III. Images without Viewers: Selfie Communism

Selfies are a communist form of expression.

The critical reflex is to dismiss selfies as yet another indication of a pervasive culture of narcissism. I disagree. The narcissism critique approaches the selfie as if it were analyzing a single photograph. It views the person in that photograph as the photograph’s subject. Selfies, though, should be understood as a common form, a form that, insofar as it is inseparable from the practice of sharing selfies, has a collective subject. The subject is the many participating in the common practice, the many imitating each other. The figure in the photo is incidental. Read More »

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II. Images without Viewers: Emoji

A smiley face streaming tears of joy was the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 word of the year. That an emoji is not a word didn’t matter. Or, better, it is what actually did matter. “Face with tears of joy” was chosen to mark the fact that images are taking the place of linguistic expression of feelings and ideas. They are blending into, merging with, and displacing words and sentences in digitized personal communication. Visuals accompany and absorb text just as physical gestures augment oral communication. Multiple, repeatable, and generic images are less “of” than they are “for”– for circulation in the rich media networks of communicative capitalism. Read More »

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I. Images without Viewers

My seventeen-year-old daughter, Sadie, and her friends use Snapchat, sharing snaps upwards of forty times a day. Sadie tells me that their conversations are “just pics with short captions.” The pic is typically a selfie of a stupid or ugly face (“look at my fucking forehead!”). Receivers respond with another ugly face and a funny retort (“YOU LOOK LIKE A KLINGON”). Sadie and her friends also post “stories,” stitched together photos and videos from their daily lives. Sadie says her stories are mostly “about my sick life” (“sick” apparently means good, fun, cool, or desirable in some inchoate sense). Read More »

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5. Photo Forensics: Can You Enhance That?

When you view a sign from a highly oblique angle, the perspective distortion may cause the text and graphics to be unrecognizable. To make the sign interpretable, you could change your vantage point and view the sign head-on. But what if the sign appears at an oblique angle in a photograph? Is it possible to remove the perspective distortion and view the sign head-on? This question arises in forensic settings when the evidence contained within an image is obscured by perspective distortion. In this post, I describe how perspective distortion can be removed to reveal, for example, the identity of a barely visible license plate. Read More »

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4. Photo Forensics: As Seen on CSI

A digital camera contains a vast array of sensor cells, each with a photo detector and an amplifier. The photo detectors measure incoming light and transform it into an electrical signal. The electrical signals are then converted into pixel values. In an ideal camera, there would be a perfect correlation between the amount of light striking the sensor cells and the pixel values of the digital image. Real devices have imperfections, however, and these imperfections introduce noise in the image. Read More »

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3. Photo Forensics: J.J. Abrams Style

Bright lights may appear to emanate streaks of light, and this could explain why the sun is often depicted as a circle surrounded by rays. The streaks of light are created by imperfections in the lens of the eye and are referred to as lens flare. Lenses refract (bend) the light rays that enter the pupil of the eye so that the rays focus on the retina. Because of slight imperfections in the lens, some light rays may be scattered or reflected rather than refracted. It is this wayward light that gives rise to lens flare aberrations. Read More »

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2. Photo Forensics: In the Shadows

When asked to judge the location of the sun relative to this scene, most people would respond quickly that it is on the right. When asked to localize the sun more precisely, most people would need to think before responding and they would still be inaccurate. (For evidence of this perceptual failure see [3], but also test yourself: the answer is below.) The difficulty we have localizing light sources is surprising because the scene contains abundant information for making this judgment. The fact that we cannot easily perceive information that is clearly contained within the image provides an opening for forensic analysis because forgers may be unaware that they have introduced telltale clues that we can easily detect. In this post, we will see how to determine whether the cast shadows in an image are consistent with a single light source. If the shadows are inconsistent in a scene that is clearly illuminated by a single source (e.g., the sun), then we have strong evidence of image tampering. Read More »

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1. Photo Forensics: From Stalin to Oprah

We know to be wary of the photo hoaxes that litter the online landscape, the impossibly perfect women in fashion magazines, and the scandalous images in tabloids. But can we trust photographs in reputable news outlets, prestigious scientific journals, and government publications? In this series of posts, I will examine how the ubiquity of photographic tampering has eroded our faith in images. I will also discuss recent technological advances in the field of photo forensics that have the potential partially to restore this faith.

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