Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Modular Transfer Function and (Imagined) Reality

I’m going to try to describe an important insight I’ve had into digitality. Loosely, the outcome of this insight has a simple end result: In describing the resolution of an image using terms derived from the analogue realm we are missing a crucial element. That element equates to looking at a landscape on a bright sunny day through a fog. That digital fog is described at the end of what follows.

The further you delve into a subject, the more you learn of course, but there’s a sense in which the width of your enquiry widens, the deeper you go. Visualize an iceberg and the tip that sits above sea level is what one might know, generally from day to day. Beneath the surface is the rest of the enquiry – both known and unknown to oneself. But as the journey of discovery goes on you find other relationships between what you have known and what you come to understand as important about your subject.

I am not a mathematician yet my enquiry about High Definition keeps indicating the importance of mathematics in terms of the deep understanding of the subject. Here I’m talking about a Newtonian world view in which you understand why this or that function happens – because it is dependent perhaps on a set of causes and effects – that’s why I’m using the term Newtonian – as opposed to Euclidian or to bring it up to date, Einsteinian.

The thing about the cogs and ratchets of reality is that as we enquire into the meaning function they represent, they actually tell us about a quantum world and do not necessarily tell us about the significance of things at a non-quantum level.

So there’s a problem about going deeply into your subject – you start to disassociate from reality as it is lived.

Mathematics is useful if you can bring its insights back to the 'surface'.

Film, using a description that is based on an understanding that is prior to analogue descriptions could be said to be 'alchemical'. A description of reality based upon 'Digital data technology' now speaks to us. Recombined elements that rely on signal values, though emulating what we believe we know about or own signal processor, the brain, is a best guess scenario – we don’t actually know how we interface with the brain, the common sense to all our other senses. A philosopher might say that we actually do not know and cannot know anything at all.

But I’m not a philosopher; in the end I’m a mystic – someone that actually believes in the reality of inner knowledge – through design you might say. I believe in in-tuition, in-spiration in-dependence, inner-revelation, in-sight.

I have always intuitively known about system noise. Any analogue system has system noise. Turn the volume up on an amplifier and speaker and you’ll hear hiss and hum, the former known as white noise. Any system has the effect of itself standing by to perform as an integral element of its performance. The signal to noise ratio of the system – that is how much noise the system generates from just being – is a definition of its efficiency. There is generally more noise in a cheap system than an expensive one because better components are used in the expensive system (though this is not always true of course).

Digital systems are different though. Analogue systems use their own elemental characteristics to reproduce sounds or images; digital systems use the neutral form of data description to represent sounds and images. What I mean here is that the analogue realm is analogous to the world it describes – it tries to imitate using what it is made of. Vibrations gathered at a mike are sent through a set of mathematical algorithms that try to imitate the original then output through the reverse of the original gathering unit (the mike, the speaker). Though digital systems use the same front and end bits, as son as the signal is gathered it is rendered into a set of values that seek to reduce the essential nature of the original to a mathematical description. As I have illustrated elsewhere to this article, up until recently they have inherited the prior analogue mathematics to do the work – that of Fourier’s discrete cosine transform. Only now are we moving on into Fourier’s Wavelet Transforms that are more sympathetic to what the digital realm essentially is.

Digits work best in describing life, as it is if they rise and fall in an analogue way. That’s difficult if you are essentially a packet of data. You’re either there or not there, whereas analogue increases then falls in a manner sympathetic to the way out senses apprehend the world. Imagine a train whistles in the distance approaching us, shifting pitch as it passes then fading away. Pure analogue response uses the medium of air to transmit through.

Fourier’s wavelet transform organizes data in a way that is analogous to the analogue approach. Quite simply it is a more intelligent use of the digital form.

I was reading more deeply about the way in which we make comparisons and judgments about resolution. The old analogue system used pairs of black and white lines of equal width in smaller and smaller widths to understand how much resolution was reproducible by a system. If we said a TV system had 800 lines resolution we were saying that above 800 lines you witness a blur, below 800 lines you could distinguish white and black lines. It was quite simple in the old days.

