Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Local fused w/Global via Video Feedback

Talysis (a 9 min DVD, made for the Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture held in Utrecht, Holland in Autumn 2005) navigates the "possibility of a sentient geometry to produce a stream of geometric archetypes, a collective unconscious for emergent dynamical systems, a video feedback language system for scrying and pattern recognition."

This is not "new age" silliness;-), but rather a very serious attempt to, essentially, blur the distinction between local behaviors and rules, and global patterns. As Paul Prudence (the scientist/artist behind Talysis) describes on his site, the program combines aspects of symmetry with digital video feedback, resulting in highly recursive geometric structures, including ones that are eerily reminiscent of cellular automata patterns. Cellular automata (CA) are simple discrete dynamical systems whose agents (typically endowed with a discrete set of states, such as ON and OFF) evolve according to strictly local rules. Some CA (such as the well known two-dimensional Life rule, introduced by mathematician John Conway) are known to be universal computers, and so harbor a fundamentally irreducible level of complexity (see Wolfram's New Kind of Science).

What Prudence's Talysis shows is that video feedback can mimic the calculations of recursive algorithms; which begs the question whether it can also behave as a universal computer? (Prudence claims on his site that some patterns reproduce those of the Life rule, and conjectures that video feedback therefore can act as a computer).

Prudence says..."Many of the forms generated in Talysis appear to model biological morphogenesis and suggests that at the heart of all biological growth lies some degree of feedback of information to the system. At first glance many of the stills from Talysis might have been taken from an atlas of biology. There are neural networks, synapses, biological tissues, capillaries, plant structures, and embryonic forms. All of these images were arrived at from pointing a DV camera at its own output, they are entirely self-generative."

A quote from a classic paper on the space-time dynamics of video feedback (by James Crutchfield, published in Physica, 1984): "One goal in studying video feedback is to see whether it could be used as a simulator for dynamics in other fields. Turing’s original proposal of reaction-diffusion equations for biological morphogenesis comes to mind, as well as the image processing and hallucinogenic dynamics of the visual cortex."

I have always suspected that life-like "complexity" (true nested systems-of-systems autopoietic self-organized systems) lies at the Godelian-like cusp where local and global fuse; the Godelian-loop reaching into itself and pulling itself up to higher dimensions by its own bootstraps. Video feedback may just prove to be the practical/conceptual tool with which to visualize a bit of this fundmanetal bootstrapping. Absolutely fascinating!

Additional resources can be found at this link.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Hidden Beauty: Microworlds Revealed, by France Bourely, is one of the finest examples I've seen of a synergy of art and science (as well as a bit of philosophy); extraordinarily beautiful images of the microworld await the lucky reader who purchases this amazing book.

Some of the photographs (captured using a scanning electron microscope), if judged on a purely aesthetic level, arguably rank with some of the great abstract photographs that have ever been taken! Indeed, I am tempted to equate what Dr. Bourely has accomplished here to what Ansel Adams accomplished for the American West with his magnificent large format photography. What Adams represents for the macroscopic world, Dr. Bourely represents for the microscopic one. She is that good...as a guide, as a scientist, as photographer, and as a visionary artist of the highest caliber.

Quite simply this is one of the most beautiful books I've ever had the pleasure of owning and I shall treasure it for a long, long time to come. If you love photography, or science, or abstraction, or philosophy, or ever simply marvel at the ineffable mystery we call the universe, you owe it to yourself to get this book. It is destined to be a classic.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Space, Time, and Perception

The Hirshhorn Museum is currently exhibiting a career survey of Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948, Tokyo), a master of using photography to explore the nature of space, time and perception. The exhibit runs between February 16, 2006 and May 14, 2006.

Sugimoto is known for his starkly minimalist, conceptual images of seascapes, movie theaters, natural history diaramas and architecture, that often border on the mystical. While, at one level, his images are "simple" (his seascapes for example sometimes offer little or no contrast between object and background at all!), at another, deeper level, they all compell the viewer to ponder such questions as "What is time?", "What is space?" and "What is real?"

According to the Hirshhorn site, the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will feature Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History (from April 1, 2006 through July 30).

