Slit-scan contexts – still image as output

This page is intended as a repository for references to artists’ work, thinking and critique featuring the use of slit-scan where the final output is still image.

There are many, many examples of this technique, so rather than present an exhaustive catalogue (an undertaking of some scale), this post aims to present an influential sample.

Mitchell Whitelaw: Watching the Street (2008)

One of a series of images produced by Whitelaw (writer, artist and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra) published as ‘Watching the Street’.

The technique used here was to capture a still from a webcam every 1 minute. Later each still was converted into a 1 pixel wide vertical strip. From the appearance of the final image it looks like the pixel strip was taken from an x co-ordinate advancing from left to right over the sequence of the frames – ie pixels at the left are from the beginning of the time period and pixels at the right are from the end. In this way, static objects or objects that are still for more than a short period of time are recognizable, whereas moving objects (eg passing pedestrians) may only register as 1 pixel (in the case that they were in shot for a minute, or for less time but happened to be present when the image was taken for a given 1 minute cycle).

On the outcome, Whitelaw writes “I’m struck by how this simple, indiscriminate process reveals both expected and unexpected patterns, and continues to provoke new questions. This despite, or I would argue because of, its openness to multiple material / temporal systems….Could a simple visualisation process like this function “informationally”, as it were; to help answer real questions about a very specific slice of urban environment, in near-real time? More interesting for me, could it function in that way without prescribing the question in advance – that is, could it support an open-ended process of exploration and interpretation?” (Whitelaw 2008).

These are keen insights. Pattern emergence is certainly an outcome I have observed when applying temporal techniques such as time-lapse in my own practice. The idea of producing ‘informationality’ is also a very interesting prospect. Whitelaw has written much on these subjects, even just in his own blog which is a great resource.

Nonetheless, Watching The Street is somewhat of a ‘classic’ slit-scan effect that many digital practitioners have achieved by similar means, for example –

Brendan Dawes: Don’t Look Now (2004)

In this case each frame of the 1973 film ‘Don’t Look Now’ has been compressed to a vertical line of pixels (possibly taken from the middle of frame) which are then arranged sequentially to create a collection of slit-scan images (representing different scenes of the film).

From his book ‘Analog In, Digital Out’, Dawes comments ‘splashes of red, which is a prominent color of the film, are seen through the sequences. Notice that when long tracking shots are employed, you can make out more of scene; conversely, quick edits create staccato bars of color.” (Dawes 2007).

In his Pancam project (2005), Mark Hauenstein creates a series of extremely long panoramic images by use of a bespoke camera (the ‘Pancam’) and accompanying software.

The following image is a small slice of a much larger image representing a 55 minute river journey down the Thames.

The technique is classic slit-scan – pixels taken from the centre of individual frames of high volume image sequences are composed, via bespoke software, as a single final image.

Hauenstein’s work bears similarity to that of Michael Aschauer who created very long images from stretches of the Danube river bank in his Danube Panorama Project (2005).

Aschauer’s work adds an additional dimension to the slit-scan technique by recording GPS positional data in tandem with visual image in a process Aschauer dubs ‘fotographic survey’, to the effect that the outcome can be navigated photographically and diagrammatically.

Bibliography

Dawes, B. (2007) Analog In, Digital Out. Berkeley: New Riders.
Whitelaw, M. (2008) The Teeming Void [Internet] available at ‘http://teemingvoid.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/watching-street.html’ Accessed October 2012

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