Monday, 26 July 2010

The study of the effects of Resolution: the entertainment industry and academic positions

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

As an AHRC Creative Research Fellow with special regard to high resolution imaging, I have spent the last three years exploring this area through the use of a static camera looking at how increases in resolution affect the choice about what images are gathered and how the audience then responds to that choice. In short I wanted to understand what happens when resolution increases in an electronic moving image. My use of static camera was about starting at the beginning, much like early film, with similar choices about natural light, though film choices were related to how much exposure they needed to excite the silver solutions with. I use this methodology because I believe from long practice as a cinematographer that the addition of movement raises the complexity of the study by a geometric factor. So eventually, when I fully understand and are capable of articulating the issues of static camera and resolution increase, I will study the effects of moving camera and resolution increase.

This all cannot help but necessarily lead to the idea of ‘research’ itself and though I try to speak about what I have discovered in my search – oddly called ‘re-search’ which tips a nod to the notion of a priori (pre-knowledge) as opposed a posteriori (knowledge reasoned through experience or ‘fact’) and rediscovery of what one already knows through being born in to this kind of thinking (I know, my upbringing gives me a Platonic world view, but I do try to break out occasionally and look away from the shadows on the cave wall). So all of this must lead towards the nature of what an enquiry is, who is enquiring and what their vested interests might be.

To give you some insight to those issues in relation to myself, I am working to a basic tenant: that the twin purposes of academia are to teach and to reason – the two are not disconnected – and inherently in both is that they have a benevolent impact on society.

Later this year I shall begin organising a series of symposia and conferences on various issues around image making. These will be variously for academia and also the professional realm as a primary audience. One of these conferences is set for March 2011 and will explore the current state of digital video technology – though as the symposia progress I shall try to assert a different terminology. For instance, Digital Cinematography no longer utilises video technology, but rather raw digital capture technology. As a colleague of mine argues: ‘recent advances in video recording technology, notably the development of the Red camera, have had a revolutionary effect on work practices within the screen production industry. Film is rapidly becoming video history’.

This is an interesting argument but I believe it is only part-correct and should read: ‘Film and video are rapidly becoming Digital Cinematographic history’, where the idea of digital cinematography is easier to understand for the non technical person rather than ‘raw data acquisition and treatment’, which is what it actually is. Video is of course a different medium to Digital Cinematography (or its other title, Electronic Cinematography), for various esoteric reasons. But the base line is that video begins and ends with an image, whereas Digital video starts as data and ends – in a way analogous to film - as an image. Both video and data raw come to the same place but begin differently. When exposed, video is fixed in its exposure – with Digital Raw you can return to the source data and reset its exposure index before again re-rendering it into the image domain.

Both Film and Digital Cinematography record a latent image and then develop, or render that image into a perceivable and then pliable form. Film leaves behind it a series of atifacts: rushes, negative, answer print, release prints etc, but Digital Raw produces materials as extensions of its raw state which can be returned do indefinitely and it is therefore ‘non-destructive’. Undeveloped Negative film is transmuted into negative film which holds a negative image – digital raw, effectively source data in a handy package can transmute or render into any of its states and still be accessed as digital raw. To reiterate, after exposing film, it is set in an exposed state with a set of fixed values which realate to its exposure indices. When Digital Raw is exposed, one can return to it and then re-set it’s exposure index before proceeding through it’s subsequent processes. This is unique amongst image gathering mediums.

And I utilise this property regularly.

Our conference will also go on to discuss how digital technology promises to bring ultra high-definition imaging (with eight times the resolution of HD video) and ultra high-speed recording (of up to 2,000 frames per second) into mainstream screen production.

We have a series of questions to ask around this assertion: What do these numbers mean? Will the next generation of HD technology approach a technological sublime or simply stimulate new levels of commodity fetishisation? In trying to answer these questions, our symposium will engage with possible futures for digital video technology, now that the screen industry’s digital ‘revolution’ has apparently ended.

So, as I have researched into the effects of resolurtion, standard tv has taken up High Definition imaging as an adjunct to standard image gathering. This has lead to an emphasis on the spectacular: the shot of the tree canopy where the landscape falls away to reveal a waterfall and a gathering pool some 7000 feet below; wilderbeest on their long migration across the African savanna coming to a steep bank into a river which sme will die in negotiating; the polar bear as it gingerly slides its way across thin ice whilst its cub bats at its feet oblivious of the danger to both.

Here, broadcast TV has sought to integrate its higher definition image gathering into its flow of entertainment and consequently whilst the trailer images have some sort of impact, when homogenised into the flow of a standard piece of documentary entertainment the high resolutions simply become part of the flow and experience of being entertained. Sky TV for instance, being nakedly interested in subscriptions, pushes HD as a selling point whereas the BBC tries for the Reithian goal of educating the British masses.

Meanwhile Hollywood has sought to deal with the passing of analogue photo-chemical film and the move into electronic digital cinematography. On a meta level the exposing of film to then capture a latent image which then required developing to reveal the negative image is similar to raw digital image acquisition requiring light to also gather a latent image and then rendering (developing) to reveal a captured positive image. In a sense raw data capture has more in common with earlier reversal film which also revealed a positive image than it does with negative film.

However, the latitude of the positive digital image has a similarity in terms of its exposure and latitude of response with film negative (as opposed to the narrow margins of exposure of reversal positive film). The main point is that working professional cinematographers have embraced digital raw as commensurate with their needs – in fact it is a rare photo-chemically gathered film that now does not go through a digital intermediate process (DI) before once more being scanned out to photo -chemical film for distribution. The slow move to Digital projection is one dependent on economics, not aesthetics.