Here are two online galleries of some of Sugimoto's work (the first includes an interview with the photographer): Eyestorm & Robert Klein Gallery.

A generous sampling of his images (that require much time to slowly digest, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually) appear in the book Hiroshi Sugamoto, by Kerry Brougher.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work

Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work, is a magnificent new book by Britt Salvesen (with an introduction by John Szarkowski) on the creative life of one of the 20th century's most creative photographic artists. It is so much more than a "mere" biography.

What sets this biography (which a generous sampling of Callahan's work) apart from other books in this genre, is its elegant focus on the creative aspects of photography. In discussing Callahan's dedication to constant experimentation, choice of subject matter, his visual approaches to a particular shot, selection of themes and improvisations, sequential ordering, and the all important print process, the book provides a rare invaluable resource to the inner reflections of an artist at work (and play). Callahan's lifelong body of work is testament to the fact that an artist need not travel to the ends of the earth to find beauty; beauty is not just in the eyes of the beholder, but in the dedication and loving attention to craft and creative experimention in one's backyard.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bytes of Science

A good friend of mine, David Mazel, who is extremely well versed in science and engineering (indeed, he is making a comfortable living with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering), has a wonderfullly informative and entertaining site called Bytes of Science.

On it, you will find commentary and links to such topics as infinite minimal surfaces, satellite tracking, chaos for encryption, and video fly-bys of some of M.C. Escher's graphic works (among many others).

What makes the Blog special is David's passion for all things relating to math and science, and a unique gift for teaching and writing; you will likely not even notice how much serious math or science you've picked up while you're simply immersed in the shear pleasure of reading one of David's short passages. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Gregory Bateson and "Seeing" with the Mind's Eye

Some of the most important basic lessons of learning to see in photography do not come directly from the masters of photography (though they obviously impart quite a bit of wisdom;-) For example, consider a deep lesson that is taught by anthropologist, Gregory Bateson...

Bateson was one of the last century’s most original thinkers. Trained as an anthropologist, Bateson made deep and lasting contributions to biology, cybernetics, and systems theory. He was also a gifted teacher. One of Bateson’s central ideas is that of the “Pattern that Connects,” or metapattern, which means, literally, a pattern of patterns.

This idea was first introduced in Bateson’s masterwork — Mind and Nature — in a story about how he sometimes pulled out a freshly cooked crab out of a bag and asked his students (who were typically nonscientists) to argue that the object represents the remains of a living being. The object of the Socratic exercise was to force his students to ponder the question, “What is the difference between the living and nonliving?” To answer this question, the students had to learn such concepts as relationship, symmetry and topology as they apply both within an organism (or object) and outside an organism (on higher levels). The deeper lesson was taking their first step toward appreciating the need for “discarding of magnitudes in favor of shapes, patterns, and relations.”

What does this have to do with photography and seeing? Well, one can begin by drawing a lesson from Bateson’s concept of metapatterns. A uniquely personal aesthetic grammar may be developed by following these three steps: (1) recognize that all conventional distinctions between objects are essentially arbitrary (i.e. learn to see the world as shape, pattern and relation rather than purely form), (2) draw your conscious attention to the visible boundaries between conventional forms that make up a photographic scene, and then (3) use your unconscious intuition to guide the camera, as a compositonal tool, to recompose the scene as if it were made up of visual elements of your own choosing. In short, decompose the world into its basic building blocks, then build it back up the way you really see it.

Another great book by Bateson (coauthored with his daughter Catherine Bateson, is Angels Fear: Towards An Epistemology Of The Sacred.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Photography and the Creative Process

Three exceptional new DVDs, released by Arte Video (and a coproduction of Arte France, KS Visions and The National Center for Photography), explore the creative process behind the works of some master photographers. Each DVD consists of about 10 short (10-15 min long) "essays" focusing on one photographer, using images (contact sheets, proofs, prints, or slides) with commentary by the artist himself. Together, these films provide an unparalleled excursion into the creative process of photography.

