Friday, March 25, 2011

Asemic writing

Yes! My photographs have been published on: The new post-literate: a gallery of asemic writing.

This makes me happy. One of my pet theories is that the city is a living organism with it's own language, speech and writing. And that you can decode it's messages if you learn to read it's hieroglyphs.

I'm happy that I'm not the only one who tries to read the city's messages. There is certainly information (entropy) in the patterns below. But can they be decoded into something meaningful?

Wind patterns - drying tiles after rain.
Flow patterns - train window.
Street work notation - London.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Melting snow

Marcel Minnaert has a lot to say about melting snow. But he gives no formulas for the way a heap of snow melts. It is evident that a heap of snow melts quicker when it gets smaller. Then it has more surface for less volume. But is the melting exponential? And is it indeed the case - as the pictures suggest - that the concentration of dirt increases as the surface gets smaller?

melting snow

161. Melting snow (by Marcel Minnaert)

A story about Benjamin Franklin: When then the sun was shining after it had snowed, he put pieces of differently coloured fabric on the snow, and noted how quickly they began to sink into the snow. The black piece sank first and the deepest, then the red, then the white. Indeed this was to be expected: black, which absorbs all colours, will be heated most by the sun - white, which reflects all the rays will be heated least, and the red in between these two. This argument is not entirely satisfactory, because both the black and white patches absorb the infra-red part of the radiation.

Each time when snow falls and then the sun shines, it can be seen that every stone and every twig lying on the snow, will soon be surrounded by a cavity, where the snow has melted. This is the experiment of Franklin as done by Nature! The snow around stones will melt first, because stones absorb radiation well and thus are much warmer.
Nature scholars have often noted that when hares lie in the snow, the snow does not melt under their bodies. This shows that their fur must be a really bad conductor of heat.
Probably not the parallel grooves mentioned by MM. More likely the sun melting the snow.
If one looks carefully at a layer of fallen snow, one sees that they often show a  shading of parallel grooves, and sometimes there are two systems of stripes. These are probably the traces of the wind, because their direction is the same almost everywhere, and in places that are well protected from the wind, these systems of stripes are less pronounced.
When wind follows a short frost period, hard snow grains and possibly rain drops could make these systems of grooves.

A different mechanism probably causes the remarkable parallel grooves that run downhill in sloping terrain. On a horizontal surface, they have all sorts of quirky directions. This phenomenon occurs only when a layer of old snow is covered by young snow and then is followed by rain. Rainwater seeps through the porous young snow and accumulates in streams inside the old-new interface; all these streams flow in the direction of the sloping ground and carve out small ditches. The young snow settles into the ditches, and then shows the peculiar appearance that we described.
Snow seems to melt slower under the dirt. But ... this conflicts with dirt absorbing more heat (see above).
Another typical form of melting snow occurs when the snow is dirty, and there is bright sunshine. Then needles, pointed shapes, erratic peaks and miniature reefs up to 15 cm high will form that face the sun and follow the sun in the course of the day. Apparently the snow was protected here and there against the radiation by a little piece of dirt and it melted more slowly in the shadow cone of each of these sunscreens. In the Andes these shapes are created in the same way on a much grander scale, the famous "penitent snow."

It is always worth noting the order in which the snow melts. In one case it stayed longer on the sleepers of rail tracks than on the earth surrounding them. Obviously the ground was  warmer and provided enough heat to melt the snow, while the wood of the sleepers conducts heat poorly, so the sleepers cool at their tops and cannot deliver a constant flow of heat. In another case, the snow stayed only on the sharply defined squares or circles around a few trees of an avenue: the trees had recently been planted, and the disturbed earth apparently had different thermal properties than the surrounding soil.

In general, the snow stays longer in shady places where it is protected against the warm thaw wind, where perhaps the soil is slightly higher than its surroundings, so the melt water flows away.Such observations can be performed when the snow begins to fall; the white layer forms first on wood, grass, loose soil, and only much later on the highly conductive asphalt of the roadway.At what point in your environment, do you find the longest laying snow? What influence does the nature of the soil have, or vegetation, proximity of water or swamp?