The issue of the development of a cinematographic high resolution aesthetic circles around Hollywoods’ use of the image, which like that of TV is to subjugate a potential developing aesthetic to its own needs – in this case to raise a spectacular response from the audience in a different way from TV. That use has been discussed many times in papers and journals but circles around the involvement of the audience in a passive way to the spectacle. The audience sits in the dark and expects to be entertained.

High resolution imaging which initially indicated that people would spend more time looking and therefore needed far fewer cuts in a moving image entertainment, far from limiting the amount of cuts in a movie, proceeds unabated. In blockbuster movies shot with digital capture the amount of cuts is still at an all time high so the effect of high resolution is obviated and reduced by its formal use. (please See Salt, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis – plus then examine for yourself a film like District 9 for the background to this assertion).

Then there’s the thorny issue of depth of field; thorny because there’s an almost universal and unquestioned allegiance to the idea that low depth of field is good because it is somehow one of the main marks of the act of creating cinema and that anyone worth their salt knows this. But of course it is an opinion and therefore can be argued against – especially in relation to images that are formed intentionally in high resolution.

Cinema has several of these markers, camera movement, wide aspect ratios, low depth of focus (or depth of field of focus). The latter is about isolating the subject from the background – making the subject stand out. It has been favoured by cinematographers because they too see the value that mid-second millenial painters used between 1550 – 1650. It is a technique similar to the use of chiracuso in painting championed by Caravagio – where the painter utilises a technique of isolating the foreground figure to give precedence to what they want us to look at in the painting. So the cinematographer values a tool that gives them power. But unlike the painter who in the past was also shackled to the desires and motivations of the patron, (be it bishop or merchant) the cinematographer is not the sole artist within the collaborative act of making an entertainment like a movie.

What is not often discussed in relation to the aesthetics of cinema, is that with the rise of the idea of the auteur, which defeated the 1930’s practice of leaving the movement and orientation of the camera to the DP because he was the only person who had the training to know what would come back as next days rushes – with the rise of the idea of the auteur – he who knows all creative practice - the DP rarely gets to choose anything at all. The director has become more versed in the use of camera and lenses and with the aid of the grader or colourist can now completely sideline and demote the cinematographer to quality control clerk during the production process – formally the DP worked in this role throughout the entire process from pre to post production – as well as integrating artistic values and championing these above the demands of mammon.

The journals that champion the Director of Photography’s role, such as the American Society of Cinematographers Journal, were initiated as an act of PR to aggrandise that role and therefore keep the rates of pay high and they spoke in terms of the cinematographers art and used the language of the mercantile sailor. The DP was said to ‘helm’ a movie or in some case ‘lensed’ it – meaning ‘captained the good ship Hollywood to port’.

But the art of the cinematographer is is more truly a craft – because all of the signs and markers of the craft are learnable – whereas art has an indefinable element within it that is not learnable –rgardless of the philistine moves of advertising executives like Charles Saatchi to colonise the meaning of Art. Of course all practices - and this includes crafts - can be transcended and in so doing the practitioner elevates the act to an art. But all too often simple mediocre work is positioned as art because the cinematographer sees him or herself as the gatekeeper against mammon – when in fact they are fulfilling the role of a security guard or night watchman. Someone has to do this after all.

But in this gate-keeping, cinematic tropes have grown to prominence that are counter productive – especially in relation to seeking out a high resolution aesthetic.

In terms of the nomenclature of producing images, title like, Lighting Camera, Cinematographer, Lighting Director or Director of Photography, - The 1st and third come from TV, the 2nd and fourth come from cinema – though the fourth is being used in TV these days (especially in the UK because the more times a DP is credited as such on TV the more likelihood they’ll be voted into the British Society of Cinematographers. As the BSC says it is unapologetically an elite organisation. Membership guarantees respect and respect guarantees employment. In other countries there is less class associations than in the UK – but then the UK is the worlds most class based society (in any meaningful way related to exportation of values). All of these titles derive from an economic necessity and relate to a role on a particular kind of production. There is also a relationship between the nomenclature used and the level of budget and the kind of product to be generated.

To return with force to the technical arena – if standard TV images are generated at roughly one quarter of high definition at .5K effectively, where K refers to 1000 lines of resolution, then current Digital Cinematography gathers images mainly at 2k, though the Red One argues that it gathers at 4k resolution. It should be born in mind that High Definition images are 1920 x 1080 pixels – whereas 2k is 2048 x 1024 (in some systems) So the term HD is in fact a consumer term.

Red One cameras are 4096 x 2048, but when truly measured their value with regard to Modular Transfer Function is 3.2k. So the caveat to add to any claim about the resolution of a system is that all image gathering is conditioned by Modular Transfer Function – the simple rule of algorithms, that as with the phrase, ‘a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link’, whatever the level of resolution of gathered image and its pathway through rendering, post-production and display, the module of lowest resolution within the pathway is the conditioning resolution of the entire chain. So, the accepted resolution of a Red 4k image is in fact, 3.2k (under laboratory test).

There are issues around film being scanned at 6k rather than 4k for capture in the digital domain and also that the 2k standard is some 4 times less resolution than 4k – and so on. The argument might be put forward that film could be seen as having a higher resolution that Digital, but the reality is that most film is witnessed by an audience at 1k after its degradation through answer prints and release prints and then its final degradation though old, low resolution lenses on standard cinema 35mm projectors. Besides that I have it on good authority (people on non-disclosure contracts with the military, so I cannot site the sources) that experiments with 64k are happening.

Academia has itself fielded a common response to the digital realm by maintaining that the digital is immaterial in form – due fundamentally to its disappearance when the electricity is turned off – yet the outbreak of commercial digital development laboratories belies that assertion. If the digital has no materiality, Hollywood doesn’t agree – it makes its money where it can and its belief in digital materiality challenges the standard academic response.

