Thursday, 27 September 2007

Remembering Intent

Shooting of In Other People's Skins began yesterday. It was very intense on a technical level. I spent the whole of the previous day helping construct a set of twin towers to span a walkway between them so that I could then set up two cameras above the table. I say helping construct, however, I mean giving moral support as I was in my own private hell sorting out import and export functions with systems I wasn't familiar with. Then on to rigging links between cameras, vision mixer, computers, monitors, setting up sound, lighting - the paraphernalia of a shoot.

Then yesterday morning came and having woken at 4am and making copious notes about what was still to do, I started the day with a list of technical goals which by 5pm I had begun to win through. A reception outside the studio ensued and various people with glasses of wine and the bonhomie born of having finished their day of staff meetings (and wine was the best way to dispense the tensions gathered in that sort of human occupation). However, there I was with my team finishing off the technicalities and beginning to sort out the art of it all.

The Team: Charlotte Humpston, Production Designer, Jennie Norman Art Director, Prashant Roy and Yuan Li shooting 'the making of', Rod Terry, construction and Holly Foulds construction and also helping on the shot (sort of stage management), Phoebe Beedell People Wrangler and Alison Sterling overall Producer.

I haven't yet written about the art direction choices, suffice it to say that one reaches into one's cultural knowledge gained from living in the world and doing some research to find out what you can and can't do and then sourcing as close as one can what fits the descriptions made to oneself. Then instructions to the team and off they go to see what can be sourced, then coming back together to present to me and me making choices and all the time Alison warning against stereotyping and cultural imperialism.

By 7.45 we have another production meeting to make sure everything is together and then off the cars go to pick up our 15 Gujerati friends. A moment of quiet (and going through the elements - one last recording to make sure it works, checking camera positions) then, before long, the cars come back.

I speak for 15 minutes introducing the people to the theatre space we are in, show the table and describe how the installation will work then try to relax everyone. I make sure I serve everyone a glass of water so that I tell them through that gesture that I am as they are and without them there would be nothing. I hope this communicates through the simple act of going from person to person asking if they want water. I'm the director and artist and it is important to me they understand that I am simply inhabiting an archetype for the event.

We rehearse laying the table and giving people places to sit, all the time trying to let the 'Ma' of the community take control. She does so and wonderfully organises the other women (prompted by Charlotte's interventions from her experience on many high level shoots). The Hindu priest is a delight - Mr Vyas organised everyone to come - and agrees to say prayers after the plates are laid and just after our Ma lights the candles.

Eventually the food arrives from Myristica (we have organised a series of restaurants to supply the food which will be good publicity for them when the installation goes on tat the local cathedral). We go to it and because of the rehearsal the meal/soot goes off without a hitch. At the end I transfer all the data to computer as the people are ferried home.

I expect each day to go like this and shall write further with some insights garnered from hanging a camera above a group, of people who give their time to this piece of art. In 20 minutes I again journey to the studio to shoot the 1st century meal and some pack shots of bread being broken in detail so that I might drop these in to the overall shot of the 5 meals - so that people are for a moment looking at a screen and not at the virtual simulation of a dinner party for 12. I want people to both believe and question the deception before them as well as examine the issue around placing their hands in Other People's Skins.

I have to keep reminding myself what we are really doing here - the art of it all - the intent to transfer insight to an audience. The insight though must not be articulated - if it is, then it evaporates and becomes mere intellectualism.

Later tonight we shoot footage for the pan Asian region.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Size Matters

Last night I went to a Hindu Temple to talk to the priest. The reason being that to make a work which involves a community, as the work I'm currently shooting In Other People's Skins does you have to make peace with that community and you have to be allowed by that community to take something from them, their image, even if you're going to give something back. I hope this work does in fact do that.

Loosely, In Other People's Skins is an extension of The Dinner Party, my standard def version of a group of people eating a meal, shooting from above, then projecting the virtual diners back down on to a table of the same size, putting some real chairs around it and some real plates to serve up the virtual food to the viewer.

I have shot many documentaries as a simple camera person, been in many communities and situations that I wouldn't have been in if it were not for the work I was doing and somehow, having stopped that work a while ago, the act of art is bringing in this rather wonderful exposure to the multiplicity of cultures on the planet. And of course, In Other People's Skins is about placing one's hands in another persons hands and clothing oneself, albeit virtually, in their skin. Later I shall work on The Laying on of Hands which is another extension of tables and hands which also involves the act of healing, by those that take part, and by those that view the work - it's all so bound together.

You can't make art or technology without it having an effect - in this case the effect was on me as I stood watching the priest giving prayers and leading the community in speaking to their version of God - in this case the many faces of God in the form of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesh, Kali et al. That was humbling because I couldn't help but be appreciative of how people are always inclined to help the cause of Art, somehow seeing below consciousness that it is a force for goo in some way.

Technology is not necessarily in the same league, but it can be harnessed in the cause of art and that is what I'm currently exploring.

I've recently been looking at people's hands - in fact I've always been looking at people's hands since seeing at an early age the pictures of the masters of Western European painting who gave to the Judaeo-Christian son of God such wonderful mudras and gestures to occupy his hands in their paintings.