Most likely a combination of all the factors above creates the surrealistic shapes of the molten snow:

molten refrozen snow

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Topography - Krimpen aan den IJssel

My inspiration comes from the Ventures and adventures in Topography as practiced by John Rogers and Nick Papadimitriou. Not a definition, but a start of a manifesto:
  • Essentially topography is really nothing more than the detailed study of place, an area or region or town, etcetera ...
  • The walker at the edges of the city, the liminal figure who is not so conceptual in his practice ...
For a long time I was jealous of the London walkers, until I discovered that I had my own area where I could practice deep topography, my own liminal places at the edges of the city. My wife bought a simple walking guide from the Dutch Cyclists Union (ANWB) that covers the Green Heart, the area between the biggest cities of the Netherlands. A huge liminal and threatened area. It is the same size as the London outskirts.

This is our first walk from the book: Nr. 33 - Krimpenroute - 7 km.

Krimpen aan den IJssel - Vijverflat - Large 1970's housing estates at the edge of the village. 
Wild wet path - housing estate on the left - expensive new houses on the right.
Most expensive housing at the edge between village en nature. I'm researching theories of land use, but have only started. Boundaries like this should be meaningful.
Flat and wet. In the middle-ages water was  actively drained from these areas making the peat-lands arable. This led to subsidence of the lands, making the land unsuitable for wheat farming but still useful for dairy farming.
Signs of less stringent land use regulations. Informal constructions. Slight decay.
Water control infrastructure. This area has been re-converted from farmland to artificial nature reserve. Re-creating nature is much more expensive than simply protecting existing nature.
One of the original farms.
Edge of the village again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Berlin tunnel pilgrimage

I try to read the local papers whereever I am. Often it's a waste of time, but sometimes you discover interesting details. The Berlin local paper – otherwise quite horrible – had a report about this unused connection tunnel at the Friedrichsstrasse station. No one really understands why it has been closed for three years. A few days ago it was opened but then was closed again immediately.

I find such places interesting because no one else does. The newspaper clipping gave me a good excuse for a mini-expedition. I had 60 minutes between two lectures and this should be just enough. But the station was much more complex than I had expected. Several levels, many tunnels, a lot of dead space and dead ends. Even some places where the homeless were sleeping undisturbed. A fascinating 3D search space, fun to explore.
Friedrichstrasse station: Complex space levels
Friedrichstrasse station: Dead space with dead electronic machines
Friedrichstrasse station: Dead space with sleeping homeless
I did not find the tunnel quickly enough on my own. So I started asking around:
  • The station masters of the Deutsche Bahn at the lowest level: did not know it.
  • Two friendly police men at the middle level: did not know it.
  • Staff at the information desk of the S-Bahn: did not know it.
  • A homeless one-legged beggar in one of the tunnels: took my 2 euros but did not even understand German.
Everyone looked at my newspaper cutting with interest and curiosity. Everyone was puzzled. A nice way to contact the locals and the officials. But my time was up. I had to return to the conference.

The metro was chock full but a few people mamanged to push in after me. Among them a short old man with a leather cap, a grey beard and intelligent eyes. He loked local, so I showed him the newspaper clipping:
  • Of course I know where it is. It's inside that building down there (pointing out of the metro window). I have lived here a long time and I know everything here (telling me about several historic buildings that the communist had torn down). I would be a good city guide for you (but he didn't make me an offer).
In the evening I returned to this place. I simply had to find that tunnel. It was not immediately obvious where I shoud start so I asked again:
  • Two cleaning ladies in the overpass bridge: did not know, pointed me to the station master.
  • Station master on the upper level: said that it was right under the overpass bridge (it was not).
Then I decided to walk in the rough direction that the old man had pointed in and there I found the entrance to the metro and the – blocked – tunnel entrance. Walking around the building I found the other tunnel entrance. I walked through the blocked tunnel. There was no one to stop me. Mission accomplished!
Tunnel entrance 1 at Friedrichstrasse
Tunnel entrance 2 at  Reichstagufer (?)
Tunnel inside - same view as newspaper clipping
Even now - as I write this blog - it is difficult to orient myself on both Google and Bing maps. The Berlin prohotographic data is hugely out of date. There are new skyscrapers now where Google and Bing show open spaces.

Lessons learned:
  • Everything can be made into a quest of discovery.
  • Searching for something is a great way to talk to strangers.
  • It's surprising how badly people know their own surroundings.
From here I went to the disused airport of Tempelhof. Another random goal to give me an excuse for wandering.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Enigmatic books manifesto

Tent / Witte de With gallery presented a series of enigmatic books and book editors but they give no further information on their website. These are photographs that I made during the exhibition and scans from a few books that I bought. Some questions:
  • Why are these combinations of text and image so enigmatic? So enticing?
  • Why do you keep thinking about them?
  • Is this deep art or just a cheap trick?
  • Is this topography? Can topography always be like this?