Academia as a branding system for the ‘excellence’ of scholarly studies, or more precisely as an acknowledged regulation system for the practitioners of fact gathering and the proposing of systematising of ideas into easily digestible formulas for the exposition of learning, has a huge amount of stupid people working within its boundaries.

What I mean by this inflammatory statement, and I use it as a shock tactic to get my audience to sit up and take notice, is that many leading media academics propagate the acknowledged and accepted value system within their research area.

The 19th cetury project to organise material reality derived from Renaissance rediscoveries of Greek ideas, then proceeding on through Enlightenment values, which danced around the development of scientific materialism, which then developed into an obsessive compulsive gathering and cataloguing of ‘facts’ in the 19th Century - became a project that embraced systemisation, but which also encoded system errors into its outcomes.

With a nod to Ivan Illych and as a particular instance, his concept of ‘iatrogenisis’, where contemporary allopathic medicine produces at least as much illness as it cures – the system of academia produces blind-spots in knowledge, not necessarily in facts (but that has happened), but in knowledge - and knowledge is a product of the age-old human project of getting wisdom – where wisdom is an integrative and gestalt collation of ideas as opposed to a linear analytic system.

In Greek sophistry above the temple gate of Pythagoras it is written ‘In all thy getting, get wisdom’. The Sufi tales of the Mulla Nasrudin, the holy fool of Islam, often use the stupid scholar (stupid because all he sees is what is immediately in front of him and not the whole) as the butt of his joke. The story is of four blindfolded wise men and an elephant for instance, where one thinks it a water spout (trunk), another a fan (ear), a another a pillar (leg) and the last a throne (the elephants back). Many cultures have this story of the folly of too much learning – or fact gathering,

The Persian poet Rumi uses this story as an example of the limits of individual perception: The sensual eye is just like the palm of the hand. The palm has not the means of covering the whole of the beast. But – of course it is important to have the university system as guardian of the practice of knowledge. Someone has to do it. Especially as the internet is bringing access to all kinds of knowledge to the general populace – and like the practice of alternative medicines and the blurred boundaries of good practice, there needs to be a systematizing and guarantee of the quality of the practice – we are in danger of academia being marginalized and sidelined. Hence many governmental value systems for generating impact.

Yes we can stand back and criticize this on many levels – especially if our academic value system is rooted in early medieval values derived from religious institutions which focused on the project of the importance of learning – but we are out of joint with the times if we simply criticize and offer no constructive ideas towards regenerating the project of academia.

So, given the above, it is our solemn duty to challenge simple values that are propagated without due thought and critique and in my very tiny instance is I wish to interrogate the idea that the digital is immaterial in form. For me this is derived from a scientific materialist position that cannot accept a reality that cannot be touched – just like Thomas from the disciples of Jesus. It is Judeo-Christian and archaic in value and in form.

A system derived from a set of empirical sensations accepts that somehow, what one senses is ‘right and true’. However, there is nothing innate in the argument that believing something to be true of course makes it true. That is a false argument. But then arguments are part of the sensory mechanism that validates everything that we are and validation itself is a moving feast.

I also detect an adverse reaction to the thinking that attuning ‘natural philosophy’ with metaphysics – a pre-enlightenment position that is no longer valid. Since Heisenberg formulated his uncertainty principle there has been no going back when thinking about material things. They simply do not exist. Like the Buddhist world view that accepted that all things co-dependently arise, we as academics simply have to be more open to possibilities – even if they are truly uncertain and unpredictable – and immaterial.

So – with regard to my study of how resolution affects both what the maker makes and how this is experienced by the audience, the key issue is the relational and inter-subjective paradigm that is developing. Here I would site new ways of evaluating what is happening to the audience by using ideas like entrainment and synchronicity to set the basis for the evaluation – but that is the next part of the argument.

Please either read the post that follows

New Understanding of the mimetic and the diegetic in the creation of Art

or go to my paper:

New Understanding of the mimetic and the diegetic in the creation of Art

which I gave at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Art in July 2010.

New understanding of the mimetic and the diegetic in the creation of art

This is an image free version of a paper I gave at the Xi'an Academy of FIne Arts, July 2010

First the audience sees my short experiment ‘In Re Ansel Adams’ To be found here:

Eight million years ago, when our oldest primate ancestor sat and gazed across the tree canopy in an absorbed, reflective and contemplative act, the look our uncle was engaged in was full of sentient conscious energy. That attentive gaze has been with us ever since and is now resident in the gaze of the visitor to the museum, cinema or art gallery - and that energy is met by the gaze looking back out at us, captured in every image where the subject stares back out at the world.

I’m interested in the energy of our gaze. I’m also interested in the gaze of the subjects of portraits who send a similar energy back towards us. Because of this I’m also interested in the surface of the image, the meniscus of the meeting point of those two energies as they are displaced in time by the surface of the screen.

- When we represent the world we sometimes show the self captured in the medium looking back out at us with an extra-diegetic gaze, with an energy that is mediated by the surface of the medium, be it paint or pixels. The energy is shifted in time by the surface of the screen from when the subject was captured to the moment of ‘now’, when the audience sends its energy to the subject.

‘in Aristotle's Poetics, diegesis is the reporting or narration of events, contrasted with mimesis, which is the imitative representation of them: so a character in a play who performs a certain action is engaged in mimesis, but if he recounts some earlier action, he is practising diegesis, he is telling us about an event. The distinction is often cast as that between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’.