But this recent project is focussed on the hands and in fact whilst setting up the shoot for this project I conceived another one to be shot at the same time. It was influenced or inspired by seeing an acquaintances hands. This is Peter Copely a 92 year old actor. My piece will be called Peter's Hands and will look at the act of greeting another - by holding their hand.

So in all of this I shall be looking in extreme detail at the hand and therefore I need High Resolution, or definition, to show to others what I have seen and imagined. So in this case, as in so many cases, bigger is better - bigger in the sense of more pixels, more detail, more resolution and hopefully more resonance happening in the mind of the viewer as she or he witnesses what it is that I, in this case the artist, tries to convey.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Making Art Make Art

Difficult subject this. I've always been an early adopter, this grew from a means of escaping a working class background into a full blown life commitment, with the making of art the central and overwhelming thrust of all that I do. When young, I used to tell myself that I simply had a creative urge, that I had to make marks in whatever medium was at hand, later, on the discovery of image making with other than a brush or pencil enraptured me, then that focussed down to the sheer excitement of moving images. I say excitement but that doesn't quite touch the meaning I have in mind. It's an imperative and there's a joy in the knowledge that I've found the means to realise the imperative.

A little while ago, Daniel Chandler of Aberystwyth University noted the individual use of early websites to make a statement about an individual's likes and dislikes. Prior to Utube and Myspace, people were making websites saying things like - "this is my cat, cherry, I like Vivaldi, Bon Jovi, or Kasabian, this is how you make flapjacks" - or whatever else it was that enthused them that they used to present a version of themselves to the world. Myspace systematised the tendency and people could simply list who they are. A consumer fetishistic approach to the self. Of course, my art tendency is just a more sophisticated and early adopter version of a humanity that knows that there's soon going to be about twenty times the current number of hominids in the world.

How does one define oneself in the midst of ubiquity ? When the most ordinary consumer can consume green and blacks, travel to canada for extreme biking, or choose any place on the planet, any act to 'define' themselves ? And, in 100 years time, when web3 has addressed and solved starving humanity's problems - where are we amidst the onward thrust ?

If you read Ray Bradbury, J.G Ballard, or especially Nigel Kneale (Quatrermass) one proposition is that the solving of problems generates psychosis which eventually destroys us. If you read Blake or his inspirer, Swedenborg, then you'll see a heavenly future wrapping us in it's war pink rosy glow. Popular entertainers like Lucas in the last Star Wars showed a ind of art that is in fact made from gingerbread - it's cheesy, it's holographic, it's gauche.

This is the problem for the artist. We have a long tradition of thinking out side the box. In fact that's been a major part of what we've done in creating 'art'. Painting on a cave wall with berries and roots is pretty amazing thinking outside of the box for a hunter gatherer (if you believe that tale of what we once were) - making images that carry ideas of the world around us that stimulate thoughts/feelings/intuitions/insights in others - if that's what art is (well it has to be something) - is a fair calling for a person. But given that calling, and given that the strategies are mostly now investigated and understood, and given that fame comes to those who shock (mostly), then elegant, subtle art that strives for a resonance with the undefined in the viewer of the work is hard to recognize amidst the noise in the art marketplace.

So this leads me on to another thought: I want to make art that can be seen in not only a national, international context but also a local context - I want to realize the making and exhibition of art (and exhibition is half of the equation) in a way that no matter where it is shown - it works. Some art works because it is in the Tate, Metrolpoiltan or Uffizi gallery, working because the sheer act of appearing on those sites 'says' a lot about what you will see - it says at least, 'look at me - I wouldn't be here unless I have weight'. But we all know that if someone chose a dustbin to look at in that context - we would all look (thank you Duchamp - very important moment that one).

So yes, the exhibition space is of course important, but what if you put the work in the Phoenix Art space in Glastonbury ? In a way, it's a far more rigorous space in that those that go there know that the fact that we're all alive at this particular moment is pretty amazing, so given that, what might the artist present to us with that in mind ? Comments on consumerism, the state of the world, political battles, documentations of far flung tribes (especially Tuaregs - how fashionable are they in the contemporary artists mind!), no, the more trite art can't stand up in the local space given also that local artists are often emulating the greater art they've seen and the work is often substandard (and sometimes the audience is painfully insulting in its ignorance). But my point is that somewhere in all of this is the possibility that making art can or should be as valid to show at the Phoenix as well as the Tate Turbine Hall or the Louvre.

In some pieces I've made which have exhibited both internationally in mini turbine halls and locally, the local exhbition space has generated a different feel, a different way of experiencing the art - the art itself has been transubstantiated in the act of exhibition.

Local/interactive art which invites the viewer to take part - it does not say: 'Don't Touch'.

My work generally is inviting you to touch it - which, given it's virtuality, is an impossibility. In this liminal boundary, there is much benefit, there is room for the viewer/experiencer to make it their own.

By inviting the viewer/experiencer to take part in the artwork I feel as an artist that I can communicate better as the work is non-presecriptive or dogamtic, but gently persuasive in the best sense of the word. Participants can then take part and reflect whilst doing so in their own personal way and take away from the work what is theirs, and not mine.