Now we understand something a little different about systems and resolution. I’m going to quote from Norman Koren’s excellent article on Modular Transfer Function at Please bare with this as if you don’t understand this sort of stuff and don’t ever want to understand this sort of stuff, the language itself says something about the study:

Systems for reproducing information, images, or sound typically consist of a chain of components. For example, audio reproduction systems consist of a microphone, mike preamp, digitizer or cutting stylus, CD player or phono cartridge, amplifier, and loudspeaker. Film imaging systems consist of a lens, film, developer, scanner, image editor, and printer (for digital prints) or lens, film, developer, enlarging lens, and paper (for traditional darkroom prints). Digital camera-based imaging systems consist of a lens, digital image sensor, de-mosaicing program, image editor, and printer. Each of these components has a characteristic frequency response; Modular Transfer Function is merely its name in photography. The beauty of working in frequency domain is that the response of the entire system (or group of components) can be calculated by multiplying the responses of each component.

The response of a component or system to a signal in time or space can be calculated by the following procedure: i) Convert the signal into the frequency domain using a mathematical operation known as the Fourier transform, which is fast and easy to perform on modern computers using the FFT ( Fast Fourier Transform) algorithm. The result of the transform is called the frequency components or FFT of the signal. Images differ from time functions like sound in that they are two-dimensional. Film has the same MTF in any direction, but not lenses. (ii) Multiply the frequency components of the signal by the frequency response (or MTF) of the component or system. (iii) Inverse transform the signal back into time or spatial domain. Doing this in time or spatial domain requires a cumbersome mathematical operation called convolution. If you try it, you'll know how the word "convoluted" originated. And you'll know for sure why frequency domain is widely appreciated.

What Norman Koren is talking about here is the way in which what we used to call system noise has its digital counterpart. Look at the picture at the front of this article. You’ll see a series of lines both black and white – that’s the ideal. Look at the picture at the end of this article. It has a series of line both black and white sitting on a field of grey. As the lines become thinner (therefore requiring more resolution) they decrease in contrast until they merge in to the background because the system itself has a limit on what contrast it can represent. As Norman describes above “the response of the entire system (or group of components) can be calculated by multiplying the responses of each component”.

I want to revisit the paragraph I wrote at the head of this article to bring this insight into focus: The further you delve into a subject, the more you learn of course, but there’s a sense in which the width of your enquiry widens, the deeper you go.”

The simple insight into the deterioration of resolution as its representation lessens in terms of frequency (use the metaphor of lessening of contrast to understand this) now powers along my enquiry and gives me inspiration and the resilience to continue. Using the metaphor at the head of the article: That element equates to looking at a landscape on a bright sunny day through a fog. So the grey background to the lines of resolution that deteriorate into grey from their prior black and white state is the fog I was talking about. As with all metaphors they only point at the situation and do not fully describe it - but they are helpful.

That other metaphor which like all statements of 'fact' is as much a metaphor as that of fog - simply a way of getting at the 'truth' of a situation. The description of the Modular Transfer Function has brought Fourier into my field of vision yet again and this alone tells me that at some point the revelation that is waiting concerning the actual nature of digitality is waiting to reveal itself. It’s just a question of taking a deep enough breath of air before diving ever deeper into the subject so that one remembers what one is diving for.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Playing with Light

I’m an English DP and have been lighting since 1980. When I first took up the craft I was privileged to be in the middle of Soho in London catering for a blossoming TV trade – it became important to learn the skills of lighting. Many years later, after numerous commercials, promos, TV dramas and four feature films I try to give back what I’ve learnt to the industry via teaching the incoming trainees that now flood into every educational institution around the world: Let’s face it, making moving images is the new rock and roll.