- That gaze whether it is of the subject looking out at us, or us the audience looking back at them, is full of the sentient energy shared with our ape ancestors and it is now measurable in audiences as a small voltage change generated by the massed neurons jumping across the synapses of the audience’s brains. MFRI scanners can visualise for us the movement of attention across the brain – one of the surprise discoveries of this technology is that the brain makes choices before the conscious will. Also, it has been found, by the end of a long period, like watching a feature film or a play, everyone in the audience will blink at the same moment – we as a group will have decided when it is the least important moment to look.

In the life of the Amoeba it will occasionally stop the process of subdividing to then ‘entrain’ with other Amoebas. They come next to each-other and then an extension of themselves, a bridge made of their own flesh, is offered between the two and they exchange internal substance – they ‘entrain’ and become part of each-other.

- If two clocks with pendulums are placed in the same locality, they eventually come into synchronicity and their pendulums swing together. This example of entrainment and synchronicity is not supernatural, but a product of physical processes.

This idea of entrainment is a metaphor, a key to unlocking and developing an understanding of the audiences evolving requirement that has surged ahead of current theory of the display of art, which in the West is rooted in ‘interpretation’, which comes to its apogee in the foundation of the Institute of Social Research, known as the Frankfurt School, whose propositions now inform the contemporary mindset that determines what is regarded as meaningful in art and what is not.

- Frankfurt School“The philosophical tradition now referred to as the "Frankfurt School" is perhaps particularly associated with Max Horkheimer (philosopher, sociologist and social psychologist), who took over as the institute's director in 1930 and recruited many of the school's most talented theorists, including Theodor W. Adorno (philosopher, sociologist, musicologist), Erich Fromm (psychoanalyst), Herbert Marcuse (philosopher) and Walter Benjamin (essayist and literary critic).”

The School developed an evaluation of what art is and does through interpretive ‘reading’. This function has worked until recently but now digital innovations begin to overthrow the medieval innovation and subsequent techniques of the reproduction and mass availability of text - which finally prompted the school’s ‘reading’ of art. This is a methodology derived from archaic and classical values.

- However, the audience has changed and developed beyond this narrow definition. The audience is now silently demanding that new transdisciplinary arts and sciences deliver to them, not what has become a simple interpretive relationship to works of art, but instead a complex gestalt response from within themselves to art - and this cannot happen if the curatorial elite deny this evolution, by themselves being ignorant of it.

In all of this there is the issue of language itself – and here I have to nod in respect to Noam Chomsky - and make an intelligible list of some of the language

The descriptor of ‘attention’ constantly changes:

- In the 12th - 16th centuries in the West, we gathered attention – gathering being a word derived from agrarian language
- In the 19th century we focused attention – deriving from the important technological invention of photography
- In the 19th and 20th centuries we used the phrase: ‘to pay attention’ – this derives from commerce
- When focusing on something - we attend to it – we wait, we have patience – is this use derives from Monastic pursuits ?
We talk in terms of attention penetrating an idea – is this derived from an act of warfare, or perhaps from biology?

We also give attention, seek attention, catch attention or at worst, when we can’t be bothered: We feign attention, meaning we deceive the other person.

We have attention deficit when we can’t concentrate. When really challenged the subject has attention deficit disorder - we have fractured attention – did this derive from accidents in 14th century Venetian glass workshops?
- When we map attention we reference 13th century Portuguese map making
- some things require attention – they demand attention which necessitates the giving of attention – this seems to come from a Royal demand, an Emperor perhaps…
- and in the army we stand to attention to demonstrate total commitment of self to subject….

In his study of women’s magazine advertisements, Trevor Millum distinguished between forms of attention:
▪ - attention directed towards other people;
▪ - attention directed to an object;
▪ - attention directed to oneself;
▪ - attention directed to the reader or the camera;
▪ - attention directed into the middle distance, as in a state of reverie;
▪ - direction or object of attention not discernible. 
The invisible world.

Millum also categorized relationships between the above depicted thus:
▪ - reciprocal attention: the attention of those depicted is directed at each other;
▪ - divergent attention: the attention of those is directed towards different things;
▪ - object-oriented attention: those depicted are looking at the same object;
▪ - semi-reciprocal attention: the attention of one person is on the other, whose attention is elsewhere

Daniel Chandler has also made some notes on the kinds of gaze one can identify within an image. There is:

▪ - the spectator’s gaze: the gaze of the viewer at an image of a person (or animal, or object) in the text;
▪ - the intra-diegetic gaze: a gaze of one depicted person at another (or at an animal or an object) within the world of the text (typically depicted in filmic and televisual media by a subjective ‘point-of-view shot’);
▪ - the direct [or extra-diegetic] address to the viewer: the gaze of a person (or quasi-human being) depicted in the text looking ‘out of the frame’ as if at the viewer, with associated gestures and postures (in some genres, direct address is studiously avoided);
▪ - the look of the camera - the way that the camera itself appears to look at the people (or animals or objects) depicted; less metaphorically, the gaze of the film-maker or photographer.

- In my image for you of the great ape above the tree canopy reflecting on the image that he sees and reflects upon - when he comes down from the tree canopy he might engage with another ape and try to tell them of his experience of wonder as he looked at the sun going down. Now maybe he tried to replicate his experience in primitive theatrical gesture, or maybe he used grunts and gestures, elementary language, or maybe he scratched lines and marks in the earth. In all of this he would have used both mimetic and diegetic forms of description

- But a large and unspoken problem is always nearby – in English we call it the elephant in the room – something very large that everyone tries to ignore the existence of - because its presence is so difficult to accept.

Here I wish to raise Walter Benjamin’s famous question of 1936 - of whether or not a reproduction can maintain any element of the aura of the original, to the fore. Benjamin started a process whereby we have to look at the idea of the creation of art as a special activity and now we have to consider the question anew as to whether or not as society around the world changes in nature and form with relation to new digital media, should art change its nature and form?