I just want to re-state a review of a piece of mine, not for the ego value, but because the reviewer is getting something that I inuitively feel and is just rising to the surface of articulation:

Terry Flaxton's shrewd and paradoxical installation contributes to the deconstruction of traditional video. The restless and versatile British filmmaker refuses usual interactivity, and displays, instead of a normal screen, a laid dinner table; then invites the viewer, through a very precise projection, to try to match the virtual fellows' gestures. An unforeseeable and bewildering end follows. Techne Catalogue October 2005 - May 2006

The key here is the statement of how this work 'refuses usual interactivity' and this act ' invites the viewer, through a very precise projection, to try to match the virtual fellows' gesture'. The virtual fellows.... Though material, we believe we all exist, the bodies around us perform and on faith we believe that something within them is just like us, is experienceing the world just as we do. So the artist feels the need to speak to the interior experiencer through any means possible, and last century we saw the artist take any hold of any means they could get hold of - even their own material shit - to speak, sometimes too loudly and unsubtly, to that which resides within.

But the artist has existed within the definition of the indivdual. There is a history told at many universities that charts the growth of the idea of the self. Maybe ten thousand, or one thousand years ago the boundary of the self was different and also, differently defined to the self, experiencing their own self-nature. But now it's digital times and the paradigm shift is occurring once more. Prior acts of art that relate to the idea of a self that is a consumer and experiencer, in fact a doer and a knower, is profoundly placed within a Newtonian if not Euclidian universe. ...Clocks and mechanics, equal and opposite reactions, the second law of thermo dynamics...

General humanity hasn't yet caught up with the paradigm shift, spoken through science, the apogee of materialist gesture, formed and articulated by Einstein, Plank and Bohr and hasn't yet faced up to the fundamental immateriality of the universe, of themselves. I'm not sure that our famous contemporary artists have yet, being born of an idea of existence that is set back in time in terms of the paradigm shift, are making art that deals with the deeper issues beneath simply serving up 'art' as it has previously been defined. I have to apologise to any of them who have faced up to this issue, not in artistic terms because they've made their mark and who cares what I think anyway, but maybe some are struggling with this issue beyond the fetishism of conceptual, consumerist art.

I now need to define, or find a description of how or why that might be possible within the act of more highly defining my own virtual works - I have to examine why 'virtuality' seems to provide an important key to the problem as I try to overcome the formal constraints to let the 'content' whatever that really is, speak.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Not Self

In a week's time I shall begin shooting the first elements of my set of installations for my Research Fellowship in HD. Just to say here that over three years I shall make about 10 new works in HD. I shall also interview on video the main players in HD since it's inception (this will provide an archive on the thinking that created this medium).

I'm shooting three installations: a re-shoot of The Dinner Party which has already proved popular and is currently running in Milan, a larger extension of this piece that is also inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper called In Other People's Skins and lastly, Peter's Hands, a single screen work.

When I was awarded my fellowship I was given a wage but no research money. My original proposition to the AHRC was that I would set up a programme of work over three years that examined the liminal boundary between accepted resolution (that which we can cope with seemingly physiologically, and that level of resolution that basically starts to confuse the brain/mind). I was awarded the fellowship because of a rolling programme of work. I then had to start applying to various funding bodies to obtain some money to do my projected work which then asked me to make separate projects of my overall programme. A false distinction that has a downside, that of falsely separating the various elements, and an upside: In creating a set of parameters for the work and then selecting them and organising them into a fundable proposition, I've had to think about what I was proposing in a new way - that has to be good because the creative act requires reflection at some stage.

Here's a small revue of the Dinner Party: Terry Flaxton's shrewd and paradoxical installation contributes to the deconstruction of traditional video. The restless and versatile British filmmaker refuses usual interactivity, and displays, instead of a normal screen, a laid dinner table; then invites the viewer, through a very precise projection, to try to match the virtual fellows' gestures. An unforeseeable and bewildering end follows. Techne Catalogue October 2005 - May 2006

So, next week I will remake the Dinner Party because of a simple issue: When projecting the work in standard definition (especially after it's been through the compression of Mpg on a DVD) elements on the table, like a fork for instance, on one axis one could see the prongs of the fork, and on the other axis there was simply a grey smudge. It's time to use a lesser form of HD (P2, 960 pixel shifted to 1920) to try to see more detail) and this time play back from a computer using the DVCPro HD Codec - that should improve things immeasurably and give a lead to a much higher level of HD that I shall shoot this project in once more in early 2008. Then I shall use a Dalsa Origin, Viper or D20 and capture 4 4 4.

For information on the Dinner Party, Go to:

In Other People's Skins is as follows: This is multi cultural exploration of presence and absence; In Other People's Skins: 12 chairs around a table, many races - where you can place your hands in Other People's Skins. Influenced by the engagement of the audience with the Dinner Party and inspired by Da Vinci's Last Supper I decided to bring a larger work to a series of Cathedral exhibitions... So far, Gloucester, Worcester, Winchester, Bristol and Wells Cathedrals, as well as Bath Abbey have agreed to show this work in 2008...

