The concept of nonhuman photography is fascinating. As the author poses, nonhuman photography can offer new methodologies of perception, displacing the human-centered perspective of the world. New imaging technologies enable the capture of traces and information invisible to human eyes. This could be considered as a way to open up our view to other kinds of realities that are out of the field of vision: “As a practice of incision, photography can help us redistribute and re-cize the human sensible to see other traces, connections, and affordances ”.
Somehow, these new imaging processes and devices can make us aware we are not the only subjective core of reality, there are so many other forces, phenomena and beings that operate in the construction of the world.
Furthermore, through the emergence and use of machine learning algorithms and software, the role of the operator has shifted from the photographic experience. A human entity is no longer required for the photographic act. As the quote states, this intensifies the idea of nonhuman photography as there might be a sentient system or technology that can make decisions about capture and image processes. These new ideas challenge the definition of photography turning it into an assemblage or collaboration of diverse nonhuman actors.
Last year, I experienced a full solar eclipse in Chile. During the eclipse, as sunlight came through branches and tree leaves, they transformed into thousands of pinhole cameras. This allowed the projection of the crescent shadow of the sun to be projected onto a surface. I believe this phenomenon embodies the essential concepts of imaging or photography. Though there is no human intervention, no device, the image comes alive by itself like a mirage.
Although I think that this example does not completely match the theoretical premises of the text (but it is closer to Roberto Huarcaya’s mesmerizing Amazograms) I believe it is a poetic example of a phenomenon that aligns with the essence of image-making or even with a more radical definition of nonhuman.
Here are some of the images I took during the eclipse. It was July 2th 2019
In the vial I combined a fragment of moss and chamomille – not the petals of the flower but the stigma, the head of the pistil.
The first image shows a familiar view from the chamomile filaments on the left side and moss on the right side of the image. I was mesmerized by the detail of the filaments. In some areas the moss looked like tree bark in others it was very porous, like a sea sponge.
The second and third image is a close up of the chamomile filaments and the fourth one is of the fragment moss where you can really see its sponge-like features. It was the first time I used a scanning electron microscope and though I expected to see this type of visuals, I could not help feeling marvelled with every image.
What interests me visually is the softness and tenderness of the images. I am drawn into its graphic quality, they seem very delicate graphite drawings.
The text introduces us to the story of photography as a medium for scientific observation through its difficulties and developments during the 19th and 20th century.
Focusing on the study case of the transits of Venus in 1872 and 1874 the author narrates the struggles and challenges of astronomers to produce images and typologies that would be sufficiently objective to serve the purposes of scientific measurement and analysis.
The problems of the medium were diverse and complex, astronomers had to deal with variables such as emulsions, exposure time and standardization that is required to make scientific data comparable. All these variables affected directly the construction of a typology. As stated in the text: With new emulsions came adjustments in the evaluation of observations, and many conflicts about the “success” of a given observation when it was conducted photographically (p.20).
Even scientist following the same method could end with different results. As an example, the text mentions the images of the six plate negatives of the Venus transit (illus.14). These images were taken using the same photographic method but resulted in different colors and densities. Daguerreotype (and its variations of emulsion recipes and plates) became a practical method for astronomic photography. Even so, for some scientist image results could be a success while for others useless and unreliable.
However, this complex issue did not hold back scientists to keep using photography as a tool for observation. The studies of motion, the invention of X-rays and photogrammetry (just to name a few) offered new methods to measure, capture, document, and observe a world that before the invention of photography was not even conceivable.
The idea of absolute objectivity linked to the mechanical nature of the camera is long gone. Photography has become something else. I don’t conceive photography as an objective medium but as a construct. There is no truth embedded in the photographic image or act. In our contemporary world, it is important to understand and acknowledge the myriad of possibilities involved in photography: It is important to look at images carefully, to understand the sources and the context (either social, cultural or in scientific or artistic practices) in which images are produced. This is particularly urgent in our times of mass/social media and technological outbreak.
Variable 4 is a beautiful piece that shows how sensorial or intangible phenomena can be translated into a musical experience. I wasn’t familiar with Jones/Bulley’s work so this is a really interesting project that gives me an insight into what can be done with capturing systems and software. I believe the piece offers a new way to experience and relate with the environment, turning invisible experiences into malleable substance. I imagine that every version of this sound installation is absolutely unique as it operates with diverse weather patterns from different geographical areas.
In this sense, I would like to imagine that all these weather changes are not just data for the compositions, but active collaborators for musical experimentation.
This reminds me of a piece made by Ólafur Eliasson called Seismo Sound Compass (2018) that translates seismic activity into sound, this case into the note A. Although this piece does not have the complexity and magnitude of Variable 4, it has a similar spirit.
Original post by Policarpo
Here are the other posts I reviewed:
Cristian Marclay’s The Clock
How We Act Together by Lauren Lee McCarthy and Kyle McDonald
Hans Hacke – Environmental & Kinematic Sculptures
Tom Sachs’ Tea Ceremony
David Hockney’s Joiners
Olafur Eliasson (1967) creates space-filling installations by a collaborative interdisciplinary team of artists, media specialist, scientist and architects. Eliasson’s main concerns are the changing nature of time, light, air temperature and space to find alternate ways to sense and engage with the environment, especially in these difficult times of climate crisis.
Water Pendulum (2010) is an installation that presents dancing water streams illuminated by strobe light that transforms the unpredictable flow of water into frozen moments. Inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion in animals, this work turns the photographic act into a spatial phenomenon to speculate around the relative nature of time.
The text On Camera Transformed by Machine Learning introduces us into the new technologies transforming the way we conceive the photographic camera as a tool or device for image-making. As the article states, the camera has become more than a point-and-shoot object through the emergence and use of machine learning algorithms and software and the role of the operator has shifted from the photographic experience.
In this new situation, image-capturing devices (the camera as an object is not necessarily needed anymore) are capable to recognize and organize visual data, this is, can make decisions and to take a picture by themselves. The control of time, light, composition, and other variables rely absolutely on the device. This implies an existential shift in the relationship between device and operator: the boundaries of authorship become unclear as the photographer is no longer required for the image capture. The camera becomes an independent proxy of the desires to grasp reality through images. In this particular scenario, what does it mean to give agency to the camera? Can we consider it will evolve from an inert tool or extension of the eye to become an active collaborator?
While it is known that the idea of a camera without an operator is not new, what is mesmerizing is the idea of an intelligent device not only capable to recognize visual data and take pictures but to be a learning entity, able to make choices, compose and select visual information to recreate the way we understand the subjective experience of photographic and visual capture. As these systems gain experience through continuous learning and access to a vast field of visual information I wonder, what kind of images will they create as they acquire independence and intelligence in time? Though all this learning originates from explicit human programming, to what extent will these devices and systems influence our visual field with their own subjectivity?