When our ape ancestor made its sounds, gestures and marks concerning its experience of wonder – how much of that original experience was retained in its telling?

So – this is my first proposition, that we have always made art and that its nature and intentions have always been relative to the state of humanity, its consciousness, its technology and its concerns at the time.

- A second proposition might be that we are now on the edge of a paradigm change. Arguably we are always on the edge of a paradigm change because paradigms are of different durations: one of the smallest is a chronon – one instant of time. A much longer paradigm would last from the end of the last ice age through to beginning of the next – which if the scientists are correct, is very soon.

As I mentioned before, the recent intellectual paradigm of ‘interpretation’ as the most important way of understanding and valuing art was derived from the investigations of the Frankfurt School and this had previously derived its thinking from archaic and classical values.

In Western Greek mythology, the tale is told of Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus was beautiful but vain and Echo had fallen in love with him. - Narcissus had betrayed a youth who prayed to the Goddess Nemisis to correct the situation and Nemesis created a judgement that Narcissus should fall in love with the next person he saw – As it happens, that person was his own image reflected in a mountain pool - so Narcisuss became fascinated with his own image.

- Meanwhile, Echo who had already fallen in love with Narcissus, had angered her mistress, the Goddess Hera and Hera then punished Echo with a curse: that fro then on she could only use the words that she heard others speak. - So, coming upon Narcissus looking at his own image in a pool and talking to his image lovingly, Echo tried to tell Narcissus that she loved him, but of course she could only echo his words, which to Narcissus sounded like his own image responding…

- Now that’s what we call a feedback loop.

One reason for recounting the tale of Echo and Narcissus is to note their eternal relationship to eachother in their many and varied forms – for intance as sound and image in modern digital art – but also in terms of mimesis and diegesis – showing and telling. The process of Interpretation, as introduced by the Frankfurt school, because it separates the self from the experience through the act of intellectual discrimination, has the problem of potentially developing a feedback loop, which then renders the strategy as dis-functional.

Not only are we captivated by the reality of the image, by committing ourselves to suspending disbelief and believing the reality of the moving image, we are deceived by it.

As I mentioned previously, my major study as a research fellow is the effect of increased resolution on the audience.

‘More than a third of the people in the U.S. with HD capable sets believe they are watching HD all the time, when in fact they have no source of HD programming whatsoever - no off-air, no HD cable or HD satellite programming, no BluRay or even HD-DVD payer. They will argue that they're watching HD because their set is HD capable and they have it set up so the images fit the full width of the screen, and they have an "upconverting" DVD player. What that proves to me is that lots of people have no clue what they're watching, don't care that much, and the ongoing (Professional cinematographers) debates about how many pixels can fit on the head of a pin are an academic exercise at best when it comes to televised material. Survey after survey shows that what drew people in was that the sets could hang on a wall like a painting, and looked good when they were off.
Wed, 17 Mar 2010, Bob Kertesz’

This professional commentator is complaining about the lack of sophistication of the general audience with regard to mediations of the world by media that rely on hyper-real similitude, yet argues that their grasp of concepts around ‘taste’, chooses the artifact of delivery, as opposed to that which should be delivered. Not only are we not shooting the messenger – we are agrandising him. The fact that this very artifact in is the main deliverer of the agreed value system of democracy in its news and entertainment systems seems secondary to its commodified aesthetic.

- So what’s going on here?

- The surface of a painting captures the likeness of the subject. We stare into the painting, penetrating the time-space differential – the painter gives us the means of moving between our own time and the time the painting was made. The surface of the painting – the paint itself – is the means with which we travel across time. This is as much true of paint as of patterns of light on glass on the surface of a plasma or LED display

So, we now know that the human gaze radiates outward from the human self that looks in terms of energy. We know that the focus of attention of audiences’ brains can be charted by the voltage fields they generate. We can now map attention – we can now map the internal world of the apes.

In our art there is often a person depicted - who is displaced in time from the audience by the surface of the display – the meniscus of the medium - and the energy of their gaze can be met by the energy of the gaze as offered by the audience.

- So this is an important philosophical issue where we who exist now, are always captured in time and reality is always a little behind us… If you remember I mentioned that in recent work with MFRI scanners, one of the surprise discoveries of this technology is that the brain makes choices before the conscious will. So though time exists in some senses, our default mechanism is to exist prior to the surface of our contact with the world - beneath human consciousness something is choosing - prior to information being gathered by the senses for the mind to examine and judge. This too is another kind of meniscus, this time of consciousness.

- Here in China, a long time ago, King Wen formulated the 64 divisions of reality - - these 64 divisions, deriving initially from a binary pair, the digital byte, - the zero and the 1, the on and the off, the yes and the no – digital reality - these formula all describe the Dao – which exists at the meniscus or surface of consciousness – which some us when we close our eyes, experience as a screen – though some philosophies, such as Hinduism suggest that reality is a projection of our own energies.

- So – what do all of these ideas mean in terms of what contemporary art is becoming, or should become? I can only really truly answer by talking about what I’m doing artistically at this moment because my work is a direct response to the philosophical problems I’ve described above.

By end of August 2010 I will have completed a 3 year UK Arts research Fellowship in high resolution imaging. My core research question has been - :

In what ways will High Resolution Imaging change the work produced in the convergence of art and visual technologies and consequently, our experience of that work?

In researching the effect of increased detail in the moving image on the audience I have created a series of new artworks that exploits the effects of higher resolutions and is at a level of detail not yet seen before in either electronic or photo-chemical forms. This work has been produced at some 32 times that of standard televisual imagery, 8 times that of the cinema display and 4 times that of High Definition.