For information on In Other People's Skins go to:

Peter's hands on the other hand is a single screen work which I've just decided to do, which could be seen to be part of my single screen strand of my recent application for funding that I have proposed in terms of it's photographic qualities to the AHRC. I'm currently undecided whether this is a large black box single screen work or actually a work for plasma display (as opposed to LCD which I'm currently not a fan of). Plasma has a warmer feel and look than LCD. But the main issue here is of size I think in terms of its exhibition.

In my recent application for funding for both installation and single screen work I argued that single screen works will be presented in a different way from cinema. I wanted to bring the scale of the intensity of the photographic within the cinematic into a space more usually found in the gallery than the public cinema (after all, the black viewing box can be experienced at any contemporary art museum). Another similar space that is developing is the home cinema, which mimics the cinema yet can manifest some of the same qualities as the gallery black box. But primarily, this separate form of presentation where one ritualistically enters the dark space, stumbling forward as everyone has before you, as if the change from light to dark is a forced entrance through one's own senses to generate a 'special' feeling' about the work one is about to see. This sets up ones expectations In a certain way. It is a high temple of art and very often people are blinded by the ritual to the quality of the work.

Sometimes, simply to see large images - bits of the human body so many times larger than in real life, is itself impressive. Many artists have used this tactic - of enlarging life in its public representation, to make different. Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons spring immediately to mind.

But here, in this domain we are also involved in the kinetic. It's true that with the artists mentioned one can stand and look - but if simply remain rooted to the spot you miss the sculptural qualities, the kinetic pleasures of the work. But in the dark space, there you are remaining static again. Rooted to the spot in front of 'art'. This is mainly why my moving image installations are involved with taking the screen off the wall and putting it elsewhere which forces the viewer to enter into a kinetic and more sculptural relationship with it.

However, in the dark space, feet or bottom rooted (the inevitable bench is the welcome pew that one might rest upon) then one must stare at the images and also - and this must not be underestimated in terms of the sensorium that is the self - one is bathed in light.

Some artists also bathe their audience in time - duration - forcing them to feel both the quality of experiencing something for longer than normal and allowing other elements of experience to enter the viewers mind, but also to be bathed in just so in much light. But this physiological intimidation by the artist is dependent on the viewer acceding their autonomy - and that comes with the agreement of the viewer which is allied to their education and sense of self - sense of sensorium. Education in this sense meaning the function of social placement the self has within the society it exists within. "If I am cultured I am amongst the minority of the population that has a view on the world - therefore, I, like the artist, am special".

I realise that previously, though art occasionally came up as an issue, my blogs have been technically oriented, and this is the first time that I have had to begin to turn my mind to reflect on the process of making and presenting art.

I mentioned the photographic - that which is of the still within the moving flow. Slow motion has been a way of getting at this quality which is born of the stuff of cave paintings. The photographic is the extraordinary amidst the ordinary. It is the ordinary transformed, picked out, highlighted. Warhol exemplified this act of looking and looking again at what is around one - because art, in my view is that which unveils insight.

And here I specifically do not mean the kind of insight that comes from the thinking mind which is involved in continuous ratiocination. Art should directly speak to the not-self, as Zen practitioners would have it. The self that is un-encrusted with thinking and a sense of the ego.

To return to Peter's hands, this issue of whether to show as a much larger piece in a black box is problematic for me because art has to keep moving and there is so much that is viewed in this way and for no good reason.

My intuition tells me, in terms of exhibition, is that I should a slight enlargement in the style of Da Vinci or Rembrandt - especially around the issue of the representation of the hand which is notoriously difficult to draw. The face wears its meaning directly - what a person feels is often visible to all. With the hands, so much can be said within the actorly form - acting gestures and here the Japanese and the Indian have refined gesture into an art form, but there is also the casual gesture of the hand as it twitches, or sweeps though space, or simply stays still.

So, my intuition is to slightly enlarge this depiction. One other thought is to project an image about the same size as a 50 inch plasma screen so that people, who after all love to imitate gesture, can intercede in the beam and imitate the gestures. Here I recall so much western art where touch is prohibited, yet so much of what I want to do in art is to allow the viewer to touch the work - at least, touch the virtual representation of the work so that a simple question is raised about truth, veracity, depiction and representation.

And this turns back on my other strand of work where people gather to join in a virtual meal together, a human act of the community to join together, and to imitate prior gestures made by people now virtually represented.

In speaking to the theologians within the Cathedral Community about what In Other People's Skins might do in terms of the theological and spiritual I was a little stymied. It seemed obvious to me that this wasn't just a Christian act for a start - it was an act of empathy, to place ones hands in another's hands, to try to imagine what it might be like to be another. But then the more the artist speaks the more the mystery is destroyed. However, for the purposes of my applications for funding I have to deliver critical reflections on what I am doing and have done. I look forward also to showing this work in Islamic, Buddhist and non-religious environments.

