100 Images: Artist Statement – Big and Colourful

An unspoken desperation lies at the heart of the archival impulse, a desperation brought by the tireless effort to derive a complete and rational order from a world predisposed to neither. The archive is a site of barely concealed excess: too many documents, too much signification, too many purposes. The drive to put everything in its right place is proportional to the terror of having the entire project unravel in the face of a shifting and unknowable world forever resisting the bounds of human rationality.

Perpetually sorting the archive is a ritual of reassurance for an insecure description of the world. What if this ritual could be used to open up new orders rather than attempt to close the archive down on a singular resolution? How can we embrace the madness at the heart of the archival impetus to give rise to new ways of seeing across the archive?

Finding order among these images may appear straightforward. Each image should be about one subject, and images sharing a subject should be placed together. Identifying some subject for each image is not difficult, but instilling any kind of authority behind this judgment is nearly impossible. One set of subjective and highly personal assessments are simply not convincing enough to suggest the order of this archive has been resolved. This project seeks to question and denaturalize the apparent obviousness of a commonsense order and reframe the relationship among these images. The feeling that this order makes sense is not good enough; I need to know this archive is in an order that transcends individual interpretation.

If subjective assessment lacks the sense of authority this archive demands, what objective measure can be employed to compare these images? How can the complex array of information in this archive be flattened and reduced to singular comparable dimensions? These images must be assigned a numerical value so they may all incontestably fall somewhere in direct relation with each other.

How do we objectively assign “content” a numerical value?

In nearly every circumstance, colour is far from the most salient or useful attribute of an archival image. As Tom Nesmith notes, “users of archives invariably want to look straight through archival institutions, their work, and their records, at something else in the past of greater importance and interest to them” (27), and colour is almost never what users wish to look for when using an archive. Indexing images by average colour is almost universally impractical, as it is such a crude and misrepresentative indicator of what we would otherwise perceive to be the subject of the image.

Colour is useful for a more objective indexing because every colour can be assigned a numerical value and placed along a Goethean colour wheel, and thus arranged along a continuous mathematically determined spectrum. For individual images, knowing the average colour appears to be only tangentially explanatory. However, observed among a broad and diverse collection, revelatory colour trends start to emerge.

Sepia-tone images are yellow, like aged paper (or sepia toner). Institution interiors are white, like a blank canvas. Satellite imagery is green, brown and grey, like a planet in transition. Also, similar to street photography, of the streets and highways that stretch across the landscape. Canadian Prime Ministers are pink, like a Caucasian face.

Average image hue was calculated by a mathematical algorithm, and the archive was then ordered by hue, from 0 to 360. Images of the same colour are placed together and group in a continuous order.

How do we objectively assign “use” a numerical value?

Here “use” refers to where images come from and where they go, and how users interact with them. In the virtual archive, where data must constantly flow in and flow out, and where filesize corresponds to a density of image information, the amount of image data points to insights about the origin, destination and lifecycle of an image.

“Aesthetic” images are large to enhance contemplation and preserve the nuances of expression. “Functional” images are small to enhance transmission and the instant conveyance of the informational qualities of the image. Images with file-sizes falling in the middle of this spectrum, neither the largest or the smallest, may represent a compromise. Alternatively, these may represent the upper or lower registers of technical capacity for groups of users with different means of access and storage at their disposal.

Images of woodpiles have a large file-size.  As do images of institutional interiors. This suggests that these images may have been created for contemplation and focused visual engagement, as details and resolution have been relatively well-preserved. They may be intended to produce a print for a gallery or be viewed in a large digital format. Although drawing a distinction between “functional” and “aesthetic” purposes or effects is often unnatural and deeply inappropriate, these large images tend to fall somewhere closer to the “aesthetic” side of the continuum.

Reproductions and photographic documentation of non-photographic artwork (such as paintings, sculptures, statues, objects, installations, etc.) represent a middle-ground. These images attempt to preserve and transmit the aesthetic quality of the original work, but also strive to be as accessible and communicable as possible. These images thus straddle the crude “aesthetic” / “functional” binary, never meant to actually supplant the original work, but which also aim to quickly and clearly express some visual quality of the original.

News images and passport photos have the smallest filesize.  This suggests these images are meant for fast and efficient communication, attempting to convey some important piece of “functional” information that does not require a high degree of nuance or subtlety of articulation.

What can we learn by comparing trends among “content” (image hue) with trends among “use” (image filesize)? These qualities do not directly suggest any conclusion regarding the complete nature or value of an image. However, when objective trends among content and use are cross-referenced (potentially matched against date of creation as an indicator of authorship), commonsense and subjectively implied groupings of images appear to re-emerge. This cross-referencing helps to refine subjective interpretation with objective, contextual clues. It is only in a wide view, when seeing across an entire fonds or a larger archive, that a particular image begins to derive meaning from its situation in a complex and multi-layered context.

This project looks to legitimize subjective assessment by objective means.

Numbers cannot lie, but alone, neither can they tell the truth.

Works Cited:

Nesmith, Tom. “Seeing Archives: Postmodernism and the Changing Intellectual Place of Archives.” The American Archivist 65 (Spring/Summer) 2002: 24-41.


100 Images: Project Resolution

stack-distortI’ve come to the final categories to be cross-referenced. To make my life manageable I’ve divided each into what I feel are the most useful categories. The idea is to learn about the “deep” or “unconscious” structure of the archive without relying on any subjective assessment about the content or subject of the image. I like to think of it as looking “across” rather than “through” the archive.