I have made a simple discovery. Engagement and resolution exist in an equation where engagement step changes in direct response to changes in resolution that are quantum and not quantative. That is, the onset of different and greater states of engagement, require step changes of resolution to have measurable effect – and the measure is the time people spend engaging with an installation at different resolutions.

Video -

With that in mind I am currently working to develop questions around portraiture in relation to the issue of photo-realistic representation and depiction, by creating works that exploit differences in scale in order to develop a high resolution aesthetic. I choose portraiture because it offers the possibility of mimesis - showing rather than telling - but also of allowing an exchange between the audience and the subject of the portrait, albeit mediated by the surface of the screen and displaced in time.

The work you see playing from Venice Italy is captured at a resolution 4 times that of High Definition and is usually shown life-size so that the subjects can be approached and scutinized by the audience. Usually each portrait remains on screen for 1 minute to reference long Victorian photographic exposure times.

Recently I have augmented the series with Portraits of New York, Portraits of Beijing and when I return to the UK I will create Portraits of London. My intention then is to present all 5 works in a large pentagonal shape so that the audience can step inside and witness on five large separate screens the photographic reality of people from around the world. The audience will look to the meniscus of the screen - as will the subjects. A spin off work, Portraits of the Somerset carnivals can be seen in the Expanded Cinema screening on Saturday.

- For many years and in this forthcoming show in particular I have been concerned with challenging the idea that the screen should be on the wall, that people should sit in seats passively to watch the exhibition. I have made works for instance where the audience must lie on the floor and look up at a large screen which is hanging 15 feet above them at an angle of 45 degrees where I have shot the passage of a boat through the narrow canals of Venice – by that I mean I have shot the buildings and the sky with the gentle rocking of the boat and the water and then asked the audience to entrain with the experience by taking the point of view the work was shot from.

- I also show works where I construct a well, or a hole in the ground where the image plays and the audience is invited to climb down and become part of the virtual and past experience – so that it becomes for them an experience that is happening now.

I will also exhibit my ‘sculptural work’, ‘In Other People’s Skins’, which you can see here in Xi’an – this is currently showing at a cathedral in New York.

My intention in this work and a lot of my work is to photograph something that is real – then project that very thing back on to itself – so with this installation I shot 5 dinner parties from above and projected them back down on to a table of the same size – the audience could then imitate the gestures of others – they could connect through the meniscus of the screen, through the surface of the display and entrain and exchange their conscious energy with that of others. By imitating the hand gestures of others they could inhabit the skins of others. Around the table there are 12 seats, which is reminiscent of the Last Supper in Christian mythology, on the table are 12 white plates – twelve white screens to catch the virtual food.

In Other People’s Skins attracts an audience of people that normally do not attend art galleries – very many of the audience comments speak in terms of entrainment as opposed to interpretation. This level of display asks the audience to entrain, or become engaged with the work, rather than simply interpret it to ‘mean something’. To interpret, we look for clues and so ‘read’ the work with a specific part of the intellect, yet entrainment uses synchronisation – another part of the intellect - to perform artistic alignment - and interpretation and ‘reading’ then follow as opposed to leading the process.

So – to answer the philosophical questions I raised previously – and perhaps to entrain with the distant gaze of our ancestor the ape in the tree canopy, I am trying to develop work that insists on the conscious-awareness of the audience of their own gaze, to amplify the energy present within that engagement. It is then my hope that this then enables the audience to take the time to look. I am interested in the exploration of the gaze stripped of the effects of interpretation – and here’s the main strategy and reason for this - so that I might then enter into a negotiation with the audience whilst acknowledging their intellectual autonomy, and consequently go beyond standard forms of contract between audience and artist which so very often involves a degree of disempowerment for the audience. We are not only artists and academics – we are also the audience.

My research has revealed to me that greater resolution produces greater periods of engagement. It is my conviction that the ‘effortless gaze’ that can be engendered and the experience that accompanies this, will chime with Maxwell Anderson’s propositions in his paper ‘Metrics of Success in Art Museums’. More than any other issue in the ‘Display of Art’, is the growing engagement of the concerned and discriminating viewer – the notion that success is in the quality of the experience of the art experience, that this is the most meaningful metric of success available.

Within current neuro-scientific studies it is becoming clear that our physical senses reveal only one ‘octave’ of a potential 80 octave spectrum of energy – this limitation itself is already a mediation of ‘reality’ and predicates an examination of ideas more familiar to science than the humanities and arts. I would hope that this inquiry might stimulate the beginnings of an investigation into what it means for art to exist on a surface that is itself a disjunction between two or more time periods or two or more energy states, that here is a potential to exploit the synchronous and gestalt concept of entrainment that could become used more and more often in the forthcoming paradigm shift that has already begun.


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

It’s not just the resolution, stupid

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

Since showing some of my high resolution works in Xi’an in China this June/July, I’ve come to realise something about the other factors that make resolution work as an artistic function.

This insight has come about because my Chinese audience expressly communicated that they liked the work that I was showing them because it chimed with them and their values. There was an outbreak of discussion around the relationship between form and content during the symposium that accompanied the exhibition where my work was shown in installation form. I also showed work in my presentation as did Peter Richardson from Dundee University in his choice of Portraits of the Smerset Carnivals. Our Chinese hosts argued strongly that much of the Western art that had been brought to China gave priority to the exploration of technical as opposed to artistic values in the majority of the work. Given Western funding priorities towards science rather than art, this was insightful of the Chinese participants to ferret this out.

This was not the case in their response to my own work however. My work had an amazing reception – I’ve been asked to some right back and teach and give workshops and show more work -perhaps I’m part Chinese or there’s something in me that chimes with their value system – and here I’m mindful that I’m talking about the most recent iteration of the concerns of about a quarter of the population of the planet – and this in itself makes me very happy. I don’t really care if our little western backwater doesn’t respond as well (although in some situations it does – it really does). It’s quite amazing that something that I’m doing chimes with the Chinese mind, though and it’s this that has set me enquiring into what it is that works.