I look forward to exhibiting these works because that is where the insights and happy accidents come, that is where people tell you what you have in fact done which is so much more than what you intended. People speak back to you that which was in the remit of your not-self, intentions which were way beyond the mind of the artist.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

High Definition Aesthetics, Technology and Art

This is a rewrite of an earlier blog

IIn April this year at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, High Definition changed forever. Suddenly we leaped several generations and we gained the capacity, on everybody's desktop, to manipulate one of the highest levels of HD. Jim Jannard, a sunglasses manufacturer from Canada, managed to manufacture a new camera, called the Red, that might previously have cost half a million dollars. In fact, the camera body sells for $17,500. Red now works with Final Cut Pro the ubiquitous desk top editing system.


I am going to explore the rapidly changing face of HD and its impact, from the technical, aesthetic and societal perspectives
There are three aspects to this exploration:

The first is the understanding of HD through its mathematical base - which I shall show is affecting the development of high definition aesthetics.
The second will be a look at HD through my experience as an industry Director of Photography, because within that practice, elements that are under the radar or invisible to theory, exist.
The third is through my experience as an artist working in the video medium, because artistic intuition comes from a different perspective to intellectual proposition.

Then, I shall draw these three strands together.


I want to introduce an analogy that may be useful when thinking of HD: as the light falls at dusk and you are driving along, you might notice that the tail lights of the car in front seem much brighter than during daylight, and the traffic lights seem too bright and too colourful. The simple explanation for this phenomenon is that your brain is switching between two technologies in your eyes: the rods, inherited from our distant ancestors which were evolved for the insect eye to detect movement, are very numerous, (120 million). Through them you see mainly in black and white. The second technology is much more sensitive to colour: these are cones, which are far less numerous (between 6 and 7 million).
So, there are two technologies between which there is a physiological yet aesthetic borderland.

Keeping this idea in mind, it is becoming apparent that something similar happens when a certain level of resolution of HD is reached. A fluttering occurs, a switching between two states in the suspension of our disbelief. What is really interesting to me as artist is the boundary between the two states.


NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) recently conducted an experiment where it linked up a prototype 8k Super Hi Vision Camera to 18 one hour data recorders. The resolution of the image was immense and the subject of the test was a simple car ride lasting 3 minutes. In order to capture it, the SR data recorders were running so fast that they went through one hour's worth of recording in 3 minutes - all 18 of them. To display the image you have to imagine a normal computer display set at say 1280 x 1024 pixels. Now, imagine this display at this resolution, expanded to some 27 feet long.

This technological moment has echoes of the Lumiere brothers‘ screening in January 1896 of a train arriving in a station - some of the audience ran from the cinema in the belief that the train was real. At the NHK screening, the Japanese audience are reported to have found the experience so overpowering that many of them experienced nausea.

Let's look at some figures:

Standard HD is known as having 2k resolution - because it has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (1920 is close to 2000 - or 2K)

4k is 4096 x 2160 pixels

8k is 8192 x 4320 - this is NHK's Super Hi-Vision.

In each of the above, if you divide one by the other you will generate a figure of around 1.8 - and this is roughly a 16:9 relationship - the now common TV aspect ratio.


Any serious understanding of High Definition technologies requires a basic understanding of 'compression'. First the lens receives light and focuses it onto a charged coupled device or sensor, which then turns this into electrical impulses. Very early on in video a question arose for designers when far too much data was originated in this process. Solutions were proposed and the idea of throwing 'unnecessary' data away took hold. This method continues today: a contemporary HD camera like the Sony HD750 or HD900 simply doesn't record 500 of its 1920 pixels.

Simply put, data is a representation of the artifact, whether generated in or imported into the digital realm, and all representations have levels of veracity. A full representation is all the data of the original, and anything else is something that resembles the original but has less data in that representation. Most of today’s HD cameras have worked with a software technology based on Jean Baptiste Fourier's Discrete Cosine Transforms (DCT's), which breaks up the image data into tiles, so that each can be treated independently.

Recently though, we have seen the arrival of Wavelet transforms, (Fourier's theories were in place by 1807 but not truly mathematically understood until about 15 years ago). Wavelets have helped prise open Pandora’s box:

"Wavelets are mathematical functions that cut up data into different frequency components, and then study each component with a resolution matched to its scale. They have advantages over traditional Fourier methods in analyzing physical situations where the signal contains discontinuities and sharp spikes. Wavelets were developed independently in the fields of mathematics, quantum physics, electrical engineering, and seismic geology. Interchanges between these fields during the last ten years have led to many new wavelet applications such as image compression, turbulence, human vision, radar, and earthquake prediction. If you choose the best wavelet transforms adapted to your data, then your data will be sparsely represented. A wavelet transform is so designed so that it uses its internal structure to produce the most complimentary and accurate handling of the material. Amara Graps,

The critical difference between DCT's and wavelets is their use of sinusoidal waves because the function used in wavelets eventually returns smoothly to zero, whereas a sine wave has no beginning or end - it just keeps oscillating. This makes it very computationally intensive to do a DCT over a full frame. As one DP put it on the most professional of all HD lists, the Cinematographers Mailing List: "ummm, wavelets good, DCT bad."

Contemporary cameras and post production systems have been designed with DCT's and the manufacture of the relevant devices, cameras, proprietary editing and storage systems has been positioned to recoup the massive amounts of costly research that has been expended by big corporations. It is simply not in the interests of the bigger corporations to switch over to the new more elegant technology - Yet.