As a DP sometimes there’s a challenge to try to think outside the box to solve a lighting challenge – usually due to budget. Some years ago a friend of mine was directing music show for Channel 4 and his DP was about to be fired because he’d been asked to light the set low key but to keep any presenters or acts lit high key. Work it out – anyway that blew his fuse and he retired. I got the call and said of course I could solve the issue. Then I sat down and started musing on the problem. After puzzling over it for a couple of days, suddenly a solution came to mind: fortunately for me I’d seen a documentary on Cuban cinema a couple of months before. They didn’t have many lights available in Cuba at the time and so they took to carrying them around on the ends of booms so that when people moved the light moved with them.

That’s when I invented the ‘Ned Kelly’. I asked my partner who is an art director to make up a chicken wire cylinder about 15 inches high by about 10 inches in diameter. I cut out a slot about 8 by 10 at the front and put two layers of frost there, then coated the rest in black wrap. I hung a 1k total lamp at the back shining through the frost and hung the whole thing off a barracuda pole or polecat.The English sparks weren’t too keen on a job where they get to carry poles around with lights on the end, but after a while everyone warmed to the task and we got a low key show with high key presenters. I mention this here because this article is about invention and how one has to look at the world to then invent either a lighting unit or emulate a lighting effect one sees happening – and also about two men who have changed the way we light: Nestor Almendros and Mariano Fortuny – both Spaniards.

Some years before I had to go to Russia and there was neat little collapsible trace frame available that I took with me: A great solution for merging the output of several lamps and therefore having only one shadow. If you go travelling to shoot a documentary you don’t get to take too many lights along with you. When I shot the Patriarch of all Russia (during Glasnost) the man saw a bizarre combination of two trace frames with blue over and 4 lights passing through them. Double softness corrected to daylight.

When I got back I thought I could refine this idea somewhat: I invented something I jokingly called the Flaxbox – I’d heard a few years before that Jordan Cronenwerth had invented the Croniecone – something to slip over the front of a 5k or 10k to get soft light out of it, so I figured if he could call his unit after himself – so could I. I took the collapsible trace frame that was roughly 36 inches wide by about 30 inches long. I again asked my partner to construct a black material cover fortified by art card with a 12 inch central square hole in it. This could be mounted on a stand. In the middle of the square the front protruded out by one foot. At back of the frame I suspended a layer of trace, half way down the one-foot square protrusion I mounted another layer of trace. This provided double softening and a form of elementary barn door to specifically aim the soft light wherever I chose. It became a very beautiful portrait unit for various. The light was so soft you didn’t need any diffusion over the lens. You could put a pepper through it, a 1k, 2k or a 1.k2 or 2.5k HMI or any combination of lamps– whatever you put through it became one soft light source with hardly any shadow.I used to carry this around with me and if I got any difficulty from the star, then I showed them what I was going to do by sitting in front of my lamp and then I had to beat them off because they really wanted to be lit like I was! I remember doing a job for the BBC of all people where a super gigantic star (in ego terms too) had a full time lighter. I let him do his job then lit my interviewer and this particularly acute woman saw the image on the monitor and demanded that she swap places to get into the presenters light. I don’t know what happened to the full time guy after this.

I sometimes teach one and two day lighting courses and I pride myself on an apocryphal history that takes into account all of the accidents that fill the annals of our craft that stem from lousy budgets but then provide the most interesting lighting techniques: i.e. low budgets on quota quickies produced film noir lighting – the thinking was, if you do a ‘proper job’ because you haven’t enough lighting units and crew, then create shadows for dramatic effect.

On these courses I tell my apocryphal history starting with the idea that everything on our world can manifest an image. If you leave a stone on another stone long enough then a shadow of that stone will be left. Of course that idea leads to the idea of ‘film speed’ measured in ASA or DIN, which at the very beginning were around half an ASA.

So, on starting I ask one student to sit in front of the class and in front of a camera and another student to turn out the light on the cue of the word ‘light’. Then the classroom is plunged into darkness. I wait for a little while waiting for people’s sensory systems to settle down and move around so that they become aware of sound. I then turn on an angle poise and move around the subject aiming the angle poise at them and ask the remaining students to note what looks good and what doesn’t and then note where the light is.

