Tag Archives: Visual

Reviews, comments and thoughts on visual arts and graphic design

Slaves to the Screen

I thought this image posted by Anthony Painter was emblematic of… something.

@anthonypainter: will.he.is #hackneyweekend http://t.co/NUM95DTg

20120626-143734.jpg
As an aside, it is amusing that Twitter thinks will.i.am is a URL, but that’s not what set my mental cogs in motion.

Instead, I was struck by the fact that Antony was at the Hackney concert over the weekend, but was still reduced to watching the events on a screen. I am sure that anyone who has ever been to one of the big summer festivals (Glastonbury, &ct) will have experienced the same phenomenon, that of watching an ostensibly ‘live’ event on screen, because the actual performers are too far away.

I was reminded of a scene in The Simpsons (Season 7, Episode 9, Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming, thanks Google, thanks Wikipedia) where Homer refuses to crane his neck to watch the jets at an air show, preferring to let the TV decide what he watches.

One might say that there is no conceptual difference between the a festival-goer watching the concert from the back of the crowd, and a viewer tuning in to coverage of the same festival on a TV set. In both cases, the cameras and the broadcast technology magnify the performer. However, this discounts the value of the atmosphere, the sense of communal experience, one gets from being at the event. This explains why people will stand for hours in order to see the Queen’s white coat in the far distance for a few seconds, rather than simply allow the BBC to give us constant, glorious close-ups of the wDuke of Edinburgh developing a bladder problem.

On a lesser scale, it explains why people choose to watch Euro 2012 (and all the other tournaments) in pubs. Communality counts. It also explains why others will actually travel to the tournament host country, merely to sit in a park and watch the match on a Jumbotron outside the stadium. Proximity counts too.

Nevertheless, I do think that it’s an odd sort of culture that prizes the live and the immediate over the transmitted, and yet those attending live, immediate events still find their experience of the show mediated through a square electronic screen. And we haven’t even discussed the second-order oddness of the TV stations broadcasting the sight of other people standing in a field (or on the Mall) watching a screen, as a form of entertainment in itself.


Related: That thing that happens during a lull in a live sporting broadcast, when the director cuts to a shot of the crowd, and the person spots themselves on the screen in the stadium, and waves at it, then realises that the camera is shooting them from another angle, and so they look around for the camera, and the director cuts back to the action…

ADSFMovie

I’ve been laughing at this online web comedy series, asdfmovie by Thomas Ridgewell.  Here’s episoide 5, which I sumbled upon because its one on the most top rated YouTube uploads today.

It feels like a distillation of comedy down to its purest elements. The punchline is all, illustrated in 2-dimensional simplicity. Its like tweeting on video. Very much of the internet age.

Facial recognition software could get you sued or fired

Those of us who have been anally removing the tags of ourselves in Facebook photos are feeling pretty smug today, as the latest privacy scandal breaks.  By default, they’ve turned on a new automatic facial recognition feature.  Online provacy groups are worried that this, since information about what you look like could in theory be sold on to third parties.

Two links to share.  First (via Kottke, inevitably), Dazzle Camoflage for Faces.  Using the same principles that the Navy used to foil submaries in the First World War, its possible to confuse facial recognition software by the clever use of makeup and hairstyles.  The only problem is, to confuse the all pervasive Facebook, one would need to permenantly adopt a makeup style similar to the 1980s New Romantic look, at all times, professional and social.

Second, read this diverting short-story by Paul Ford, ‘Nanolaw With Daughter‘.  When companies can gather very specific biographical, personal and location data about you, they can send you targetted law suits:

On a Sunday morning before her soccer practice, not long after my daughter’s tenth birthday, she and I sat down on the couch with our tablets and I taught her to respond to lawsuits on her own. … We had gone to a baseball game at the beginning of the season. They had played a song on the public address system, and she sang along without permission.

 

Long Photos

Earlier this week I commented on that photo of Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room:

The image in question is particularly good because it seems to portray a very long moment. If Souza had been filming the scene we imagine that it would not have looked very different from the still photograph… apart from some blinking.

Via Matt Haughey, I’ve discovered From Me To You, the work of Jamie, a photographer who takes photos and adds a little bit of movement into them as animated GIFs.  Its not clear at first glance that you’re looking at a manipulated photograph and not an actual movie.

Caught in the Fashion Jungle
Caught in the Fashion Jungle – http://fromme-toyou.tumblr.com

It reminds me of some comments made by technology thinker Chris Heathcote, who has written on the development of outdoor electronic billboards.  Hilariously, neither Chris nor I can locate the link to the post where he specificially discussed the idea that the best and most sophisticated use of moving images in billboards might be the most subtle.  Barely perceptible movements, blinks or slight gestures, may actually grab the attention of the target audience in a way that horrible flashing banners may not.  We know that modern brains can learn to mentally censor banner adverts and other obnoxious and ostentatious marketing.  Chris points to this bus shelter advert as an example of best practice.

Self Portrait Death Photos

Our culture continues to be defined by the screen and the lens. The works of Marshall McLuhan and Andy Warhol remain disturbingly current. Politics continues to be defined by image, not ideas, to the extent that the Leader of the Labour Party feels the need to have work done on his sinuses (or something), the better to appeal to floating voters.