A pixel is effectively a packet of data that is represented on screen by a changing luminosity and a changing colour identity. As usual, the more pixels, the better. And we want to record as much data as possible. Currently, the highest form of HD image capture requires a hard disc - and not just any hard disc, but a Redundant Array of Independent Discs - a RAID. The only exception on tape is through Sony's SR deck which records data.

So what's a RAID? If I throw you a ball you might be able to catch it. If I manage to throw you 20 balls at the same time you have no chance. If I throw 20 balls at you and another 19 friends - you have a chance of catching them. A RAID Array uses a group of discs to catch large amounts of data. If you want to record 1920 x 1080 pixels with their full complement of data then you need read and write speeds of over 440 Megabytes per second.

Here is the rub. HD practitioners really don't want to distress an image that is already distressed by being compressed - especially if it means losing more data. If you do work on the image in camera, as the traditional film DP does, then you limit how much data is recorded - you have to work in the colour matrix. If you crush the blacks to get a 'look' you automatically reduce the data that is output into the image display. So current HD practice is to do very little in camera, so that every bit of data is carried back into post production, when the work on the image can begin. But I would contend that when you really look at images produced like this, you see that there is a thin patina over the image and the 'look' itself is not inherent within the image. I'm a romantic so I want the look within the image. I spent 30 years shooting video as well as film and I know it's possible.


If reality itself is extreme resolution, what is the DP trying to render within the image? Where does compression end and aesthetics begin?

Within contemporary aesthetics there are a series of tactics to 'say something' with light. These are used by mundane cinematographers unaware of the photographic within cinematography. These tactics if listed become mundane: a warm look for safety and comfort, blue for threat and alienation and a whole variety of other strategies.

Though there are DP's like Vittorio Storaro - whose famous colour theories produce incomprehension among the more prosaic and practical of cinematographers - yet who shot the masterly Apocalypse Now and has liked HD from the beginning - many standard film DP's have abhorred it.

Where Storaro works with colour and light in one way, the physiology of light enmeshed with the psychology, Conrad Hall (American Beauty, Day of the Locust) worked in another. His inventiveness and commitment was to the photographic within the cinematic arts. As his career progressed, and as Hall traversed the boundaries of contemporary wisdom about what constitutes good exposure, Hall influenced a whole generation of DPs on this issue.

Outside of the issue of film or HD, he came to understand that the still image gets at something that cinematography rarely gets at, and he was therefore concerned with finding the photographic moment amidst the flow of images. In describing Hall as searching for the photographic, I mean here he tried to find the extraordinary within the ordinary - this was a deep psychological quest.

Historically, in the clash between film and video, the film users were seen as craftsmen and video users were seen as being artless - video was obtainable and without atmosphere, film was arcane, it was a quest in itself, it had kudos.

On a Ridley Scott set in 1983, as he shot the famous 1984 Apple Mac commercial, I was shooting the “making of” material for Apple. As we were viewing back our rushes checking focus and exposure I became aware that about 20 people were standing behind us looking at our monitor.

Usually the film rushes would come back the next day to be viewed by the more select in the hierarchy. We stared at each other - two alien tribes at war with each other. This was a film crew that had never before seen what it had been shooting at the same time as shooting it. Then one of them grinned in pleasure at seeing our footage and suddenly, like the German and British troops in the first world war downing their rifles on Christmas day and playing football together, suddenly we were friends. From then on they stopped being hostile to us, even sometimes offering to move lights to let us have more illumination.

Historically film people are brought in to light HD because they are seen as artists. But they don't know the technology and video people are brought in to hold their hands and that has meant that mainly unaltered footage gets taken back into post to do the colour grading work - and therefore the 'look' is applied as an overlay to the image.


In film, cinematographers constantly distort the colour standards and definitions of film stock, to impose atmosphere. 'Atmosphere', like popcorn, shares a quality that allows the easy suspension of disbelief. If film manufactures say that development should occur at such and such a temperature, then heating up or cooling down the developer is a means by which the colour or grain or exposure may be changed in a pleasing way.

All cinematographers seek to distinguish themselves from the others, to have a signature. However, in High Definition, the form is less available to material manipulation and that work is left to post. Anyone interested in pushing the boundaries will have to find other strategies to get at the suspension of disbelief and generate atmosphere and it is my contention that simply to light well and to leave everything to post will not achieve the goal.

Some of the available cameras are mighty complicated and this can intimidate a person who has simply to get the job done - but the real answer is that the DP has to take on their time honored role of being both artist as well as the chief quality control technician.

It is art, it is experience, it is knowledge. It's obvious really.


And here I wish to turn our gaze to video artists, who have long pushed the boundaries of the form, and sometimes this has allied them with commercial forces. The 'downtime' agreements in New York in the '70's were an example where commercial facilities allowed artists to use the extremely expensive equipment during the night at very low cost, as long as they told the editors in the morning of anything they discovered during the night.

In my own practice I have often been enraptured by the simple act of making the work with such wonderful technology. This technology, like an internal combustion engine, functioned faster than the eye or mind. If you think that a car uses a series of miniature controlled explosions many thousands of times a minute - you can't help but wonder. And video, even analogue video, took one 64 millionth of a second to 'write' a line. Here I remember Bill Violas Zen-like observation:

Duration is to consciousness as light is to the eye.

