I look at a digital photograph as nothing but electrons. There is nothing real about a digital photo, except possibly the scene or moment in which it captured, but even those can be manipulated.
As a Photographer I have one thought that keeps running through my mind. Without lenses or light I would not be a photographer. I also look to the source of light for inspiration. So isn’t it awesome that I found the source for my idea in a book about the solar system? I think so!
While leafing through the book, a black and white image of the moon caught my eye. [Img1] Images of space are “processed by light sensors instead of conventional photographic methods.” These sensors break apart the images into a grid of pixels.[Img2]
These pixels, or picture elements, break apart the image in numerical averages of light in each cell of the grid. 255 represent pure whites; 0 represent pure blacks, and 123 represents middle grays. The grayscale, from 0-255, is a 256-step gradient of luminosity.[Img3]
When the satellite takes a picture of the moon it captures it as numbers and transmits them to an earthly computer, which converts the pixel information back to the familiar picture.
This idea intrigued me, and I set forth turning one digital image into a grid of numbers. I found an image that was similar to the image of the moon, having contrast between blacks grays and whites, to see if a similar aspect would occur.
While looking at the grid of numbers I could see the shape of the crater. But it had opposite values, like a film negative before the print is made. I noticed that the numerical information is like the density of silver in film. Where there is no silver the film is transparent, when printed it is black. Whites are the densest area on a negative like that of 255.
I now needed to convert the image into a numerical grid. My first thought was to call NASA and have them email me the program that they use to do the opposite. But I realized that if they had it would not be declassified to me. Using Photoshop I found a way to read each pixel and get its information. I would have to zoom into the image and use the eyedropper tool to get the amounts.[Img4, Img5]
The image I am using is an abstract figure with hexagonal tattoos. The hexagons contrast the light grays of the body and will likely be seen in the numerical grid, but as a negative.[Img6]
Negative information and Translated image
Photography by Numbers: Becoming the Machine
What is a photograph, but an image recorded by light and a light sensitive receiver?
In traditional photographic processes, light bounces off of objects and is captured through a lens on to a light sensitive film. After the film is chemically developed, the film holds a negative image. The negative is placed into an enlarger and light is projected through the film to produce a positive image on another light sensitive material. This then also has to be chemically developed for an image to appear.
A digital camera has a light sensitive receiver, which captures information in a negative numerical format. Light travels through a lens and is measured by a light sensor measuring luminosity on a scale from 0-255 (pure black – pure white). The image is divided into a grid of pixels, or picture elements. Each pixel holds a number for the luminance of that part of the image. These pixels can add to or detract from the quality of the image.
I have decided that there is no need for the computer to translate my digital image, unless you understand the language of luminosity. There are 256 characters that build this visual language. Zeros are black and as the number goes up to 255 it becomes white.
When you replace each pixel with the numerical information that it represents, you will get a negative. Similar to a film negative, the white values are dense with silver halide crystals and the black values are more transparent. The Pixel holding a zero, or black, had more white surrounding it. And the opposite is true with 255 having more black than white.
This is the language. You are the computer. Translate. This is a photograph.