I then talk about creating separation when you have hardly any tones in black and white, and the simple development of sets outside that can be slowly rotated to face the sun…. I speak about film speeds increasing and therefore having the development of a key light that replicates the Californian sun’s height and the beginning aesthetic awareness that offsetting its angle to the face to avoid direct to full face lighting creates modelling on this egg shaped object we have on out shoulders. I talk about how the Californian sun is low enough to get under the brows and show the eye sockets – but that when the key light is offset you need a fill light to fill in the nose shadow at lower intensity to the key light – etc.

I talk about placing materials in front of lights to mitigate their hardness and about placing materials like stockings in front (or behind) the lens to affect the way the light gets to film. I talk about Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo liking particular cameramen because they kept them beautiful for camera – I talk about the development of film noir – and eventually I come to the seminal moment of modern film lighting experienced by a Spanish cinematographer working in Cuba.

In my lighting classes I demonstrate the effects of all of these different things. I get the students to take on practical challenges to find out things – if this is how you light one seated person – how do you light two? I begin with the very first moment when I get a student standing by the light switch and on cue turning the lights off at the first mention of light and keeping the students in the dark whilst talking about the beauty of light and letting their sensory systems settle down into dark mode. All the way through I tell them that their aesthetic is what they must develop and that this is characterised by a set of likes and dislikes about what is good and fitting and most importantly with a discriminative mind that understands how what they like is produced and how to deduce how what they are seeing on TV and at the movies is produced.

But then the moment comes when after 50 or more years of hard, direct light (albeit greatly moderated by various techniques – and also the advent of 9ASA Tripack Technicolor after the war – suddenly the moment of transition comes. I show them a 100% increase in quality of light over all that has gone before and then tell them the tale of how it came about:

Nestor Almendros was born in 1930 and brought up in Barcelona – a Spanish cinematographer. He immigrated to Cuba in 1948, where he began making amateur films with young Cubans friends, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. He later studied filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale in Italy, and supported himself in New York as a Spanish language teacher, while also conducting his own experiments in cinematography.

Nestor Almendros 1930-1992

Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, he returned to Cuba, where he secured a job with the state film department, making films for the Cuban Government. One day whilst filming in the interior and because there was no electricity to be had, Almendros had to rig up a mirror, a techniques he had developed, outside the front door of the building, then aim it down the passageway onto another mirror which shone directly to a third mirror which then angled the light at the subject.

This alone should be enough to take the breath away in terms of invention. Yes we’ve all done this sort of thing but to be doing it so far back with film that was possibly only maybe 25 to 50 ASA – that’s stunning. But then something happened, Almedros heard a crash whilst setting up his first two mirrors and found that the third mirror had fallen and smashed but that the beam of light hit the white wall and created an almost holy glow around the subject. Almendros was transfixed at its beauty and proceeded with the work – transformed.

His work was seen in the Paris documentary festivals of the next few years and the audience members, Goddard, Truffaut, Rohmer etc –saw that his work was great and by 1964 he shot Eric Rohmer’s segment of the Nouvelle Vague portmanteau film Paris Vu Par (1964; Paris Seen By). Then in 1967 he shot Rohmer’s feature film La Collectionneuse - he went on to shoot seven more films for Rohmer (among them, Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969; My Night at Maud's), Le Genou de Claire (1970; Claire’s Knee), and Die Marquise von O… (1976), and nine for Francois Truffaut (including Domicile Conjugal (1970; Bed and Board), L'Histoire d'Adèle H (1975; The Story of Adele H), and Le Dernier Métro (1980; The Last Metro). Almendros’ invention of bounced as opposed to direct light was favored by the film-makers of the New Wave because of its realistic feel in opposition to the glamorous techniques of mainstream cinema.