Viola is proposing that the presence of light is why the eye evolved and consciousness evolved to deal with things that were more than momentary. In a medium where time is a factor, waiting reveals so much more.

Viola's roots lie in both the Buddhist proposition of Dependant Origination - that everything arises in relation to everything else - and the symbolism of renaissance painting.

My own roots really grow out of that moment that I realised that all things record an image: from a lowly rock which, if left in shadow long enough, records an image; to paper that has a leaf left on it in bright sunlight; to celluloid that holds a coating; to tubes, chips and sensors that react to light.


My first encounter with video tape was in 1976 with 2 inch analogue quadruplex, where one took a razor blade and cut it in two just like film then spliced it together to make an edit. Then the idea of re-recording came along and we set up machines to record the next bit of video in line.

Around 1982 I was managing a video facility in Soho called Videomakers. The owner of the studio was the son of an electronics inventor and watched whilst w etried to accomplish a simple dissolve between one image to another for a piece of art I was making. He excitedly told us that his father had successfully harnessed a computer to revolve a still image. With a little bit of development the image could be refreshed nearly 12 times per second - so by then doubling and interlacing by splitting the image into odd and even lines, a whole second of video and henceforth a moving TV image could be revolved.

In this case, through a sole inventor and not a corporation, we groped our way through the late analogue age into the early neo-digital and the main concern was how to adjust the thinking processes to cope with the new paradigm: the fact that with a digital event one had something that could be infinitely manipulated and how could one systematise the process - thus giving rise to 'the operations' as Lev Manovich has termed them.

Recently, noticing my daughter sleeping on a granite ledge in the sun, I turned the camera on to her. I videoed her as she woke up, unfurling from a tight embryonic shape. She got up and unselfconsciously walked away. When I got to the editing suite I found this moment and took the 10 seconds down to 30 minutes. As usual the accidents of the medium came into play and though there was value in the distortions in the image, I realised that given the same brief, if shot in high definition at high speed, this might unveil something more than the original standard definition version.

Though I have enjoyed the accidents that have come about through stressing the parameters of low definition equipment, HD equipment offers a different kind of unveiling of form: Image capture can be achieved without necessarily stressing the media.

This then prompts questions about the aesthetics of HD: given that a primary ingredient of the artists palette is the stressing of the medium to find surprises within the form, what new strategies can the artist or practitioner use to unveil a deeper insight into content. Though McLuhan tells us this should not be so, could the messages HD delivers be the beginnings of transparency ?

To return to Viola:

"Duration is to consciousness as light is to the eye".

Through talking about the way we experience the world directly using the terms of the experience, Viola's intuition has lead him to work in a certain kind of way. But High Definition can deliver not just duration, but articulation. So we might now restate his observation like this:

"Definition is to consciousness as luminosity is to the eye".

In calling my latest piece Unfurling, apart from the obvious movement that occurred, I am also touching on an unfurling of my own undestanding about the way a series of images function when depicting movement.


Can the representation carry any of the authenticity of the original? Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay comes to mind, on the question of representations of the original.

But why should the image I bring to mind of the Mona Lisa have less authenticity than the original from which my imagination has manufactured its own copy? After all I remember the feelings the original evoked in me - I come as close as I am going to get to the artist’s intent (be it voiced or held beneath his consciousness). If that which is communicated by the artwork resonates in me, is that not what is authentic about the original?

In 1987 John Wyver carried Benjamin's argument along with the help of Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virillio in his opening programme for the satellite station, La Sept - L'objet d'art a l'age electronique. At that time the world was concerned with analogue representations, which decay in their passage from copy to copy, from medium to medium.

So twenty years later the spirit of the question still stands: where is meaning, significance and value in the digital domain, given that the medium of reproduction and the medium of origination reside together in the same realm? Further, could not origination and copying be one and the same thing? Has the idea that things can be 'derivative' become defunct - is not everything both derivative and original at the same time?

If one proceeded with previous digital compression using Fourier's earlier mathethmatics then Benjamin's question might unveil a buried insight:

To copy is to decrease

And this might ring true, not only because things are changed in the act of copying (a kind of Chinese Whispers that renders exquisite corpses) but also because the representation itself is simply a Borg, a lessening, a copy without feeling. In other words the copy is without the 'true' sense of the original.

Is the idea of an 'original' anachronistic? Perhaps there is no such thing as an 'actuality' before the representation, before the data accrues? Are not our senses simply analogue-to-sensorium devices? Transmitters of empirical data to an organising processor - the mind?


As there is a blurring of the lines between form and content, so there is between software, hardware and that nether region of firmware which tells hardware to be something - rather than do something.

Through use of the net and digital media, a kind of Glass Bead Game is available. This is a game where one might take a bar of Mozart and place it next to a brushstroke by Matisse and a line of poetry by Omar Khayyam and so create a new work of art. In The Glass Bead Game (pub. 1943), Herman Hesse predicted post modernism and its bastard digital child "convergence”. Here, derivation is all - in fact it's been canonised. Hesse proposes the notion that authenticity is not only present in the copy, but it lends its weight and accumulates with the weight of other copies and their imbued authenticity and combines into new, authentic works of art. In some transformative way, the actions of the technology and the way the technology is being innovated is in itself a developing aesthetic.

