Rosenmunthe creates a sequence of crops from a single cityscape. Within those crops are people undertaking various activities. Having zoomed in to create the crops, the resulting image has a low resolution. This poor image quality and the fact that the people are unaware that they are being photographed is very similar to how our everyday lives are under surveillance from CCTV cameras. There is no depth to our digital identity. It is at face-value level. After all, your face is now even able to unlock your iPhone - you don’t need to remember passwords or pin codes.

 Krizia, 2009 by Jonathan Lewis.

Krizia, 2009 by Jonathan Lewis.

Jonathan Lewis

In his ‘Designer Labels’ project, British artist Jonathan Lewis pixellates the clothes for sale in shop windows. His work explores the production and consumption of fashion and other commodities.

When comparing it to Rosenmunthe’s work, there are some similarities, however Lewis pixellates the whole image. Maybe the message he is portraying is that the retail experience, that we are advertised into, doesn’t just involve the product, but also includes the entire shopping environment.

 Crayon as pixels, by Christian Faur

Crayon as pixels, by Christian Faur

Christian Faur

Christian Faur has created a unique method of representing images. He layers different coloured wax crayons to produce his portraits. The hundreds of different coloured wax crayons resemble the pixels that we see in digital imagery. Faur then produces large photographs of his artwork. Subsequently, there are two media to experience, allowing for different interpretations.

The physical wax crayon sculpture is able to be viewed at a variety of angles, whilst the photograph provides the viewer with a pixellated view of the subject. Faur’s images are so accurate, it is difficult to believe that these images aren’t real photographs. This analog approach to image making is very reminiscent of the digital photograph and the individuality of each pixel. In order to send digital images, their pixels are sent via different routes across the World Wide Web, to be recombined to form the original.

Faur’s method has made me wonder if there are any other ways that I can explore to produce a pixellated effect. One idea would be to scan photographs with bubblewrap on top of it.

 From Diane Meyer’s Time spent that might otherwise be forgotten.

From Diane Meyer’s Time spent that might otherwise be forgotten.

Diane Meyer

In ‘Time spent that might otherwise be forgotten’, Diane Meyer uses cross stitch to embroider pixels onto old family photographs. The act of cross stitching enables Meyer to interact longer with each photograph, possibly remembering back to the time it was taken. By pixelating the facial features, other details emerge from the photographs, which might otherwise have been overlooked when viewing the original images. Meyer’s work reminds the viewer of how vulnerable we are to losing digital files if they become corrupt. They also tune the viewer into the incidental details which we often ignore. This is synonymous with the current digital climate, in which we are so self-absorbed in our digital devices that we no-longer see where we are.

 Indochina, 1960 by Gherasim Luca

Indochina, 1960 by Gherasim Luca

Cubomania

Cubomania is a surrealist method of making collages in which a picture is cut into squares and then reassembled in a different way. It was invented by Romanian artist Gherasim Luca, in the late 1930s. It reminds me of how in reality pixels exist as random units and that sometimes there can be glitches with digital images, in which the pixels do not display correctly.

Trial Images

My own digital archive has been the starting point for y work. Taking inspiration from Kirsch’s first digital image, I decided to look at photographs of my children. I am mindful of their own digital identify and the associated pressures and dilemmas that they will face online. Despite being stored on my hard drive, and rarely viewed, I remember every one of them. Even when they are pixellated, I can see the image clearly. Every photograph contains more than just the visual data, it is also acts as a signpost to a memorable event.

I tried pixellating the images in different ways, using dots and squares. Furthermore, I tried to set the pixellation at the point where the subject is no-longer recognisable.

It was whilst I was looking through my images, I began to realise how some are very similar to when I was a boy. My son has recently started playing football. He won a trophy and it was similar to one of me when I was young. I enjoyed the process of being able to digitise an analogue photograph. I am goig to look for similar themed images, to see how we ritually take photographs of particular significant life defining moments. Moments which help to shape our identity.

My final assignment will include photographs inspired by cubomania.

dot pixels.jpg
me football2.jpg
eoin football2.jpg
wembley3.jpg
 Social Icons. An image of my son behind a series of social icons, which resemble pixels.

Social Icons. An image of my son behind a series of social icons, which resemble pixels.

Possible Outcomes

So far I have two ideas for the outcome of this project.

  1. A photo book, in square format to represent the shape of pixels.

  2. A series of square postcards which can be arranged in a number of ways, representing pixels. On the front of each card will be a pixellated image and on the back will be a QR code. When scanned, the QR code will display the original image.

References

https://petapixel.com/2010/08/05/the-worlds-first-digital-camera-by-kodak-and-steve-sasson/ [Accessed 16/9/18]

http://www.mazaika.com/33_gigapixel_photo_mosaic_face_britain.html

http://www.rosenmunthe.com/work/off-ii--2010/

http://www.rosenmunthe.com/work/enlargements/

http://www.rosenmunthe.com/work/off-ii--2010/

http://www.jgdlewis.com/Designer%20Labels%20Page.html

http://www.christianfaur.com/crayons/crayonSeries1/index.html

https://file-magazine.com/blog/diane-meyer-time-spent-that-might-otherwise-be-forgotten

A change of direction

Digital identity is such a broad theme. I am finding myself refining my ideas. Whilst I was experimenting with some ideas for selfies, I went back to an earlier idea which involved overlaying a QR code over a self-portrait (below). It was by no means a finished product, but I wanted to see if it was possible. 

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QR codes seem to be appearing in more places at the moment. I find it fascinating that a black and white geometric shape can contain another layer of information, which is hidden from view. This idea of concealment made me think about how people are able to use digital means to hide their identity. 

Then, I wondered whether it was possible to use a similar image as above to create an active QR code, which could lead to another image. This is something that I hope to develop for my assignment.