Almendros then made his first foray into American film-making with the Roger Corman-produced The Wild Racers (1968) and Cockfighter (1974), but it was with Days of Heaven (1978), directed by Terrence Malik, that he made his name in America. In the film, shot in rural Alberta, Canada, Almendros abandoned the artificial effects employed by modern cinematographers in favor of natural light. The deliberate simplicity of Almendros’ technique led to conflict with the film’s technical crew, who were unused to such austerity, but the results were exceptional, bringing Almendros an Oscar for Best Photography. Make no mistake – though all inventions are a result of the development of the Zeitgeist and many photographers were heading in this direction – really, the invention, or rather paradigm change of that of mainly using bounced light came from Almendros.

At least that has been my apocryphal tale up until very recently. Here, by the way, I make no apologies for inaccuracies and inconsistencies in my tale save that the basic truth of it is right because it is a question of inspiration when teaching and pulling inspiration, intuition and creativity out of those you teach and if I have to get them into a more visionary space by creative inaccuracy – then so be it. But, just to set the record straight here is a passage from Almendros’s book, ‘A Man with A Camera’:

Working in the countryside and in places we had to use our ingenuity to film inside the huts of Cuban peasants. We had no artificial lighting because it was expensive to take a crew of electricians with us. We thought up the idea of using mirrors, capturing the sunlight from the outside, reflecting it in through the windows and directing it to the ceiling, from where it bounced and lit the whole place. Because the huts were rather dark and the walls dull-colored, we had to cover them with white paper to reflect as much light as possible. I should point out that around that time fashion photographers began using light reflected off white umbrellas. I knew about these methods, though as yet they were not much used in filmmaking. They were techniques I perfected later in France.

Well, the story I’ve been telling is near the truth, but here’s the thing, I think we can all agree that bounced soft light is what the industry is using worldwide – yes it takes more control, flags, baffles etc, but bottom line it’s where we are now. For a start, soft bounced light makes the hideousness of the live digital video signal feel a bit better – whether it’s a ghastly little Z1 all the way up to an Origin, Genesis, F23 or Red – soft light begins the cinematographic process with video – and film just loves it (of course film loves all sorts of light that’s why everyone just goes fluffy when using film).

I think perhaps Julia Margaret Cameron may have known about bounced and reflected light and then later, when movie film became fast enough for interior studio use, the great banks of mercury vapor lamps might also have been emulating the kind of work that Almendros was to later come upon and develop.

So, though we need direct light to create certain elements within the frame we’re can all agree that soft light is useful and contemporarily dominant? Well, just to challenge this history I’d like to introduce a new idea: in 1904 there was a Spaniard (yes, that nation does have an edge on others in the invention of lighting techniques) called Mariano Fortuny.

If you know your history you’ll know the name, but perhaps more in terms of design of fabrics. costumes and wallpapers. Here’s a tip: Next time you go to Venice, go to the Fortuny Museum, which is Fortuny’s old residence of the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei – it’s a museum like no other in the world. But I don’t want to digress.

Mariano Fortuny was born in Granada in the Fonda de los Siete Suelo at the foot of the Alhambra on 11th May 1871. In 1874 his farther died in Rome and in 1875 his mother Cecilia was induced to move the family to Paris. Fortuny copied a Velasquez at the age of 9 and he was sent to learn at the feet of Benjamin Constant. Fortuny frequented the studio of Rodin when he learned about liberating the form from the stone.

Mariano Fortuny 1871-1949

Fortuny was restless in his enquiries about materials and techniques and he was stimulated by the early technical innovations such as that of electrical lighting – this became a dominant idea in his mind as he discovered through a friend of the family, a painter named Boldini, the theatre. What really captured Fortuny’s imagination was a trip behind the scenery, where he saw what the magic of theatre was constructed from which is of course very similar to motion pictures – bar the medium of recording and inscribing the image of course. For Fortuny though, he began to build small models of theatres and sets and he then also became involved in thinking about the possible applications of electricity, physics and optics in the theatre. It was this period and being shown deeper elements of the construction of a theatrical event by a Spanish painter, Egusquiva, that were to stay with Fortuny as he began to invent new techniques of theatrical practice that will be recognized as being at the base of contemporary theatrical technique – as well as being at the base of cinematographic technique!

