Friday 31 March, 2023

Darwin and his masterpiece (x2)

Seen in a bookshop window yesterday

Quote of the Day

”The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality and, eventually in one’s own.”

  • Susan Sontag

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Satie | Je te veux


Long Read of the Day

How Will AI Transform Photography?

As artists experiment with this fast-evolving technology, they uncover creative opportunity, absurdity, and bias. So says Charlotte Kent, an arts writer and an assistant professor of visual culture at Montclair State University in a thought-provoking essay. It pulled me up short because, as a keen photographer, I initially thought that generative AI technology was a threatening antithesis to photography. The article suggests, though, that some photographers see its possibilities for augmentation.


Due to the range of sources from which these image generators pull data—online images ranging from stock photography, news imagery, social media posts, and personal websites—the results can range from the real to the uncanny. New York–based photographer Charlie Engman believes that AI’s limited understanding of bodies stems from perceiving them through images, not lived experiences. Informed by a background in dance and performance, Engman’s work spans fashion imagery as well as collaborative portraits of his mother. His AI experiments push some of these ideas further, exploring how the technology is able and unable to articulate bodily movement.

Our physical gestures are expressive of internal, psychological states, but AI struggles to process the aesthetic of emotions. Grief or pleasure may appear on AI-generated faces but isn’t replicated in those figures’ postures or gestures. Engman has observed that the body language of performers includes subtle movement choices cultivated over time to express thoughts and feelings, but these are rarely read accurately across AI data sets. Tags associated with images don’t typically specify a relationship between affect and a particular gesture. For instance, an emotion might be determined as happy because many images with smiles are tagged “happy,” but the AI might not be prompted to discern other subtle postures or stances, such as relaxed shoulders. For Engman, this gap is a compelling reason to explore the technology…

The piece includes lots of striking images, like this one making a commentary on office life.

Interesting throughout.

Books, etc.

Travels with Charley

Browsing in David’s bookshop in Cambridge yesterday morning, I came on a battered copy of this and was reminded of the first time I read it, aeons ago. I had an audio copy of it too, and sometimes listened to it during the years when I had a long commute to work. But then I mislaid my copy and the cassette tapes of the audio version went the way of all cassette tapes. So I opened the paperback and read this…

When I was very young and the urge to be some place else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age, I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of the stomach, high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself…

…and was lost. So I paid David £2 thinking “well, that takes care of the weekend”.

My commonplace booklet

Going Solar

My friend Quentin (Whom God Preserve) decided that he would ‘go solar’ some time ago. And he did. But Quentin never does anything by halves, or without thinking things through beforehand. And he’s just released a video describing what he did and explaining the various decisions he made. It’s long (nearly 40 minutes) but if you’re seriously interested in harnessing the power of the sun for domestic reasons, then you’ll learn a lot from it. I know I did.

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