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Algorithmic Photography

Traditional photographs record a split second moment in time. They are powerful, but lack a meaningful temporal context. The events before and after the image is recorded can potentially completely change the interpreted meaning of that one moment. Algorithmic Photography is a digital technique that records a sequential period of time and presents us with a view of reality where we can trace the branching paths of ants nests, the exploding murmuration of starlings, and the brightly coloured swarming of people as they navigate architecture. It captures a memory of everyday events in a complementary and pleasingly abstract way.

Starling murmuration over Brighton Marina

Algorithmic Photography is an ongoing series of photographs and videos by Alex May that reveal the hidden motion of the world around us through the eye of the computer.

May uses digital cameras and computer code to create composite images from thousands of frames of video, capturing the world in motion in a single frame. Taking inspiration from traditional chemical photography, May replaces the pinhole camera with a viewfinder-less GoPro and photographic film with an algorithm, watching the image develop in his ‘dark room’ software.

Trails of ants crawling across painted logs at the Eden Project

Like using different types of film, each algorithm is designed to capture specific information, from bold swathes of colour as people travel through the shot, or subtle movements in nature that are too slow or small to be perceived by the human eye, such as the movement of clouds, raindrops, and insects.

People running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
A selection of photographs were taken during a one-month EMAP residency at LABoral in Gijón, Spain in August 2018.

News

  • Capture the Future(s): OUR BIO-TECH PLANET - June 27, 2021
    For the Plant Biology Europe Congress 2021, Art Science Node (ASN) prepared a fully virtual exhibition “Capture the Future(s): OUR BIO-TECH PLANET. The Routes to Roots Networks and Beyond”.
  • Algorithmic Photography: Alianza Francesa de San Salvador - October 20, 2020
    Alex May was invited to exhibit a series Algorithmic Photography images during the Alianza Francesa de San Salvador month-long celebration of photography.
  • A World Without Us Revisited - August 18, 2020
    IMPAKT revisit their 2018 exhibition “A World Without Us” in light of the global pandemic. Alex May has a body of new work in the exhibition.
  • Talk: Digital Arts Practice in the time of the Pandemic - July 20, 2020
    Alex May will preview new work in response to the pandemic lock down, exploring the opportunities and drawbacks of dissemination of digital arts online.
  • TECHnique Interview - March 24, 2020
    Richard F Adams speaks to Alex May, a British contemporary artist whose practice forges links between art, science and technology through a wide range of digital new media.
  • Trebuchet Audio Interview - January 4, 2020
    A recording of the live interview from Trebuchet’s Time & Space talks event in October 2019
  • Trebuchet Talks – Time & Space - October 8, 2019
    Trebuchet talks featuring: “Psychohorology” Jordan Baseman (Royal College of Art) “Painting Objects in Dynamic Space” Alex May (Artist) “Dark Matters” Malcolm Fairbairn (Kings College London) Hosted by Kailas Elmer (Trebuchet) Space Soundtracks by Danny De Matos (Lisbon Kid) Showcasing a mixture of Art, Science and Culture Trebuchet talks is an energetic evening of discussion, drinks and discovery. FREE event but registration required Laylow10 ...
  • Intelligent Machinery Exhibition - September 9, 2019
    This exhibition and events programme critically explores robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and bio-computation through a series of installations and robotic artworks.
  • Artistic Exploration of BioRobotics and Sequencing - January 31, 2019
    Alex May gave a talk about art science collaboration, robot art projects, Flow State, Sequence VR, sequence music, and algorithmic photography at the SynBio and Art conference at Warwick University.
  • Algorithmic Photograph shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019 - November 26, 2018
    “Trails of Birds Over Merlin’s Cave” was shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019 in the Birdlife category. The algorithmic photograph was taken in 2018 on a trip to visit Tintagel Castle in Cornwall and captures five minutes of birds flying above the crashing waves next to the sea cave where, according to Arthurian legend, Merlin ...

Background

May’s Algorithmic Photography technique for generating these images was first developed in 2008 as an interactive artwork called “Statues Also Die”. It was part of a series of video projection mapping audiovisual installations situated on the south bank of the River Thames in London, created by Alex May and Martin A. Smith for the InTransit Festival.

“Statues Also Die” by Alex May (2008)

The installation takes a real-time video feed from a camera and creates a composite image from elements that remain still. This technique followed on from the ideas developed in an earlier work, Shadows of Light.

Pre-production test for the “Statues Also Die” algorithm (the exhibition was titled Statues Alive)

3 thoughts on “Algorithmic Photography”

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