So, on August 31st 2007 when Jim Jannard and Red delivered their first compliment of 25 Red cameras to a selected few, they set the world alight with their offer of cheap and high level wavelet technology and made it available faster than any previous technological advance of this order.

Crucially though, this development of User Generated Technology came out of an individualist trend that has somehow stayed alive through late liberal capitalism: About five years ago Jeff Krienes, a Director of Photography in California, was experimenting with a friend from Thomson Grass Valley on a prototype HD Camera. They'd become fed up with the slowing of technical innovation emerging from the big corporations so they created a camera that fulfilled not only their needs, but their aspirations. They made an aluminum case, which contained some electronics and a few chips, had a fitting on the front to take a 35mm lens and on top the stripped down carcasses of 20 iPods to RAID record the high data output. This camera had near the same specifications of the Red Camera. Though looking like the trailblazers, Red are in fact the inheritors of a User Generated, YouTube-like attitude to the production of technology.

What this means is, from early sole inventors in Fourier's time, we have just been through a long period where corporations, from the late analogue to the neo-digital age have controlled the means of innovation. But on entry to the meso-digital age, access to high level technical innovation is now again becoming possible for the individual - and this apparent individual engagement with technology (besides being the apogee of the celebration of the geek within) is a hallmark of the web2/digital era, and this trend is centering on the production of High Definition Technology. The commonality of information available through the web is also allowing a commonality of aspiration so that the User and now the Doer is also the Maker and the Knower of their own world. Through these changes, the definition of the self is expanding - the idea of what an individual is, is being re-defined and new resolutions of definition are being employed in that definition.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Five K ?

If you've been working in the moving image field as long as I have you'll notice a cyclical phenomenon which comes in waves about every 5 years. Overtly it looks like a change in technology, covertly it's a change in employment functions, which these days means that older more experienced people become extra to requirements.

Previous image technologies needed experience to manipulate them through their successive processes to achieve quality control. Like film. I used to joke that a good DP was at heart a quality control clerk. Following this, the century old question "Is a good DP one that can light beautifully, one that can light fast, or one that can light cheaply ? has a combined answer, and the answer is: preferably all three - and not only that, they should also be socially advanced and not just an autistic genius.

The point within this is that experience comes with age. Digital technologies require an older mode of adaptation - in the stone age the young are middle-aged at 25. The old die at 35. And this digital age emulates the stone age in that it is better that the technologies we have are more acceptable, more understandable to the younger rather than older.

As a presidential adviser said to the IBM group of managers responsible for the largest loss in commercial history - the silver back gorilla used to head the group. He was good at spotting danger and getting the group away - maybe up in the trees for safety. But then the paradigm for safety changed, when a man came out into the clearing with a machine gun - there was no tree high enough to save the experienced gorilla and his clan. Yes - my metaphor is that the machine gun is digitality. Well they shoot pictures don't they ?

As it happens, it was my job on that shoot to teach the IBM managers to make a TV programme to argue their case for continued employment and those that made the worst TV programme would be fired at the end of the week ! That was pretty stone age in itself.

So - the digital paradigm - the Aquarian paradigm - is that everything is open and that the data flow is overt as opposed to covert. I use the zodiacal metaphor here as it seems apposite - Pisces was occult, arcane, closed, hierarchical, only on a need to know basis etc and of course Aquarius in these terms is the opposite (although Hair was a fun musical it was sort of off beam). I love the fact that as Pisces was numerolgically the number 12 (think about it) Aquarius is numerologically the number ten - base ten, One and naught, on and off - yep - it's digital..

And with openness of data-flow then there is of course no rocket science - or rather rocket science itself is easily achievable as a series of processes that one puts together and given the off-the-shelf nature of software which is ever improving, then the base results one can expect from a young persons familiarity with the digital norm is simple 'professionalism'. There's no experience there of course, but digital software seeks to neutralise that factor.

So with 4k cameras, off the shelf rocket science, and a simple description of front end 'capture' (as opposed to cinematography) and workflow (used to be editing, grading etc) then Jo Didely, wet behind the ears (but with a programme to deal with that wetness) can point and shoot and edit and produce.

You might think my description is derogatory. Actually, outside of the comic name, it's just a description of a state of affairs.

So how relevant is 4k as a technological advance ? It seems like a revolution but we can't actually see the images produced without flying half way around the world to find a projector that is 'said' to project it- (as opposed to actually doing so), Well. it's only as relevant as everything that follows this technological advance - 8k, 16k, 32k, 64k, 1 gigahertz - up to eye level definition resolutions.

What I mean here is, and to pick up what I said at the beginning of this - if you've been around image generation for a while you'll notice that there's a 5 year technological sweep that occurs that makes the knowledge of those who know a lot, and therefore are earning at higher levels, redundant. In come the kids and out go the oldies, except for the more tenacious 'respected person' who can carve out a space for themselves one way or another.