The character of the response was that they really got what I was saying (given that the artist hardly ever knows the true direction of the impact of their work) in fact we set ourselves our obsessive compulsive tasks and then the audience receives the work in a completely different way anyway. C’est la vie.

There was in fact a recognition that there is a technical background to what I do – after all the work is made at 4k and then displayed as high as I can display in terms of resolution, and it’s been my conviction through observation of the audience response that people engage for longer periods with the work the higher the detail it carries. But – but. There’s something about what I’m choosing to create an image of and the way that I’m presenting it to the audience that is engaging people i n a powerful way. Again, I’m trying to be pure about what I’m writing here because I’m totally aware that on some levels what I’m writing could be seen to be self-promotional – that’s not the case I’m trying to decipher the cause of the response.

When TV seeks to show off its higher resolutions it shows nature and landscape footage. It’s impactful for a moment – you know the shots, the polar bear mother skids across the thin ice in case she breaks it followed by her cub who’s playfully batting her legs; or the wilderbeast shot from a balloon race across the veldt in their migratory pattens avoiding lions who are there for the kill; we see a tree canopy before the shot glides into the distance as the earth drops away from us as we soar over the mighty waterfall. Etc.

And I mean ‘etc’ because shots like these have a function which is a part of the form of the trail or longer documentary that they reside in. What I’m really saying here is that yes, these shots exploit the capacities of the higher resolution cameras and displays but that’s all they’re really intended to do; punctuate the form they reside in and the kind of thinking they derive from is the commodification of form – that its impactful-ness is utilised in loss of personal determination in relation to the emotionalism of the form. What I’m talking about here is something Brecht recognised - that the audience is simply ustilied by the artist in a group act that is all about its manipulation – it ebbs and flows in its sympathies according to the determination of the authors.

It is true that most all authors want their audience with them – but in some case – most cases – there’s an unscrupulous attitude about the audiences self-determination. Should it for instance divide its allegiance from the authors purpose, then author in terms of the sale of the work as a commodity would see it as a failure. Hollywood takes no hostages, it wants a ‘satisfied’ audience. And satisfaction is about a set of values that are learnable by any student who studies in the standard educational model to manipulate the audience. It is a loop that cirtcles around and around.

Craft oriented education wants complete control form the student of the form, contextual studies wants a critique – thye are essentially at loggerheads in their intent which is a real pedagogical problem.

The artist however wants above all to challenge the audience and not simply lead them like a lamb to slaughter at the altar of quiescence in terms of the value system that most media is utilised to reproduce.

In my work I have absolutely no interest in commodifying the form because in so doing it lessens the potency of the act of engaging in research in resolution – my work is about revealing the potency of the aesthetics of the form – and these aesthetics directly derive from the technical base of the form. This is also a ‘take-no-hostages’ approach – but it is in the interest, in the end, of the self-determination of the audience. I want the audience to consciously be able to disengage at any point with the work and given that element of the contract between artist and audience, then the audience can sample the act of engagement free from my manipulation of them.

So what works in terms of aesthetics when you’re involved in a guided tour through resolution (which is what my artwork is about)?

I am trying to offer complete engagement on a par with anything that Hollywood – or for that matter any contemporary art values that are perpetrated by aestheticians or art dealers can offer (both of whom are quite happy in each-others company though course they really should be deadly enemies if things were not currently upside down and inside out).

In the work I am enthusiastic about presenting an image – like Whistler vs Ruskin, I argue that 30 years behind a camera renders me experienced. I am a very practised cinematographer and have framed a thousand shots for a thousand different reasons for a thousand different directors, having committed myself to learning just what they desire and just what their aesthetic is (that’s something that happens between all directors and directors of cinematography – at least since the notion of the auteur director came into vogue).

Through having been in very many situations where it has been my sole job to ‘find’ a frame, with special regard to what my director might like, I’ve learned my trade. But at the same time my own imagination has soared in very many directions whilst accomplishing what particular directors want. Set me free with a camera and the black space around the light area that is the framed image is the most potent thing that can happen to me.

I am a camera.

So – as an old tutor once said to me, put thirty photographers in a white room with a window and you’ll get thirty different photographs – one of which will be close to brilliant – and that is the image I seek to find in all situations – that’s what cinematographers do (besides all the other stuff like invigorating the crew, judging exposure, imagining the look and the treatment and carrying the entire production through from inception to display).

Ok – enough description of what the cinematographers eye and mind are engaged in and why I and others like me can imagine what to do with the world and how to imagine it into being.

But there are other factors – the factor of the choosing of the image in the first place. Take for instance my Portraits of the Somerset Carnivals that particularly caught the Chinese eye and mind. Shot at night with the illumination coming from the carnival floats themselves (a cinematography problem in itself – judging exposure of the self-illuminating object), the idea was to shoot a portrait of a float as it stopped in its procession and then display it at 20 feet by 10 feet so that it was the same size as the original and then have it displayed in a different context from its capture. Xi’an in China is about as different as you can get from the original carnival location in Somerset.

So I gather at 4k and re-present at 2k (or 1K if there’s no budget) and this act alone allows the audience to peruse the work without the distraction of the petrol fumes and loud disparate sound sources that are coming at them in the original situation.

Then there’s the sound which accompanies the work – I would have asked a composer to create a soundtrack that also removed the original from its environment to an equivalent amount but to hand (or rather in mind for some twenty years) was Brian Eno and Robert Fripps ‘No Pussy Footing’ – the Heavenly Music corporation piece. I can’t describe it here other than to say: it’s abstract; it’s comprised of backwards and slowed down guitars and their overlays and echos. It was a perfect accompaniment. Sound is as important as resolution of image and does the extra work of disassociating the image from it’s prior relationships and ten conferring new resonances – these choices make the artwork (with other choices like how to display etc.

