Films: Harry’s Portraits Optical Flow
by Beauchamp Art
This was done as a brief collaboration with the artist and fellow student, taking his portrait series and transforming it into one continuously transitioning montage animation. Created by placing the images in alphabetical order (at the request of the artist) thereby abstracting them into the non-linearity of the 26 letter sequence. Each image was set as one frame, then exported from FCPX as a short video clip (rather than using animation software, for ease), which was then imported, and stretched out to play at approximately 2.5% of the original play speed. (This basic process was similarly used in collaboration with Aaron Griffin, for the Long Shadow film.) This was then played forward, then backward, transforming the film into a visual palindrome, giving it temporal symmetry, so that it began and ended at the same point.
This generated an interesting array of ‘tween’ frames, in which two faces morphed into each other through algorithmic processing, not simple blending one set of features cleanly into the next; the eyes contort between images to form the brow of the next figure, mouths rip open to form the next, noses are dislocated, becoming ears; the features break down and form a digital uncanny for a moment between a barrage of familiar (to Harry) faces.
I then created two variations of the video, one featuring the female figures, another just the male faces. Due to the absence of any trans or gender neutral individuals, this binary was straightforward; and made for a basic mechanism for categorising and dividing the figures that could be done fairly impartially, to see the continuity between the imagery; both the figures’ appearances, but also in how Harry had painted them.
Harry Darlington‘s 100 portraits series as singular flowing palindromic video.
This variation featured both genders, and so the frames generated between some of the images have a transgender as well as a transhuman quality, that could be seen to reflect a “notion of identity [that] hinges on an apparently paradoxical combination of sameness and difference” as well as embodying a sense of the notion of the identity being a socially formed construct as part of a unified progression of interweaving sections and units of society impacting and affecting one another, and that within this collective odyssey, the “narrative must contain action or transformation and characters, which must be brought together within an overall plot” [Lawler, 2008: 2, 14]. As the video folds back on itself, playing through sequence forwards then backwards, then it could be seen as a allegorical representation of a social collectivisation as the product of multi-faceted identities informing one another.
As the selection of individuals painted by Harry exclusively feature the binary genders (male and female, no transgender figures were depicted; and of those depicted there were almost entirely white), I formed two groups based on this diphormism. This video features just the female portraits in alphabetical order by their first name. The female version of the film featured slightly more dramatic transitions due to the greater variety of hair shapes, with the only variation amongst the men being slight modifications of short and dark to bald. However, strong colours like the lipstick red were sustained between transitions, producing an effect of individuals sharing make up, or with the men, sharing facial hair.
The background colours also melded into the faces at various points, producing especially uncanny effects, unsettling the distinctions between the representations of each individual, forming on continually flowing social mass. With the videos use of reprocessed figurative imagery, of those individuals familiar to Harry, here being merged and dissolved together, perhaps it is worth considering Farman observation, “as the layers of mediation seemingly distance people form each other, social relationships that are developed in theses spaces are often labelled as less ‘real’ than face-to-face social interaction” [Farman, 2011: 98]. This may be indicative the wider scenario involved the merging of the self with others and one another’s online persona, as described by Hunt:
“The dissolution of our selves into the increasingly privately owned networks that blanket us will make us more paranoid, less confident that we can securely control or determine the boundaries between I and you, self and other, inside and outside; as we distribute and decentralize our subjectivity into prosthetic agents, we hold onto the hope that we won’t lose sight of what distinguished us in the first place” [Hunt, 2011: 52].
When all the faces in a crowd are rendered equally familiar, it is worth considering the value placed on the relationship to each person, as the ‘Friend’ count exceed the Dunbar number, the relationships with others may be straining for an impossibly egalitarian distribution of attention.
This video features just the males from Harry’s 100 portraits, and featured the same looping composition as the female video. All the images were left at their original ratio, which was narrower than the 16:9 aspect of the video player, which meant tat the black strips at either side of the figures occasionally merged into the picture. The video was also kept in a portrait orientation so that if it were to be displayed on a video screen, projector, or Tablet Computer (like the Share video for the Part-I project in the previous unit), then the screen could be rotated, to better fill the screen, rather than haven an unnecessary abundance of negative space at either side, if the portraits had been loaded into a landscape video plane. However, this does mean that when viewed on a upright computer, the viewer may have to modify their posture if they wish to view the video face-to-interface: the “new dimension of our existence, a space in which we spend a considerable amount of our time on earth.” [Antonelli, 2011: 11].
Multilayered version of the film using Harry’s 100 portraits as frames.
It plays forwards and backwards at variable speeds, so the sequence loops within itself multiple times, creating visual harmonics when the same images from the sequence momentarily coalesce into a single identifiable form, but for the most part the faces blur increasingly blur together.
Stills from the Multilayered version of the Optical Flow film made from Harry’s Portraits.
In a subsequent variation, I experimented with using Philip Glass’s piano piece Opening as the score for the video, as its Minimalist composition could be seen to reflect the multiple overlapping rondo forms of the film. It also plays on a cinematic cliché adopted by YouTube video producers, where montage sequences are overlaid with soft melodic phases, as “one of its functions was to smooth out sequences of discontinuous scene changes or edits. The music is used to mediate between discontinuous images” [Huron, 1989: 561]. In terms of video content, the only major difference between this variation and the one previous was that the footage was repeated and slowed down slightly so as to fit with the music, this did not produce any major as aesthetic shift.