Der eine lacht, der eine lacht nicht.
Der eine lacht, der andere lacht nicht.

A neat little house with a neat bland garden. Optically this looks like Germany. The German text confirms this. Open questions:
  • Who is laughing here? Why is the other one not laughing? What is going on inside this little house? Do brutal conflicts hide behind the neat bourgeois exterior?
  • Is this found imagery? Or did the artist search for it? How difficult was it to find this picture or this location?
  • Is this found text? Is it a citation? Or did the artist write it himself?
  • Is the combination intentional or is it just a random juxtaposition?
the long delayed but always expected something
We live in such a mysterious universe don't we?
I don't remember.
Old school holiday photographs. Beautiful landscapes. Looks like Austria or Switzerland. The font and style of the text suggest a 1950 theatre play or film script. Suggestions of a dialogue between a female and a male character. Same questions apply here as above.
The enigmatic character is enhanced by the total lack of background information. No artist name, no artwork title. I think this is the poster "The Glass" by Özlem Altin, but I can not be sure. "The glass" only adds to the mystery.

It also works without text. Graininess, texture and lomo effects have been used by artists so much that they have become a cliché. But they are effective to create an atmosphere of suspense.
  • What is happening here? Waiting? For some calamity? Searching? What has been lost? A ritual? A prayer?
  • Is this a found photograph? From a newspaper? Why would this be interesting for any newspaper?
  • A staged photograph? Why? It is not artistically or photographically interesting. Could anyone visualize and design such a picture beforehand?

It even works without people in the picture. Bland suburbia, neatness and order combined with temporary raw soil, chaos and entropy. But this is the easy interpretation. If you look closer you see the framing and composition. These are no random pictures, these are studied and deliberate.
  • Is this a personal project of the photographer? Is this easy or hard? How often do you find a heap of earth in the garden suburbs?
  • Are these newspaper pictures? What kind of article could this be?

Conclusion - and a manifesto

This is a trick and a con. It abuses the pattern recognition reflex of my neurological machine. I am presented with noise and I automatically search for patterns and meaning. It could be used as a psychological research tool like the Rorschach test. My analysis above reveals more about myself than about the artworks.

This may be a trick but it is a very pleasant one. To quote Nick Papadimitriou: "Such things are psychedelic." These enigmatic pictures can open your eyes to the mysteries of everyday life. The hidden depths of suburbia. The unexpected layers behind the daily news. The mystical. The sublime.

They can stimulate the viewer to look for such examples himself. They can send him on a creative expedition outside the commercial information channels. They can stimulate local discoveries bypassing the global tourist industry. A creative retreat from the capitalist amusement system.

Further research

I will do some experiments with searching for enigmatic pictures and text. I have a stack of unread newspapers for January - February 2011. We'll see if I can make such a book from this material. But ... will I ever find a publisher?

Erstarrte Unruhe - Orient Press
Erik van der Weijde - artist website
Özlem Altin - new website
Rorschach test - Wikipedia
Manifesto - Wikipedia

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Enticing light

enticing light
A short story by the Dutch artist Armando:

Hey, now I catch you in the act. You always say that you enjoy walking, walking in the woods or in the park, but I've noticed that you hardly look around you, you look straight in front of you or at the ground.

Maybe you are worrying, or maybe you are daydreaming, I do not know, but you don't see the trees and foliage and neither do you see the enticing light behind the bushes. I think it is better for you to look around you from time to time. Will you promise me that?

Armando - Wandelen - Voorvallen in de wildernis | Walking - Incidents in the Wilderness
A sympathetic story. Active looking and observing is something that I try to practice all the time. And I'm also  fascinated by this "enticing light behind the bushes". I don't understand yet how it works and what it is I'm seeing. Take picture #2 from the series above:

What causes the glare in the picture above? Is it true that:

Glare happens because not all light that hits a lens is focused onto a camera's sensor. A small fraction is reflected inside the lens, emerging in unpredictable places. If a light source is bright enough, this effect can bleach out parts of an image.

Or is it caused by diffraction around the edges of branches:

The apparent bending of waves around small obstacles and the spreading out of waves past small openings.

It might be caused by other effects like overloading of the sensor or reflection of the light on leaves and branches. Marcel Minnaert knows and describes the effect:

It seems as if the setting sun causes an indentation in the line of the horizon. 