When shown in a 15th century barn in Somerset the piece has been described using the following words:

Classical statuary
Paper cut outs
Wedding cakes/Icing
Cloud formations
Science fiction film
Wild West
Mexican Day of the Dead
Mountains & Snow

The qualities the work brought to mind

Wild !

This was followed by the following description:

‘What was exhilarating was the contrast between the slow meditative movement and image size of the floats passing by with the hectic activity on the film surface as lights went on /off / in /out smeared and melding, twisted and turned – was very visually exciting and allowed the eye to roam and alight on the new forms created within the detailed density of the frame. There is a monumental quality to the film – I don’t know if this comes from this contrast between the large size of the floats in frame and the total eyeful (!) one gets in looking at their details.

The almost harsh brightness of the float lighting against night is not something one sees outside of city so it was strange to see this in a barn with barn and an ancient one to boot !’

This refers to the location of display – a 15th century Somerset Barn.

In Xi’an the audience were equally enthusiastic. The translator did their best but I could see from the sparkle in the audiences eyes as they crowded around me to ask questions afterwards that they too found something similar. They talked of the powerful symbolising influence of the work – but with no particular symbol in mind. I think they meant by this that they were moved – and I do not mean emotionally, I mean more that they identified with the commitment of the act of engagement without usual western demands of having to give up their autonomy.

The idea of being moved without a definite reason is exciting because it intimates a spiritual movement and not emotional movement.

But it wasn’t just the Chinese that responded in these terms, the Swiss, the Germans, the Canadians, the Austrians and Finish all responded in a positive way. There was something in this screening which went beyond simple national boundaries and the work ‘spoke’ across these boundaries in n interesting way. The director of ETH, the institution where Einstein studied, talked of powerful ‘mesmeric symbolism’. Mesmeric Symbolism – this isn’t trance state, where one leaves what one was to enter another space, rather this is a state where you come to with a degree of transcendent emotion – all these words are wrong of course because emotion is not useful in the higher states – emotion is a lower state in some ways. Being uplifted is a general way to tal about this state.

Actually at this even the effect of the work was so powerful I received three distinct formal offers to bring the work and talk about how high resolution images was developing new aesthetics. The Swiss, the Canadians and the Chinese all responded in this way.

The work certainly mesmerises – but in the way that a hypnotist hypnotises – that is you are aware of everything and will do nothing against your will.

The eye is delighted by the surface texture of the image – there is much going on as the report above communicates about colour and detail.

I’ll stop now because it will take time to disentangle what is exactly going on. Watch this space for further thoughts about the extra characteristics required to make a successful artwork in High Resolution.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Exploring Digital Beijing

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

If you’ve been to Beijing you’ll know that the West’s framing of the grand digital project is just that – a Western framing of the overall digital project that the whole of humanity has embarked upon. Being a Western framing it is skewed against or even omits the East.

You’ll know this because whilst walking through the crowds you’ve looked into the faces of a million souls that stare back at you in your difference and that stare tells you that what you have as the centre of your interests may not be the same as theirs.

Of course the principle human concerns are shared: love, hate, war, relationships, jealously, revenge, happiness, marriage and so on.

Also, those elements identified by Western theorists who are on the grand voyage to identify ‘the good ship digital’ are also shared – transdisciplinary understandings, the growth of the internet, the desire for pervasive devices, the long term urges towards having what Star Trek described as the ‘hollo-deck’, the ability to ‘beam me up Scotty’ and so on.

The thing that is different in the stare is the sense that you can gain that our predilections and concerns are just that: ‘ours’ and they’re born from our histories and cultural understandings, just as the Asian mind has its histories and cultural understandings. As Ru, my new Chinese friend tells me as I say to him that the West is decadent in many of its values: ‘Yes, but the East is brutal in many of its values’. This was a very honest thing to say and not necessarily meant in the way we might stereotypically understand it. Decadence is as bad a state as brutality. Decadence can be brutal and brutality can be decadent, but neither value directly follows the other.

The look in the Asian gaze says – ‘it’s my time now and I’m going to find out what that means’.

What it doesn’t mean is the decadent definitions that arose out of the analogue – the traditional academic studies that come through the Frankfurt School, then through the British and then the redefinement of French and American Academia and to some smaller extent British and other European nations, Canadian and Australian, of all of this into what is now framed as pervasive, digital and transdisciplinary and all those other word boundaries that circle this Western voyage – but to borrow a phrase – ‘it’s the whole sea, stupid, not just the bit around the boat’.

What you see when you look into a Chinese face is for a start, many, many different types of Chinese face within which there are many, many different types of soul (no apologies here, the word personality just doesn’t do it). There are 56 languages in China, 56 kinds of people in physiological structure with many subdivisions. But Western definitions are for me to be seen as a start towards a broader project about understanding what the digital is and might be and how it operates for the whole planet. It does a lot of what the West says it does, but that is only a part of the definition of the digital. To use a metaphor of the engine: we are busy looking at the carburettor – there’s still all the other stuff in an engine to understand, pistons, manifold, sump etc, which eventually will make us realise that digitality is not a carburettor at all – it’s an engine, a motive power for fundamental change in the human condition.

We know this on some levels but it’s the form of our descriptions that render us as parochial. We’ve done the best that we can up till now – but now we have to do a lot better and think a lot wider. What am I personally going to do about this? I’m going to try to learn to speak Chinese to at least begin to understand the idiom the Chinese exist within.