Contacts Volume 1: The Great Tradition of Photojournalism includes Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Raymond Depardon, Mario Giacomelli, Josef Koudelka, Robert Doisneau, Edduard Boubat, Elliot Erwitt, Marc Riboud, Leonard Freed, Helmut Newton, and Don McCullin.

Contacts Volume 2: The Renewal of Contemporary Photography includes Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Duane Michals, Sarah Moon, Nobuyoshi Araki, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Jeff Wall, Lewis Baltz, and Jean-Marc Bustamante.

Contacts Volume 3: Conceptual Photography includes John Baldessari, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Christian Boltanski, Alain Fleischer, John Hilliard, Roni Horn, Martin Parr, Georges Rousse, Thomas Struth, and Wolgang Tillmans.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brilliant Lectures on the History of 20th Century Physics

My Ph.D. thesis advisor (back in the 1980s!) was Max Dresden, whose career as a theoretical physicist spanned both many decades and many countries. Max was born in Amsterdam in 1918, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1946. During his long career (he passed away in 1997), he made made important contributions in statistical mechanics, superconductivity, quantum field theory and elementary particle physics. Another of his empassioned interests was the history and sociology of modern science. Though all of his lectures, technical and otherwise, were always a delight to listen to and behold (he was quite a showman!), it was his lectures on the history of physics that were something truly special, and his unique gifts as expositor shown brightly. Aside from his ebullient, infectiously joyful, style of presentation, his lectures were infused with personal knowledge of some of the greastest physicists of the 1920s and 1930s.

Here is an incredible collection of videos of some of Max's lectures on the history of physics (delivered between 1990 and 1996 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). One would be hard pressed to find better examples of love and intimate knowledge of subject matter, and simple unabashed joy at sharing it with anyone willing to listen!

During his life, Max published articles in over 35 scientific journals and was the author of a well received biography of physicist H.A. Kramers, titled Between Tradition and Revolution. As all of us who were graced by this gentle soul know well, Max was a profoundly gifted and inspiring teacher. He is intensely missed.

Here is an article, In Appreciation: Remembering Max Dresden, by Peter B. Kahn, that appeared the May 2003 issue of Physics in Perspective. Max's obituary, as it appeared in Physics Today in June 1998 appears on this page (from the State University of New York, Stony Brook).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Fine Art Photography Portfolios

Here is a real treat for aficionados of fine-art photography, in the classical tradition: an exquisite set of on-line portfolios of some of true masters of fine-art photography, including those of Ansel Adams (19 photos), Brassai (17 photos), Edward Burtynsky (20 photos), Harry Callahan (17 photos), Andre Kertesz (20 photos), Josef Sudek (12 photos), and Edward Weston (46 photos); among many others. The reproductions are relatively small, of course, but a delicious treat to the eyes and soul nonetheless.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Forget Megapixels! How about Gigapixels?

Want to see what kinds of images a gigapixel camera might take? Here is an incredibly detailed "photograph" of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. It consists of 196 separate photographs taken with a 6 megapixel digital camera, and then stitched together into one seamless composite. The complete image measures 40,784 x 26,800 pixels in size! When originally posted (in Dec 2003) it was the world's first gigapixel image. Since then there have been other attempts: (1) a 2.5 gigapixel panorama of Delft (an article about this project can be found here), and the Gigapxl project.

Max Lyons, the original gigapixel image creator, is -- apart from his technical prowess (he is the developer of a wonderful stitching program called PTAssembler) -- quite an accomplished photographer, specializing in stitched panoramas. Here is a samping of his beautiful work. Finally, and not to be missed (!), here is a shot of Max standing next to a huge print of his gigapixel Bryce Canyon image (shown at the 2004 Photo Marketing Association Annual Show).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Transcendent New Vision of Nature, Order and Beauty

Christopher Alexander's four volume Opus, Nature of Order, is an absolutely stunning achievement of the highest caliber! I agree with a quote that appears on the inner flap of each of the volumes, to the effect that while very few (if any) philosophical/conceptual works (and their authors) are likely to be remembered 500 years hence, there is a strong possibility that Alexander's Opus will be remembered as a precursor to what our present day (only partially overlapping fields of) "science" & "art" will have evolved to in 500 years (a unified, wholistic body of "Sci-Art" in which the schism between objective & subjective / inner & outer no longer exists).

