There is very little blur in the Black Star Archives. There is not much play with depth of field. Detail seems to have been paramount. Even action shots are crisp and clear, frozen moment delivered from time. It is really only as we enter the years of television that pictures with significant motion blur appear in the archive.
The eye's ability to see detail varies widely across the retina. One very small section in the centre of the retina called the fovea, occupying a little more of our visual field than the full moon, has much higher visual resolution than the rest of the retina. No other part of our retina has sufficient resolution to read words in a book, which is why your eye is skipping from word to word across this page so that each word temporarily rests in your fovea and can be recognized.
We do not experience this directly because we tend to keep our point of attention in the fovea. We attend to the area of highest resolution and presume equivalent detail everywhere else. Our peripheral vision does not feel blurry, but if we consciously shift our point of attention towards the periphery, we can become aware of both the lack of detail, and our brain's dogged refusal to admit to it. As our eyes dart around, this detail accumulates in a kind of temporary visual memory to provide an apparently richly detailed visual field. We experience vision as an immediate apprehension of the image with all its detail, but this is an elaborate fiction. While the camera captures all the detail in the whole image in an instant, our visual system reads images through a stream of serial identifications over time. There is a temporal narrative underlying our experience of an image.
For my project for the Ryerson Image Centre I want to draw out this process... to intervene in the subconscious process by which we digest images and bring it back into consciousness.
In the work the viewers initially encounter images from the Black Star Collection shrouded in a dense blur. Small areas of the images are slowly brought into focus imitating artificial fovea, drawing out the process of reading the image over an extended period of time. By default, this process unfolds along a predetermined trajectory, but if a visitor points at the image they can guide the focal point around the image field allowing them to peer through the fog into the detail of the image and gradually construct from these glimpses a sense of the people, place or event the photographer has captured.
It may seem counterintuitive that a blurring process would be a relatively difficult task for a computer, but it is quite difficult for a computer processor to produce something so vague and general. This, in fact, helps illustrate one of the fundamental differences between the operation of a computer and the operation of our brain. A blurring, generalizing process is built into the structure of the visual cortex of the brain. So something that is natural for our vision system is arduous for the computer. Just as our vision system does, my software maintains multiple versions of the photograph with different amounts of blur and detail. By combining these variously blurred images I can produce images that reflect, in an exaggerated way, the variance of detail across our own visual field, and the passage of our very high resolution fovea at the centre of our retinas over the field of an image.
Archival Dialogues, Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada
Rokeby : Home / Works
/ Current Shows / Texts
/ softVNS / Links
/ e-mail me
Copyright 2014 David
Rokeby / Very Nervous Systems / All rights reserved. 11/27/14