One area of interest for me is the collision of the media with ordinary people – and by that, I mean those who find themselves caught like rabbits in the spot-light, as opposed to those who seek it out. In particular, the sub-genre of media Death Coverage. The visual grammar of a press conference is fascinating. I have also written before on how the images of the recently dead are manipulated to fit an established template (even when the deceased was very different to how they are described).

Issy Jones-Reilly in The Times
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Times
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Evening Standard
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Evening Standard

The sad death of Issy Jones-Reilly who overdosed at a party last weekend, has sent me back to this subject once more. The pictures of this pretty girl have featured heavily in the papers for a couple of days. What I have found noteworthy is that in almost all cases, the picture illustrating the victim has been a self-portrait. In this era of cheap digital imaging, that means an arms length shot, with the camera (or smart-phone) pointed back down at the photographer. The arm must necessarily extend outside the shot, and the wide-angle distorts and swells the face a little. It’s the polar opposite of professional portraiture, where the subjects are lit from the sides and rear and a narrower angle lens is used to put the face in better proportions.

I find these images of Issy quite sad. First, of course, that she only found fame in death. When she took those photos of herself she was engaging in a form of sel-promotion (I don’t doubt they were used as Facebook profile pictures at some point). She would never know the context in which those photos would finally be used. It seems to me quite tragic that, for her allotted 15 minutes of fame, she had to take her own photos.

Meanwhile, an accomplished and quite brilliant photographer suffers the indignity of having his own death illustrated by someone else. The case of Tim Hetherington, killed in Libya last week, was not quite as bad as that of Meredith Kercher (whose death was illustrated by the prettier of her alleged killers). However, I still found it odd and a little disrespectful that Hetherington’s death was reported in The Evening Standard by a picture of his girlfriend. A perfectly serviceable image of the man who actually died was relegated to the inner pages. Of course we know that pretty girls are always the choice of photo editors. But in this case, when the subject was a fellow journalist, I thought the Standard editors’ cynical bid for eyeballs was particularly crass.

Tim Hetherington's girlfriend
Tim Hetherington’s girlfriend
Tim Hetherington in The Evening Standard
Tim Hetherington in The Evening Standard

#18daysinEgypt

A few weeks ago I suggested that a project be launched to publish the thoughts and policies of the Tahrir Square think-tank. The nearest realisation of this I have come across so far is the #18daysinEgypt project, which seeks to retroactively collate and tag all the content produced during the uprising that culminated in the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

2nd February 2011, in Bab El Luk, Cairo. Photo by gcawflickr on Flickr.
2nd February 2011, in Bab El Luk, Cairo. Photo by gcawflickr on Flickr.

(H/T Sunny).

The Birth of the Shard

If you take a stroll down Farringdon Road, from Exmouth Market towards Clerkenwell Green, you will come upon a magnificent sight-line into the City of London. It is not until you reach the Betsey Trotwood and the Free Word Centre that St Paul’s Cathedral emerges on the skyline, but from further up the road, a new landmark is emerging – Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ Shard of Glass, currently under construction.

Since I work at the Free Word Centre, I regularly happen across this view.  I often take a quick snap with the camera on my phone. Below is an example that has been filtered through Instagr.am.

Birth of the Shard, by Yrstruly on InstagramA better attempt with an SLR and telephoto lense is on Flickr:

Birth of the Shard
Birth of the Shard by yrstrly on Flickr

I have found that the damp and foggy days when the building emerges from midst are when the Shard looks most interesting. The giant looms on the horizon, and one’s sense of scale is confused and compressed, which reminds me of the famous photograph by the Liverpudlian photographer E. Chambré Hardman, ‘The Birth of the Ark Royal’, taken in 1950.

Birth of the Ark royal
Photograph of the HMS Ark Royal, taken from the top of Holt Hill in Birkenhead, by Chambré Hardman.

See also the weathered early photographs of Tower Bridge and the Eiffel Tower under construction.  Watching The Shard rise, I have a strong sense of being embedded in history. I know that it will become a symbol of London, like Gherkin and Millenium Wheel, or the pointy Transamerica Pyramid in San Fransisco.  Watching it grow makes me feel like I am sat inside an iconic, historical image.

Thought of You

Check out this stunning animation by Ryan Woodward:

I was delighted to see this, because it takes to a perfect, polished conclusion a visual style I messed about with briefly, a few years ago:

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not claim that my sketches had any influence on Ryan! ‘Construction’ type sketches are a common enough aesthetic, and I’m not even sure that it was an original style when I created my own animation.

Rather, I just say that there is a certain pleasure in seeing such an idea realised. When I was messing about with tracing paper, I knew I did not have the artistic training, nor the resources, nor the talent, to actually realise what I saw in my head – a depressing realisation one learns to accept. But watching Woodward’s piece, I see he has incorporated everything I would wish, especially a sense of the transient, the fleeting, and the whiff of faeries.

See also: Fifty Nine Productions animations for Jónsi.