The Mind's Camera Portrait Project

Based on the requirements of expense for each word sent, messages in the age of the telegraph were quite brief. As the cost per message bit fell significantly with new personal communication media, messages generally began to grow longer. But it appears that we retrieve the staccato of the telegraph with the latest social networking services. First, because of the physical effort of typing out messages (a problem exacerbated with cell phones and PDAs); second, because of the sheer information overload that must be managed at this time by active human agents.

Christina Chang

Christina Chang
June 2007

In the society of the multiplying or replicating image, particularly in the context of social networking applications such as Facebook, staccato messaging is further incentivized by the narcissism of the application's structural form. Profile photos replicate around the site based on the flows of affinity networks and the relative number of posts each subject contributes. I see myself every time I communicate. Sign value becomes exchange value becomes mirror value.

At a time when the profile photo has become so important to what passes for social discourse, we might ask ourselves: what is being lost in the process of portraiture?

Mind\'s Camera

The Mind's Camera Portrait Project was a photographic study conducted in Saas-Fee, Switzerland and Budapest, Hungary in June 2007. The premise was to have subjects pose for a portrait that they themselves were to compose. But the twist was that just at the moment of shooting, I would hold the camera to the back of my head and photograph the scene in behind.

Some questions that interested me at the time: What role does composition play in the final outcome — both my rules-based composition and the crafted composition of each subject? What is the nature of performativity for the subject being photographed, who elaborately constructs a scenario only to not see it realized as such? What is it that the photographic subject is actually seeing during this time? How does the question of memory impact the eventual "product" of the photo? What about memory for the photographer, since what is seen is never photographed and what is photographed is never seen? What role does the metadata (ie. date, filename) play in the question of remembering? What occurs in that closing of the physical distance between photographer and subject when the outcome is immediately revealed?

The following constitutes a selection of portraits taken during the study as well as feedback from each subject as they attempted to address some of the questions asked above. Each photo appears exactly as it was taken that day, which is to say it has not been subject to cropping or other alterations.

Elaine Ho

Elaine Ho
June 2007

Elaine points out that the portrait is really not about the space behind me, the photographer, but about the space between the two of us, not unlike the space between painter and subject in Dutch portraiture. There is a relationship visualized between her and myself (not to mention the surrounding space and the objects it contains) regardless of the fact that the actual photo or data archive occurs behind me. As such, the performativity of the subject posing exists long before the pose, in the suspense before the event, which thereafter continues during the actual construction of how the portrait should be designed.

Laura Dean

Laura Dean
June 2007

For most, the process of composing their portrait was primarily an intellectual exercise. But for Laura there was a substantial physical component as well. She wanted to be shot in the wildflower-laden meadows that dot the hillsides of Saas-Fee village. But these are steep hillsides we are describing: Laura had to do a significant amount of climbing just to get to the point where she wanted the photo taken, and I felt worse and worse with each step she took. But she was a good sport about it, pointing out that portraiture is an inherently narcissistic act, which was brought to her direct attention through the exercise. For her the image was different than the experience and thus neither the portrait taken with the camera nor the one she had constructed for me could be considered "real" in the end.

Rory Parks

Rory Parks
June 2007

As soon as I took the photo Rory began to contemplate the space behind me, which was important for him as he understands portraiture not as a representation of physical appearance, but rather one of emotional identity. And that identity which an audience ultimately sees has already been abstracted by the process of representing, hence a desire to see that which was about to be abstracted-by-proxy. He does not normally like to pose for photographs (due to the results, he says), but will do it anyways as he is always hopeful for the next one. In this case he felt cheated that he didn't get to see the result and suggested that his self-consciousness influenced the intellectual after the fact. To him, both the portrait constructed in his mind and the one in the photo are simultaneously real.

Morgan Fisher

Morgan Fisher
June 2007

The irony (only dimly grasped at the time) in asking Morgan, one of my instructors at EGS, to take part in the project is that he was the director of the 1970 experimental film Production Stills, which attempted to invert the relationship between director and players, between what is seen in front of the camera and what processes remain hidden from view. A videocamera was fixed on a blank spot of a wall. Periodically a polaroid photo was taped on the wall in front of the camera, where it would sit until being replaced by the next one. The viewer realizes mid-way through the movie that the polaroids, shot and developed in real time, are actually documenting Fisher and his crew in the act of making the film; in other words, they examine what is lost in the process. I can only imagine what the hell was going through his head as I was mucking around taking snapshots.

