I don’t find listening to podcasts particularly easy, by which I mean I don’t find it easy to pay attention to the details. I do enjoy listening to them, but in the background while I’m doing something else, or if I’m struggling to get to sleep on my own and need a gentle voice drone to send me off. (American dudes with their drawls are best for this – I don’t think I’ve ever made it more than 20 minutes into the ATP podcast without napping.)
The problem hits when I have a podcast which actually has content that’s useful to me, as happened with an episode of Enrico Bertini and Moritz Stefaner’s Data Stories featuring Jer Thorp. I’ve seen Jer talk on stage and find his Twitter very useful but couldn’t really explain exactly what it is he does, so an interview like this was a must. And it was about the relationship between data visualisation and art, something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
Focussing on 70 minutes of conversation was hard – I dozed off twice and had to scroll back a few times when I felt I’d missed a key point. But during a semi-slumber something Jer said sparked something in my mind which lead to a train of thought which ended with me typing this in my notes:
“A photograph is a ‘data visualisation’ of the information coming into the camera. How can that visualisation reflect the messier systems in the camera more?”
It starts of well and then stumbles into incoherence, but that’s always a good sign because it means there’s work to be done.
The thought is that a photograph tells you something about the machine that made it. On a formal level this means the ExIF metadata locked into the JPEG, but it also comes out in the image itself. The shape of the lens, the clarity of the glass, the cleanliness of the sensor – all these things can be deduced from the image. Light leaks on film cameras strike me as evidence of the integrity of the camera rendered on the photograph.
But also consider how the photograph visualises how the camera is held. An SLR is usually held by the head, a cameraphone at arms length, and a Roliflex at the waist. And if the shooter goes off-script and holds the camera in the “wrong” way, this is also visualised in the photo.
So a photograph is not just a record of what was in front of the camera. It’s a record of the camera itself and how it was handled, just as a bullet is a record of the rifle that shot it and a skid mark a record of the driver who drove the car.
This gives me a nice piece of clarity because it means the evidence I need for my prospective speculative cameras is not so much the devices themselves but the difference in the photographs they (allow the user to) produce. The image is the thing.
This might not seem such a big deal but I’ve spent the last few years saying I’m more interested in the moments that precede the creation of a photograph than the resulting photograph itself. Now I’ve realised that the photograph is the record of those moments, the act of photography visualised.
Which is pretty neat. I should dreamily half-listen to more interesting podcasts and see what other connections my brain makes.