He calls this phenomenon "irradiation" and cites Leonardo da Vinci who described the effect in his notebooks:

Leonardo da Vinci; in his writings, says of this phenomenon: 'We can see this when we look at the sun through bare branches of trees. All the branches in front of the sun are so slender that one can no longer see them, and the same with a spear held between the eye and the sun's disc, I once saw a woman dressed in black with a white shawl over her head. This shawl seemed twice as broad as the darkly clad shoulders. The crenels in the battlements of fortresses are of exactly the same width as the merlons and yet the former appear to be appreciably wider than the latter.' 

Unfortunately his explanation is not very clear and I omit it here. I cannot find the term "irradiation" on the Internet and the term "glare" does not help much. I have searched most of the evening but have not found one convincing explanation. Neither have I found the Da Vinci quote in his notebooks.

The future of photography - NewScientist
Diffraction - Wikipedia
The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci - Wikisource
M. Minnaert - The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air - Dover Books on Earth Sciences

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Moiré pattern

Beautiful two-dimensional moiré patterns in the Rotterdam metro. The pictures were taken from different viewpoints to demonstrate how the patterns change with distance.

regular moiré patterns

Once you become aware of these patterns you see them everywhere. Of course Marcel Minnaert has noticed this phenomenon and has devoted a long paragraph to it. But he describes the one-dimensional case only:

55. Beats between Two Sets of Railings 
Whenever one ean see the posts of one set of railings between the posts of another set, one perceives broad light and dark bands in the intensity of the light, which move when one moves.
These are due to the fact that the apparent distance between the posts of the two sets of railings differs more or less, either because the one has wider spaces than the other, or because they are at different distances from our eye. In certain directions the posts seem to coincide, and in others the posts of the first railing fill exactly the space between the posts of the second, so that a difference arises in the average brightness. We can say that they are 'in step' or 'out of step.'

When one has once noticed these beats, one sees them in all sorts of places. Every bridge with a parapet in the form of a railing on both sides shows these undulations in intensity when seen from a certain distance. They appear, too, when one sees the shadow of a railing between its own posts, in which case the period is the same, but the distance to our eye is different.
In some stations a goods-lift is surrounded by wire-netting, and the combination of the side nearest to us and the side farthest away forms a kind of moiré, such as one sees when one lays two pieces of wire-gauze on one another, or two combs with unequal distances between the teeth.

Marcel Minnaert then proceeds to analyze the mathematics of the situation as follows:

One interference wave (one beat) between the two patterns occurs when the differences between the two patterns add up to the distance between two posts:

n = g1 / (g1 - g2)
g2 = L / x2
g1 = L / x1
n = x2 / (x2 - x1)
x2 - x1 is constant

If you walk further away from the pattern one beat / wave will contain more units, but the angle that is covered by one beat will remain constant: n * g2 =  L / (x2 - x1).

Wikipedia - Moiré pattern has also derived the mathematics for us. But their derivation is different from the one used by Marcel Minnaert.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parallel encyclopedia

This has a lot to do with "searching and finding". Sometimes I wonder why I make photographs when so many pictures have been made already. A search through existing "picture space" might dredge up fascinating materials. But searching and finding takes more energy than just adding to the pile. That's why I'm thankful for the few people that take up this task.

I saw this book first at Witte de With gallery in Rotterdam. It's one of those books that you walk around a long time and eventually you buy them. Even though they're expensive they are worth the money.

It is difficult to describe the appeal of this book. For me it has all the mystery of the Codex Seraphinianus and The Islanders. But all these pictures are real. And together they create a mysterious and sur-real atmosphere that opens your eyes for the wonders of this world.

There is just limited information about the pictures and no context. There is no storyline but pictures are grouped together by both appearance and subject. The book overpowers you with the huge variety of pictures and subjects it covers - and that you could have noticed if you had looked in the right way.

I remember that the pictures were culled from the book collections of friends of Batia Suter. In the interview the artist says that she started making a private collection of books and pictures to analyze the interestingness of pictures. Later she found that other people found her collection fascinating too. "It is ordered roughly by subject but it has a kind of internal dream logic."

A voluminous book containing a precise composition of images from other books.
ISBN: 978-90-77459-21-8, Year: 2007, Number of pages: 592, Size: 21 x 28 cm

Batia Suter - Parallel Encyclopedia
VPRO interview with Batia Suter - in dutch
ROMA publications - to order