Sean Smith

Sean Smith
(self-portrait)
June 2007

Of course, this study really defies the ability for one to create a self-portrait of any consequence, but it sort of seemed like a fitting way to "end" the exercise, as it were. What did I learn during the study? First of all, I learned that art is not necessarily an outcome but rather a process. There were theoretical questions I was interested in (not particularly sophisticated ones, mind you), and the process allowed me to explore them in a co-emergent fashion with friends and colleagues. Along the way I learned about my own performativity, not only as that of someone crafting an aesthetic exercise with a hidden twist but also that of a becoming-artist, which was simultaneously a defense mechanism as the "sports guy" within a group of artists and a silent cry to be regarded in some way as a peer.

(Of course, I perform by writing this for you, dear audience, and I perform by acknowledging the performance, ad infinitum, endless recursion.)

I was also surprised to learn how intent I was on maintaining the level rectilinearity of the camera as I brought it behind my head for the inverted portrait shot. The fever of rationality still burning within, several of the portraits initially seemed to me "failures" for that very reason. And as if to subconsciously underscore the fact, I probably shot the self-portrait version a half dozen times to get the framing just so.

Finally, a year and a half later, I learned that I am still learning. Art as a method of investigation doesn't lead to neat hygienic objective closure, results to be codified, written and published in a journal. It is process as process that continues to fold its way into my other art practices, my other writings and my other questions — in short, my emergence. "You must always force your way into the existing discourse if you have an idea" (S. Stone).

One and Many Basketball Players

In our efforts to articulate the emergence of a sporting multitude, once again we turn to the work of Paolo Virno and a short piece titled "One and Many," in which he attempts to highlight differences between the "people" and the "multitude" as they relate to processes of individuation.

The One toward which the people gravitates is the State, the sovereign, the general will; the One that is behind the multitude, on the contrary, consists of language, of the intellect as a public or interpsychic resource and of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns statist unity it is only because it is related to a very different One, that is preliminary rather than conclusive. This relationship should be interrogated. An important contribution is offered by Gilbert Simondon, a philosopher very dear to Gilles Deleuze, little known outside of France until now. His reflections turn upon the processes of individuation. Individuation, i.e. the passage from the generic psychosomatic endowment of the human animal to the configuration of an irrepeatible singularity, is perhaps the category that, more than any other, is inherent in the multitude. At a closer glance, the category of the people applies to a myriad of non-individuated individuals, understood as simple substances or solipsistic atoms.

Does a networked meta-event such as Global Village Basketball reproduce the "unity/universality procured by the statist apparatus," albeit in the meshwork form characteristic of the emerging sporting Empire? It might seem that way if we simply refer to individuation as a process at the level of the human animal. But no (hu)man is an island: those individuated animals will eventually assemble in some fashion for survival, work, play or love.

The question becomes how the individuation of the individual is respected within the temporary sporting community of Global Village Basketball, as well as how the community itself becomes individuated at its own level of assemblage relative to other communities.

With regard to the former, this networked meta-event attempts to remove certain elements that contribute to what is actually the deindividuation of the human animal within sporting communities. First, the elimination of team uniforms. While it is true that GVB features the binary opposition of a Red team versus a Blue team, the actual identification of these teams by each local node in the networked game is not subject to an overall homogenized uniformity of the singular skin. Players may choose to wear some element of red or blue, or dispense with colours altogether and simply declare one side to be playing as Red and one as Blue. That a player may in fact play for both sides during the course of the pickup session makes such flexibility even more important.

In eliminating uniforms we also eliminate uniform numbers, those signifiers that identify and subsume the individual to the athletic collective of the team, a process unique neither to socialist or capitalist endeavours. Uniform numbers also index the individual to the administrative apparatus, to the table or the ledger or the boxscore or the scoresheet or the database. Breaking this indexical link either forces the administrator to know the identity of each individual present at the game, or else frustrates the alphanumeric archive altogether as a technique of individuation.

As such, we further eliminate the potential for the database to come into being and contribute to an econometrics of sporting production that improves the output of scored baskets. And when we further remove the "expert" authority of coaches and the police+judiciary system of referees, we free the athletic bodies in motion from a particular mandate for productivity. Put differently, we establish that pickup basketball is not a degraded form of the league and tournament basketball that yields to the hierarchies of world championships, but rather that it is the same sport in differential political form.

This is why it is so important for us to understand basketball in its linguistic sense. By placing the emphasis on baskets scored, on statistics and the other rationalizations of the spatiotemporal parameters for this sporting space, the focus remains on the capitalist accumulation of produced output. By instead removing much of those political constraints and instead focusing on the affect of the basketball bodies unfolding athletic poiesis from the foldings of potential in the realm of the virtual, we retrieve an emphasis on the virtuosity of this sporting labour from which capitalist relations are derived, but also from which the multitude comes into being.

camera, motion, sport

Designer Scott Burnham reminds us that idea innovation flourishes in sport: "I was at a primiere [sic] of a film that had an amazing, fast-paced dance sequence, which was captured beautifully on screen. I asked the director how he pulled the scene off. 'It was easy,' he said. 'The cameraman used to film games for the National Football League in America - there's no one better at following moving sequences and judging where the people in motion are going to end up than those guys.'"

