Ephemerides: Portrait of Claude Heiland-Allen

by Aditya Mandayam

In Imitation , Optics and Photography : Some Gross Hypotheses, Martin Kemp proposes the following :

The dominant goal of progressive western art from 1300 to ca. 1880 was the imitation of nature.


From 1839 onwards the dominant goal of western art was increasingly and successively assumed by photography , film, television , computer graphics and certain kinds of popular , public art. 2

1839 was a red-letter year for photography . The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerrotype process , Louis Daguerre received a patent for his camera, William Henry Fox Talbot announced the calotype , and Michael Faraday published   Experimental Researches in Electricity , Volume 1. 3

Pre-digital photography allowed countless manipulations of the photographic object : the tangibility of the photograph , its printed nature, the physical properties of it being impressed on a certain material of a certain weight and thickness and of certain dimensions that adhere to Euclidean geometry ; these characteristics defined much of how photographs were distributed and displayed . Photographic formats are rectilinear ; barring the early ovoid shapes that the Daguerrotypists favoured4, photographic imagery has long remained rectangular and square . The manner in which they were handled were informed by these linearities . An image was composed and, with the exception of the instamatics and Polaroid cameras8, developed independently . Any postprocessing was an after-effect ; perhaps an afterthought as well . Steps taken to modify the developed tangible image in practical and artistic ways were ex post.


Going digital brought in new modalities that transformed the characteristics outlined above7. Photographs inherited the new properties afforded to digital media, including networkability , density , compressibility , interactivity , malleability , and, allegedly , impartiality7. These new modalities offer us new ways to think about photography . Take for instance the proliferation of LCD screens ( or "media surfaces" if you will ). These LCD screens are seen to supersede the viewfinder ( if present) in some cases for a number of reasons : greater compatibility with the image taken viewed later within the LCD and/ orthe " stickiness " of the user interface that causes the photographer to stay consistent while composing the image.

In April 2010 I acquired a Canon G11 camera. This was the first of the G-series to feature a flipscreen or " vari-angle " LCD display4. This allows a host of new experiments . See [5] and [10].

Modern digital cameras ship with a most interesting feature: real time videofiltering. This is simply seen by cycling through the modes available . The G11 has the following photographic modes:


going counterclockwise.4

Each of these modes produces a specific video filter in real-time . What is even more interesting is the manner in which we have adapted to real timevideo filtering. What was once an artistic afterthought or a postprocessed product is now a standard practice , a tool to select the optimal image. The modes are rarely used in themselves to see live effects take place within the LCD; instead , the effects are used to gauge how far the final image will depart from what is intended .

The LCD screen also allows near-immediate and on-demand display and scrutiny of previously shot photographs . It thus behaves as a combined instamatic , magnifier and developer in one . In some of my previous works I have explored these properties . See [5], [8], [10], [11], [12], and [13].

Here is a portrait of my friend Claude Heiland-Allen shot on the G11:

Notice the abstract white-on-black graphic on the lower right . This is an integral part of the portrait : this isn't an error or a screenshot, but a print of an LCD screen; this is intentional .


What is it ? I have shown this portrait to people and asked them the same question . It is clearly not a part of the scene shot; it is ex-post. The replies I have received range from "digital artefacts " and " earrings " to " trick photography " and " printing errors ".

What it is, of course , is the graphic that shows up while viewing the image and zooming in. The blurred white smaller rectangle shows the portion of the larger white rectangle , or the entire photograph , currently being viewed .

Once explained , this abstract, Mondrian-like imagery overlayed on an otherwie comprehensible image is immediately understood by the vast majority of viewers . The graphic signage is understood with ease and intuition , which is to be credited to Canon.

I like to think of the questions raised in the viewers mind when explained the nature of this abstraction . The graphic informs you of an instant, of a certain pose assumed ; the photograph has been zoomed into to present this composition . What else lies in the blankness of the large rectangle ? How has the graphic changed the way you view the image?

In making and writing about this photograph I wish to propose a hypothesis of my own , perhaps complementary to those of Kemp:

Some art remains so ; others turn into tools . Sometimes this is cyclic

Aditya Mandayam 2011.01.04 Venice , Italy and Białystok , Poland


1. Mandayam , Aditya . cixa : Ephemerides : Portrait of Claude Heiland-Allen . 2011.01.03. ( accessed 2011.01.03).

2. Lefèvre , Wolfgang ( ed .) Inside the Camera Obscura – Optics and Art under the Spell of the Projected Image. 2007. Max Planck Institute for the History of Science .

3. Faraday , Michael. Experimental Researches in Electricity , Volume 1. 1839. University of London . http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14986/14986-8.txt(accessed 2011.01.03).

4. http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/cameras/digital_cameras/powershot_g11( accessed 2011.01.04).

5. Mandayam , Aditya . Bar-Bar Bar-Bar . http://cixa.org/works/bar.php ( accessed 2011.01.04).

6. http://daguerre.org/resource/biblio/biblio.html ( accessed 2011.01.04).

7. Flew and Humphreys (2005) "Games: Technology , Industry , Culture" in Terry Flew , New Media: an Introduction ( second edition ), Oxford University Press : South Melbourne .

8. Mandayam , Aditya . cixa : Ephemerides : Autoportrait of a Tampon-Chimp . 2010.01.02. NetBehaviour . http://www.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/20110102/018915.html( accessed 2010.01.02).

9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimping

10. Mandayam , Aditya . regalo . http://cixa.org/works/regalo.php ( accessed 2011.01.04).

11. Mandayam , Aditya . Laptopogram . http://cixa.org/works/laptopogram.php ( accessed 2010.12.30).

12. Mandayam , Aditya . The Tangible Ephemerides of the Ha-Ha Preterite . 2010.11.23. Photo-Levallois . http://www.photo-levallois.org/edition-2010/accueil.html (accessed 2010.12.30).

13. Mandayam , Aditya . cixa : Ephemerides : Memory & the Mechanical Eye . 2010.29.12. NetBehaviour . http://www.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/20101229/018850.html( accessed 2010.12.29).