I think it will be interesting to see how many of these groups each image shares in common. A kind of similarity index maybe. Hopefully I’ll get to see in time.

Relative Use (Hue)

  • Yellow (30 – 90)
  • Green (90 – 150)
  • Cyan (150 – 210)
  • Blue (210 – 270)
  • Magenta (270 – 330)
  • Red (330- 30)

Relative Intention (Size)

  • 0 – 32kb
  • 32 – 64kb
  • 64 – 128kb
  • 128 – 256kb
  • 256 – 512kb
  • 512 – 1024kb

Relative History (Date)

  • 2000 – 2002
  • 2002 – 2004
  • 2004 – 2006
  • 2006 – 2008
  • 2008 – 2010

100 Images: Sizing Up Digital Archives

What does it mean to occupy resources in a digital archive as opposed to a material archive? What can patterns of relative data size tell us about the origin, destination, lifecycle and purpose of these images?

I’ve been playing with ways to visualize the relative sizes of these image files so that previously unappreciated patterns begin to emerge in a more obvious and dramatic fashion. Here I’ve set the vertical pixel dimension of the image equal to its given file size so that the larger data pictures appear to be tallest. I’ve arranged these in a grid, descending in size from left to right, and top to bottom for comparison. I think this visualization lends itself to many interesting suggestions about image use, intention and history.

Also, in a world of limited resources, what does it mean to allocate exponentially more room to one image over another?

Just as an example, the woodpile images remain among the largest (top left, 1005kb) while the 9/11 images remain among the smallest (bottom right, 38kb). At what stage in the lifecycle have these been preserved? Are they intended to be large prints to be appreciated aesthetically or small digital thumbnails to be quickly and efficiently disseminated? Are these “informational” or “artistic,” and in what way? What can we learn about the intended and actual “function” of a digital image based only on size?


100 Images: Painting Archives By Number

Playing with ideas of nonlinguistic/nonrational indexing, and parody around objective organization and excesses of reduction. The average colour of each photograph was calculated and the archive was then indexed numerically according to hue. I am considering a circular arrangement and perhaps a total of 360 categories (one per degree/hue, including those not represented). Inspired by one of the images in the archive…

This may represent the first of a few inadequate descriptive systems I’d like to cross-reference.




100 Images: Evolution of Categories

bookopenIn light of my recent reorientations, I’ll just update some of the useful categorizations I’ve been working on. Accepting uncertainty and embracing the inevitability of subjective interpretation has been liberating here. Also, working within and against the fonds as a conceptual frame has been fruitful. Looking at where images come from and where they go has opened things up.

New Distinctions:

Intention refers to what the image-maker aims to achieve

Motivation refers to what compels the image-maker to generate the image

Use refers to how the user may incorporate the image into their lives

I’m still struggling to refine the distinctions here between originator of the referent and the originator of the digital translation. Looking at attributes contained within the data of the image file is helpful, but not totally revelatory.

Additional Categories:

  • Intention: Digitization of Physical Photographic Media
  • Intention: Typology
  • Intention: Institutional Analysis
  • Intention: Photographic Rendering of Personal Moment
  • Intention: Record a Journalistic/News Event
  • Intention: Photographic Record of Sculpture/Installation
  • Intention: Geographical Survey
  • Motivation: Personal Curiosity
  • Motivation: Artistic Curiosity
  • Motivation: Public Service
  • Motivation: Comply with Government Demands
  • Motivation: Comply with Employment Demands
  • Use: Comparison
  • Use: Ridicule
  • Use: Appreciation
  • Use: Navigation
  • Use: Self-representation
  • Use: Memory Supplant
  • Use: Nostalgia
  • Use: Witness
  • Use: Investigation
  • Digital Camera Data: 0
  • Digital Camera Data: 1

100 Images: Questions I Hoped Never to Ask

outoforderWhen should a photographic print be considered a sculpture? And a painting? And a multi-texture work?

When does a photo frame become a sculpture? What does that make the photo within it?

How do a digital image from a scanner and an image from a digital camera differ conceptually?

What is the indexicality of non-photographic media?

When is a journalist doing their job and when is a journalist documenting their life? Which moments are personal?

When do objects in a gallery become artworks? And objects outside the gallery?

How many instances are necessary for a typological comparison?

When is a photograph of an artwork “documenting” that artwork and when is it producing a new photographic artwork itself?

What does it mean to consider the intention of a photograph “functional” as opposed to “artistic”? What criteria could make these mutually exclusive categories?

100 Images: A Work in and about Progress

overheadI’d just like to follow up my previous post with a few more leads I think are worth considering. Like any good archival effort, my working process here also embraces rational obsessiveness, the misguided quest for an exhaustive totality, and of course, the requisite lamentation over diminishing resources. As ever, there’s no time.

INDEXING/KEYWORDS: The means through which an archive is indexed and sorted positions the user in a specific way.

Question: What alternative (nonlinguistic? nonrational?) descriptive systems can realign the relationship a user shares with the archive?

FONDS/PROVENANCE: Archives must navigate the integrity of the fonds and delimit the explanatory value of an article’s provenance.

Question: How can the integrity of the fonds be disrespected or new insights be derived from an alternate reading of a document’s provenance? How can provenance be placed in tension with the fonds?

ACCESS: The barriers, context and rituals of access defines how certain documents will be received, read and disseminated.

Question: How can an unusual context of access be used to compel different readings of documents?

MATERIALITY: The materiality of the document entails certain organizational structures and offers varying strategies for interaction.

Question: What sort of material differentiation among documents can inform provocative classificatory structures?

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