Harry’s 100 Portraits blended together, set to a musical piece I produced which was derived from a MIDI version of Tears for Fears’ song Mad World (popularised in a cover by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews for the film Donnie Darko, where time collapse in on itself as the central character slips into further depression and madness) played forward and retrograde simultaneously, echoing the composition of the video, to produce an ambient whir. The choice of music stemmed from the lyrical content of the song, particularly the opening line “all around me are familiar faces, worn out faces, worn out places”, but also for the sombre but serene soundscape it generated once its basic arpeggiated chord structure was fed back on itself; the major lifts set against the minor shifts. The resulting effect was that of elevator Muzak being played in a vast cavern, with the images flicking by like a screen saver, or the light of memory shimmering on a subterranean pool (or a atmospheric remix of a Sigur Rós b-side).
The title was produced in the same orientation of the video; using the inverted transparent Heiti TC font; potentially evidencing the ideal viewing platform being one that is in portrait, to reflect the super-abundance of smart-phone and tablet computer media consumption, with a 2014 report from Ofcom finding 83% of adults going online using any type of device in any location; “Six in ten UK adults (62%) now use a smartphone” and “The number of adults using tablets to go online has almost doubled; from 16% in 2012 to 30% in 2013” [Ofcom, 2014: 4]. Therefore, targeting this mode of consumption for this work seems a logical step, if it is not to be shown in a gallery, playing into the rhetoric of the consumption social, user generated content and photographic image distribution that may be evidenced in the claim that “Social networking overall remains a popular pastime, with 60% of users visiting sites more than once a day” [Ofcom, 2014: 5]. People long for social feedback, an online media all a supplementation of this sensation from a greater number of people at a fraction of the cost to visit each person individual, but potentially at the cost of reducing the value of each interaction.
It’s a very, very mad world.
This animation of Harry’s layered drawing of the Pokemon, Mewtwo, defending through its fantasy flesh layers, play forwards then backwards in a palindrome, does not technically fit with the rest of this work. However, it was undertaken on request from Harry and was produced with the same methodology. The images were put in sequence, set to be one frame long, exported as a video, imported, slowed down with the blending mode set to ‘Optical Flow’, and placed backwards after itself, before being exported as a short video an animatic.
Stills from the animation of Harry’s layered drawing of the Pokemon, Mewtwo.
Deleted Portrait by Harry Darlington of Benjamin Beauchamp
In this piece I downloaded a copy of Harry Darlington’s digital portrait of myself, then opened the file in TextEdit, and proceeded to delete the entire contents of the image in the form of code. This could be seen as a form of digital homage to Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 Erased de Kooning Drawing, but where as the paper with some marks remained in Rauschenberg’s work, only the file name and meta data remains, all remnants of the image have been destroyed, except in ever other copy of the file that could possibly exist. The file I delete was no unique, it was of any number that could be stored on silicon drives. This could tie into modern notions of identity politics; if the representation of the individual can be so easily destroy, and the on/offline dynamic is increasingly complex and both side inform one another in a feedback loop, then would the iconoclasm of the avatar invariable result in the obliteration of the self, or least a significant part of it?
Harry’s Portrait of Benjamin Beauchamp with Digital Oil Painting Filters
In this piece, I again appropriated Harry’s portrait of me, but this time I applied a combination of painterly effects and filter on Photoshop to give it the vague impression that it had been painted by hand, although this was not intended to appear authentic, but rather explicitly inauthentic, the flaws of the filters revealing the modification of the image. This may stir up notions of information property, as this brief work may suggest there is unstable connection between the image producer and the owner of, especially with images uploaded to a file hosting site like Fickr, where it becomes leased by the owner of the website, and the rights of the artist may then be uncertain (even after consulting the extensive copyright terms and conditions on such site).
But this may also relate to the issue of payment for (intellectual) labour, as with Duchamp’s Fountain, once the readymade (made by Harry Darlington, rather than an anonymous figure in a sweatshop in the third-world) has been appropriated, the right of me as the new owner to profit the image, or to claim it as my own may become both morally and economically problematic. The scenario could be compared to one individual stealing a oil painting owned by someone else, then applying a coat of varnish as declaration of ownership; but in the case of the digital file, the picture is both stolen and left in place; it is the rights to use that image that become subject to the problematising of ownership legislation.
Due to the uncertainty of ownership associated with this piece, it shall not be uploaded, only stored within a digital archive, unlike to be open again once this project is over. It will become e-waste, digital clutter, kept for prosperity despite its financial worthlessness and a lack of emotional or sentimental connection to me, it will simply be stored illogically unquestioned, until such a time as it is deleted to clear space, or the file becomes corrupt (much as the Deleted Portrait has been eroded at the level of code). With the advent of photography, “portraits were a way of reducing the pain of separation […] In some degree, they even bridged the great gulf between the living and the dead” [Defleur, 1989: 72].
Although this is not a photograph (but a life-like representation stored in the same format as a modern digital photograph, it could be seen to occupy a similar role), it may still be worth considering how value is now assigned to images of familiar faces, and whether that traditional form of affiliating a picture with sentiment is still avid in the digital context. It is not worthless because it it is the product of labour, but simultaneously, within a Capitalistic system that labour time is only commodifiable if it is in demand. If the products of that labour are not in demand, then it may be seen as worthless from an economic perspective, irregardless of the time spent on making i, or even if it had been a instantly processed photograph. Although “the attention needed to make sense of information [the image] has become our scare resource,” [Lanham, 2006: xi] the image cannot become a scarce resource, as it can be multiplied indefinitely.
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