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Monday, March 4, 2019

Data Distortion

Episode One Hundred Sixteen: Data Distortion.
In which the parts make a hole.




1 comment:

  1. This is, of course, a slice from the cover of the TalkingHeads album 'More Songs About Buildings And Food' (1978). Concept by Byrne, montage executed by artist Jimmy De Sana (according to wiki), it is a photomosaic of the band that comprises 529 Polaroid close-up photographs of varying exposures and, though approaching an apparent singular POV, each image also depicts varying degrees of zoom on the original image. The result is a grotesque distortion of body that echos the fractured identities that the band were experiencing as their celebrity took hold.

    The reverse of the album cover is a reproduction of "Portrait, U.S.A.," an image of the lower 48 as depicted by a Landsat composite, noted as "the first colormosaic of the United States", made from 569 images, each of which was itself a composite of four images scanned from different parts of the light spectrum. The liner notes depict the process of Landsat information gathering and assimilation, analog to digital.

    First off, I'm thinking about this in 2019 and the idea that it was only in the mid-seventies that we were beginning to compile color satellite imagery is amazing. It is such a ubiquitous tool today; how quickly we adapt. And that realization really drives home where computing power was in the 70's.

    The contrast between the two images is clearly intentional: it is a meditation on data processing, and the role perception has in affecting outcome. In the one case, variances in tolerance for each data set result in a whole that is jarring in its 'untruthfulness'. In the second, we marvel at the success of our having succeeded in cleanly depicting such an overwhelmingly large entity.

    Of course, each reaction is subjective, and neither whole is any more 'accurate' than the other. Our idea of what makes a good representation is informed by many varying factors, all of which are specific to our point of view. The idea of the lower 48 as an 'entity' whole is merely a fiction, one that is loosely agreed upon by a sliver of the human population, as is the idea of 'truthfully' represented human body / celebrity. As a representation of the self, the latter is an idea we gravitate toward, are more wedded to as integral to our identity, and reflexively return to regularly in an iconic reinforcement.

    This understanding comes in to play for me daily as a data nerd, though few people I support have the least bit of interest in its significance in terms of the extraction of results.

    It seems to me that everything works this way: my experience of this album is distorted in a way that it is not for you, and that is different from that of my children. Therefore, this meditation on how we model the world through data processing is itself a representation of how the world is evoked, by us, using our senses, and memories, and subjective cognitive enhancements. It's a process that remains a completely mysterious phenomenon: practically determined by natural selection, and, yet, sometimes seemingly inadequate.

    The previous week happened to focus on feet. When I was looking at the album cover, something about the hands stuck with me.

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