Put differently, if we understand spectacle and surveillance as a moebius strip of control then sport is one of the proving grounds for new forms of administration and the subjectivities they produce.

Resample: "We must recognize and emphasize the art inherent in our sport: for example, the first time we execute a skill; the high speed ballet that is WR and DB dancing down the sideline; the rat-tat-tat of the tic-tac-toe pass; the sound of mesh snapping as the ball arcs through the rim. This cyborg aesthetic is our only organic armour against the domination by the cybernetic."

Gait, Surveillance and Spectacle

From an administrative perspective a person's gait is a marker of difference. The dizzying permutations and combinations of myriad factors constitute the code of our individual gait: height, weight, age, gender, centre of gravity, periodicity of stride length, number of legs, number of arms, material composition of prosthetic limb, indications for arthritis or other joint disease, prior accidents, access to health care, symmetry of body, footwear, style, cultural norms, curvature of spine, strength of core stabilizer muscles, and many more that could be added to this list. This code allows for surveillance to move beyond the strictly optic and enter the realm of the haptic, in which the walking body is sensually contoured by the eye towards identifying each individual subject by their gait.

If we suggest that surveillance and spectacle are like a moebius strip of control in the production and consumption of sport, then one wonders how gait-based surveillance techniques might be integrated into the sporting spectacle. To a certain degree, an understanding of the individualizing aspects of gait has already been integrated into sports videogames via motion capture, which allows sports videogame companies to create player constructs that "move" like their real-life celebrity doppelgangers.

But one suspects it likely that gait-based identification would also be integrated into the econometric analyses provided by ProZone and their ilk. As players come together on the pitch, there must some error produced by the apparatus in attempting to identify individual athletes (Foucault notes the political and economic problems inherent in the mass or swarm). Periodic gait analysis would offer a sort of six sigma error reduction process to the econometric apparatus.

Multitude of Multitudes

If Hardt and Negri believe that the internet and immaterial production provide both affirmative and necessary opportunities for the constitution of the multitude in postmodern society, and if we further understand the internet as a "network of networks" linked by circuit and signal, sharing certain protocols but having unique configurations, then should we not also insist that the multitude is similarly a "multitude of multitudes"?

In this insistence of the materiality of the forms of communication and the respective interfaces that connect human bodies together, the sporting multitude emerges as one such potential multitude among others. The sporting multitude is unique in its constitution though networked with other multitudes, both formally, in terms of communication systems and politically, in the sense of a common struggle against the meshworks of Empire. Thus, while material and immaterial structures, leverage points, and conditions of possibility may be unique to a particular biotic component (cf. Haraway) of the broader multitude, there exists the strong potential for diffusion, drift or rhizomatic connection on the strategic plane between these networks, as well as the rational singular-plural interest to do so.

G+D: "This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of land at all times."

The Painted

What is it to paint as one moves through urban space as a walking subject? It is to fashion an aesthetic understanding of the body as it contours through the other objects that form the dynamism of its experiential canvas. But is it really painting that we are describing? The technical apparatus of aesthetic reproduction has changed dramatically since the time of Baudelaire: painting with oily pigments has yielded to painting with light, the photographic and cinematographic introducing a new politics to the art of walking in the city.

Today one is as likely to experience oneself as a walking subject by composing still shots of the surrounding environment. We have become expert at the composition of the everyday, at enframing the image to the rectilinear form and reducing the volumetric to the planar. If we make mistakes in this enframing, we can cut, crop, delete, edit, purge or otherwise relegate our detritus to the cutting room floor of the kinaesthetic imaginary, for we have also become expert at the manufacture of excess.

The aesthetics of the photograph as we move through the city are complicated when walking cedes to what McLuhan described as the "amputation" of one's legs in the automobile form. The walk as a disconnected set of imagined photographs becomes the continuously rolling kinematic image of the cinema as seen through the screen of the windshield, what Virilio has described as the art of the motor.

And in speeding up the image thusly we also find a reversal in the subjectivity of the walker: no longer the painter of modern life, we have become the painted of the postmodern. We move through a streetscape as if the lead actor in a movie, wondering how the director is composing the scene or imagining the perfect soundtrack to capture its emotional tenor.

In the aesthetic lies the political, for in the contemporary city we are indeed all characters in a cinematic production, the archiving of everyday life under the rubric of an ever-contingent notion of risk and security. There is no soundtrack to this cinema, no rousing symphonic score or pounding techno breakbeat, but only the barely-audible hiss of white noise to accompany the otherwise bleak visual tracks from which nothing is relegated to the cutting room floor.