Summer ’21 – Week 9

Summer ’21 – Week 9

Hi, you!

OMG! It’s the 9th of our 12 weeks of Artful Summer!

Art Idea #9 – Sometimes even artists follow rules!

Two weeks ago we made single-image photos. Headshots. Environmental Portraits. Then last week we put a dozen pix together to tell a Photo Story. This week we’re going to create another dozen or more pictures, but in a different way.

Rule-based Photography

This week we’re going to each come up with some rule(s) that will tell us who, what, when, or where to take a picture. In most photography, we try to take a picture at the right moment. Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to it as “the decisive moment.” Depending on what rule(s) you write for yourself, there may be room for you to wait for a moment, or to compose a picture, or it might not be that. It might be more mechanistic.

Algorithmic Art

Writing a rule to generate a series of photographs is a bit like Algorithmic Art. A lot of Algorithmic Art involves computers. Give a machine instructions and it executes them and generates something. If you ever had a Spirograph as a kid, that was a sort of Algorithmic Art. The different numbers of teeth on the different gears generated different geometric shapes. In the Spirograph’s case, it wasn’t a digital computer, but a mechanical machine, plus your choice of disks and pen colors, that generated the art.

the box cover of a Spirograph toy showing a young boy holding some of his Spirograph drawings
Spirograph!

When we think of Algorithmic Art we do tend to think of computers. It turns out people have been writing Algorithms to generate art long before we ever had digital computers. Some of those algorithms were impossible to execute until we had modern computers.

In some sense, any musical score could be thought of as Algorithmic Art. The composer writes a series of instructions (a composition in musical notation) and then human machines (musicians) execute those instructions and people hear the result.

Player Piano

You could think of any musical score as an algorithm to generate music. The Player Piano goes a step further. An artist takes a long scroll of paper, punches a series of holes in it, and then it travels somewhere, finds a machine it fits on, and… music!

Here’s a sort of “player piano on steroids”. As you’ll see, the “music” is embedded in the mechanism of the machine. It also includes a symbiotic relationship with the human who both powers it and interacts with it to produce specific sounds.
Here’s the James Bond theme performed by Quadrotors.
Here’s a piece by the LBSU Laptop Ensemble. They create, not surprisingly, musical compositions with laptops. In this piece, Seth Shafer’s Music for Knobs I, the paradigm is sort of inverted. Here the notation scrolls by on the laptops, and the human operators watch it and move their knobs according to the instructions to generate the musical performance.
Eric Singer’s Guitar Bot

Your Rule-based Photography

This week you won’t have to punch any player piano rolls or program a quadrotor or Guitar Bot. You’ll just come up with some simple rules to generate a series of 12 or more photographs.

Your rule(s) can be anything! Well, anything that generates 12 or more images by Sunday night. So, your rule can’t be: take 1 photo a day for 12 days, since that rule wouldn’t finish by this week’s due date.

Your rule could be:

  • Take 1 photo at the top of every waking hour for one day.
  • Take 1 photo every 6 hours from now until 6 pm on Sunday.
  • Take 1 photo every time I kiss my partner.
  • Take 1 photo every time I check social media.
  • Take a photo every 15 minutes of wherever I am for one day.
  • Take a photo every time I eat or drink something.
  • Take a photo every time I see a cat.

Your rule(s) can be based on Time, or Events, or Places. Try to think of rules that might generate something interesting. We aren’t thinking like “artists” realizing a masterpiece painting this week. Instead, we are thinking of a rule-generated art machine. In our case, you+your camera are the “machine”. And the rule(s) you write will operate on the machine of you to produce a series of images. Your images might reflect the movement of the sun through the day, the diversity or banality of your daily experiences, or anything else. Your series becomes a sort of document of time and place.

The “Photo Stories” you created last week were also “documents of time and place,” but I think you can see that this week’s “documents” will have a different quality to them.

Useful

As you probably know, art can be intimidating. The great thing about Beer Pong is that nobody’s worried that they’re going to look stupid. Hand someone a paintbrush and suddenly, the pressure is on! Rule-based art can not only generate interesting visual images, sounds, and other experiences, it can also take the pressure off. Just as we saw with our Cognitive Maps of the LBSU Campus, working with rules can still tell us a lot about the Rule Writer and the Rule Executing Human. As a team exercise, rule-based art could be a way to let your office peers, even if they’re peers in isolation and on Zoom at this point, be creative without the pressure of “making great art”. Think about ways you can use rule-based art as a creative exercise. It could be simple brainstorming to free up everyone’s thinking. Or it might be designed to generate useful solutions to project problems.

Your Blog Post

  1. Write your photography rule(s)
  2. Perform your rule(s) and generate anywhere between 12 & a zillion photos
  3. Post your pix on Your Blog.
  4. Describe what your rule(s) was, why you selected it, and what you hoped or thought it might produce
  5. Did your results match your expectation? How were your results like or different from what you expected?
  6. If you had a team of 5 people at the office tasked with coming up with a business marketing plan, can you think of any rule-based exercise that the 5 of you could do to generate ideas, methods, or solutions to your marketing scenario?
  7. Name your blog post: Week 9 – Art Activity – Time-Series Photography

Artist OTW

Our artists this week are Eric Singer and Ewa Xebra. Eric Singer is the founder of “LEMUR”, the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. When you look him up, you should probably search for “Eric Singer LEMUR” so you’ll get the artist we’re talking about. If you just search for “Eric Singer” you’ll probably get the drummer from KISS.

Ewa Xebra is not an “artist”. She’s a doctor. But some years ago she got hooked on “photo a day” projects in a big way. She now has many projects going. One, in particular, is a photo every day of her daughter Luna from birth to her current age of 2485 days old. You can find her Luna photo album here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/evaxebra/albums/72157637108259076

You don’t have to look at every single one of her photos, but get a nice sampling and be sure to get to the end to see Luna today.

  1. Describe Eric Singer’s work
  2. Describe Ewa Xebra’s work
  3. How are Eric Singer’s musical robots similar to player pianos? How are they different?
  4. As a fairly serious amateur photographer, Ewa Xebra tries to make attractive images. As you look at the thousands of daily images of her daughter Luna’s life, are you struck by the aesthetics and beauty of the images? Or is that secondary to the experience of an unfolding document of a human life? Explain.
  5. Compare Singer and Xebra. Do you see parallels in their work? What are the differences?
  6. If you were going to make a musical robot, what would it do?
  7. If you were going to take a photo once a day for 10 years, what would your photos be of?
  8. Name your blog post: Week 9 – Artist – Eric Singer & Ewa Xebra

Week 9, woo!

Have a good week! Be safe. Be well. And keep cool if you can!

LMK if I can help with anything. Email me at glenn.zucman@csulb.edu or LMK if you’d like to meetup on Zoom some time.

~ Glenn

Fractal art from https://jooinn.com/fractal-art-5.html Fractal art is a type of Algorithmic Art. You could say it’s a sort of Spirograph on steroids.

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

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