What Alexander presents in these books is a tentative first stab at a magnificent new concept; not a mathematical or physical theory (though rudiments of what might go into a more formal description are also discussed). Although many of Alexander's ideas are quite subtle and require thoughtful reflection to fully comprehend and integrate into (ironically) a whole (new worldview), the basic thesis is original and profound: everything that exists contains life, and the degree (lesser or greater) to which life is manifest in "X" can be objectively determined by probing one's subjective (inner) world. Nature is seen, in this view, simply as the totality of life, continually unfolding; and beauty (as generated by local life-forms such as humans), as a resonance between outwardly objective forms and (the very deepest) subjective inner feelings.

Western science's longstanding divide between "what's out there in the world" and "what is in here, in our hearts and souls" is exchanged for a new worldview in which our understanding of the cosmos is predicated on an active unity between objectivity and subjectivity; between dispassionate form and intensely personal beauty; between "eye" and "I"; between the deepest inner feeling and continually unfolding outer life. If this sounds radical (and perhaps even a bit strange), that is because it is radical; Alexander is proposing a sweeping idea that is both revolutionary and (only in hindsight, after having read his extraordinary Opus) obvious! For it really cannot be any other way! Every thinking -- no, every feeling -- creature who wants to know our cosmos and his/her unique role in it needs to read these books. They are truly remarkable! The next great strides in art and science will be made (simultaneously) when, one day, an Einstein-Alexander appears and uses the ideas expressed in these books to develop (using a mathematics not yet created) a rigorous new theory of "Sci-Art-Beauty-Life". These are ostensibly books on "architecture"; but they far -- far -- transcend that field; they speak, collectively, about everything that exists.

Other links: Amazon, Notes (by Nikos Salingaros), and a landmark (semi-technical and deeply philosophical) paper called Harmony Seeking Computation (about which Alexander writes: "In this paper, I am trying to lay out a new form of computation, which focuses on the harmony reached in a system. This type of computation in some way resembles certain recent results in chaos theory and complexity theory. However, the orientation of harmony-seeking computation is toward a kind of computation which finds harmonious configurations, and so helps to create things, above all, in real world situations: buildings, towns, agriculture, and ecology."). This paper may just contain the essential ingredients for how "complexity science" as it is currently understood may itself evolve into a deeper understanding of nature's patterns and rhythms.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Entropic Melodies in B&W Magazine

I am thilled to have several images from my Entropic Melodies series appear in the Feb 2006 issue of the internationally distributed B&W Magazine (pages 98-101, Issue #41). Since this particular issue features photos of such master photographers as Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer (among others from the archives of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ), it is a double treat to be included in the same publication with them!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Richard Feynman Videos

The Vega Science Trust has posted a set of four archival recordings from the University of Auckland (New Zealand) of lectures by Richard Feynman, arguably one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. Feynman's lectures on audio tape are wonderful, and every aspiring physicist owes it to him/her-self to listen to a selection of those available, but these videos are truly something special! They give a real flavor of what it must have been like to be in Feynman's class.

Cartier-Bresson's "Decisive Moment"

Henri Cartier-Bresson was arguably one of the most gifted photographers (in photojournalism) that has ever used a camera. One of his earliest books, a mini masterpiece of exposition on the art and craft of photography as well as timeless images, was called the "Decisive Moment" (and is now a catch phrase for which he is justly famous). It is also notoriously difficult to obtain; Amazon, for example, lists a used copy for $1600! Here is a site, however, that has lovingly reproduced the entire opus on-line, one page at a time. It is an incredible gift to the photography community. Read, and enjoy!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fractals and art

Here is an interesting NY Times article about how fractal analysis may (or may not) help determine the "artist" behind a specific work of art. The artist in question here is Jackson Pollock, and the artwork is a particular piece that many believe are created by him, but Pollock's unique fractal pattern doesn't quite match...read on. Here are a few other references, (1) a short paper by Ivars Peterson, (2) a technical article from Physics World, (3) an article from the journal Nature, and (4) Richard Taylor's homepage.