In 1889 Fortuny’s mother moved the family back to Venice where their house on the Grand Canal became a busy meeting place for artists and writers. Not only did Fortuny paint and etch and practice all of the traditional methods for studying art, he also practiced music, photography and set design. By 1899 he had grown enough to be commissioned by a Countess Albrizzi to design the set and costumes for The Mikado. He then obtained the top floor of a Palazzo where he eventually came to live and it was here that he began his studies of light and experimented with lighting systems finally developing his indirect lighting system:

In the attic of Palazzo Orfei where I worked, the sunshine fell across the floor in a clean slash. As I was arranging the paper for the stage backdrop, it fell exactly into this sunlit area. I stopped in surprise. There, in that low and dim attic, the light that was reflected off the paper was exactly what I had been looking for: not direct light, but reflected light.

In a production at La Scala with the orchestra directed by Toscanini, Fortuny developed sketches for costume and set and with some opposition from La Scala’s stage technicians, he also attempted to implement parts of his new stage lighting system. The technicians may have been suspicious, but the press was ecstatic with the lighting effects and he then registered his first patent for an ‘indirect stage lighting system’. He went to Paris in 1902 and dedicated himself to the construction of stage lighting equipment and to the creation of a device commonly known as the ‘Fortuny Dome.’ It was a concave quarter sphere that was used with his indirect lighting system to enhance the depth effect on the stage set.

With the help of my capable technician, I built my dome of out of plaster 5 meters in diameter. We projected reflected light upon it and added other colored lights, creating fusion and transition effects and a variety of hues that invariably impressed all visitors.

On 6th April 1904 he registered an invention entitled ‘Systeme de constituton d’une paroi concave au moyen d’une capacite gonflable’. Fortuny had created a dome for the Countess and added the following refinement: The walls of the dome were made of two parallel layers of fabric supported in a metal frame. A fan blew air between the two layers, creating pressure and making the surface toward the stage completely smooth. In addition to his complex stage lighting system, Fortuny had the chance to install other new equipment in the theatre. For the first time, he introduced a bridge and then a second walkway above the stage, used by stage technicians to mount the lights. Not only this but he created a system to raise and lower the stage and for the first time ever in the history of theatre, he installed a director’s booth at the back of the auditorium for the lighting operator, who could better direct the lighting effects to the stage.

I’ve used the term ‘theatre’ in a lot of the above description of Fortuny’s activities, but it shouldn’t take much imagination to see what effect Fortuny has had on contemporary lighting and also cinematic studio design. But – not only this. Fortuny created designs for fabric, patented carbon-pigment photographic paper, advised Klimt on the use of gold in his painting, created set design and lighting effects, photographed, played music, researched the history of fabric and created pleated silks inspired by Egyptian Design that later influenced Issey Miyake’s work in the 1970’s and onwards – and, invented many domestic lighting units that are now present in their modern day forms in every household. His wood and metal table lamp of 1929 is the ancestor to Pixar’s dancing lamp.

By the way - every lamp in this article outside of my two are designed by Fortuny - go back and have a look at the wit, intelligence and inventiveness of the man.

There’s a lot more than this but the point of bringing Fortuny into an article about cinematographic lighting technique is the issue of noticing how light behaves and acting on that recognition. Many distinguished cinematographers and gaffers create lights to do specific jobs – Jordan Cronenweth’s famed Croniecone used on films like Blade Runner are a case in point – but, can you imagine a moment perhaps in the 17th Century, or the 6th Century – or maybe way back in our collective pasts where some bright person noticed and became transfixed by the way light bounces, reflects, glows, or passes through a medium like water or smoke and has an epiphany that is then translated into a practical act: for those of us that work with light, that most insubstantial but most powerful of materials I think it helps to know that we exist within a tradition that goes far beyond the cinema that we know and love.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Making the Unreal Real

I haven’t written for a while and that’s because I’ve been very busy with the launch of In Other People’s Skins at Winchester cathedral in the UK. The history of its production can be seen in my previous blogs and there’s even a ‘Making of’ video which you can watch by clicking the link to the right. I hope at a later date to add some video from the open evening at the cathedral, which shows the truly amazing response this piece of work has received. Here though I want to focus on something that was previously a theory and has now become an actuality: High Definition visual elements can be mistaken for ‘real’ things.

My theoretical proposition was that at dusk there is a shifting between two optical elements within our eyes and minds, which can lead to mistaking what is actually happening before us. As the light lowers our eyes have to switch between the cones and rods, the former well adapted from a mammalian past for seeing colour and the latter inherited from our far distant insect past where movement and visual acuity in the dark was most important. During the switch over, the two technologies are switching back and forth in our minds as the ‘common sense’ tries to make some systematic choice about the correct light level to work with and therefore the correct technology.

What happens at dusk is that we see certain things at a far brighter colour intensity than they actually are: The traffic light is too green or amber, the brake lights on the car in front too intense.

Taking this example as an analogy for what happens in high definition imaging, according to my theory, there should be a place where we actually mistake the image for the real. This was confirmed during the open evening at Winchester in two ways: One bright person saw the image of the plates moving on the table and actually thought that the real white plates I’d placed on the table to catch the virtual images, were moving.

Another very visual person that I know saw one of the white plates on the table whilst only the image of the red table cloth was being projected on to it and for a moment wondered where the red plate had come from - before what was previously known by her, that the plate was white and had red projected on to it, came back into her mind to reconfirm that this was an optical illusion and that the plate was in fact white. In both cases the borderline of the real and imaginary was crossed. True immersivity had been achieved.

I’m not interested in parlour tricks at all. It is of no interest to me to ‘trick a viewer. What I am interested in is exploring this borderline place to find out how we may be affected by the technology that we inhabit. It is an ontological enquiry and I realise several things about the work that I have made: essentially it is a work about belief and this is very appropriate given that the work is exhibiting in a space dedicated to a belief – not a place dedicated to knowledge of something, but about faith in belief as a route to knowing. But that’s by the by. In Other People’s Skins is concerned both in terms of form and in terms of content with the act of belief, and the immersiovity and interactivity it engenders should lead the viewer to think about belief and therefore commitment.

This is a philosophical enquiry that should in the end generate a tolerant approach to ideas. We will see.

Also the work as I have just mentioned is also about interactivity – about doing and being. Some people have mentioned that there is no interactive element in the technology. This is after all a projection and it amuses me to think that this work could have been made at the end of the 19th century at the beginning of cinematography with a projector, a mirror and a table and chairs. But actually this is an interactive work. People simply cannot stop moving the plates around the table. It invokes an obsessive compulsive response to reposition the real plates where the virtual plates are projected. Of course the image changes all the time and therefore the plates must continuously be moved to be in the ‘right’ place.

I think this element is similar to the immersive question that virtual reality designers were up against in the 1980’s. It was believed that if you put some goggles on and then project an image of a virtual world you could experience that world. But of course to convince a person of their presence within a virtual space it had to look ‘real’ and of course reality takes no prisoners, it is as high resolution and definition as it gets, so no graphic representation can fulfil the requirements of belief.

Interestingly, immersivity can be obtained without this sort of literal approach. Get 4 people playing monopoly and you achieve immersivity – not the literal conviction that the 4 people are warring capitalists, but a joyful commitment to the game rule sufficient to keep the people occupied in the same way that they would be if committed to a ‘real world’ act. Equally, interactivity can be obtained without this literal element where people have to press Pavlovian ‘buttons’ to achieve a response from the person (i.e. walk into a sound or infra red beam to trigger some kind of event).

So, by allowing people to sit and touch this virtual work they become engaged with the interactive and immersive sides of their own nature and together with the paraphernalia of the artwork itself, table chairs, plates candles, projector, computer, tent – all of it – they themselves are the artwork. This is my first discovery within the high definition medium and as my enquiry proceeds, I hope to understand and articulate what the issues are and then create and make work that inhabits this particular borderland of our experience.