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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5. Godfeathers and Ghetto doves

In my previous blog post, it was a pigeon fancier that exonerated the innocent ex-convict Leon Tate, and a bite that exposed the wannabe music producer Malik “King” Harris as the wanted sexual predator who used the New York rooftops as his hunting grounds. The narrative dreamwork of this episode of Law & Order: SVU shows an even deeper bite mark of reality if we follow the zootropes at play even further – they lead to another “Malik”: Malik Abdul Aziz, the legendary box champion and pigeon fancier better known as Mike Tyson. Tyson, a former undisputed heavyweight world champion, was disqualified in 1997 for biting his opponent Evander Holyfield on both ears. Five years before that, Tyson was sentenced for the rape of Desiree Washington in one of the most publicized U.S. court cases of the 1980s and 1990s. [1]

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4. Dreams and Deserters of Aroofa, Tar Beach

Imagine if Ice-T, the notorious rapper of the track “Cop Killer” were a cop. [1] That, in fact, has been the case for the last 16 years – at least in his role as police detective Odafin Tutuola in one of the most successful U.S. television series of all time: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. While Tutuola is the second-longest-serving cast member, it is only in the handful of episodes focusing on the only black member of the elite squad chasing rape victims that some information about his personal background is revealed. [2] One of these rare episodes is titled “Rooftop.” [3] Here we learn about Tutuola’s age indirectly: he was six years old when the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. hit the hood. And it is another “King” who will be found responsible for the rape and killing of black, underage girls on the rooftops of Harlem at the end of this episode: Malik “King” Harris, a music promoter, who uses his rhetorical skills to seduce women by pretending to enhance their career in the music business. While engaging in the plot of finding the perpetrator, this episode actually deals with the status of race relations after the American civil rights movement with a complex play of zootropes involved. Read More »

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3. Here are Lions

In ancient Roman maps, terra incognita at the edge of the Empire were marked with the notation hinc sunt leones – “here are lions”. Specific zootopes, animal-places as places of or for animals, are always connected to certain zootropes, animal metaphors and animal images. This is also the case for unknown places, to which the Roman maps seem to attest.

People, through their historically changing material and ideological practices, are part of this complex situation – along with animals and their practices. Animals thwart not only our dreams but also our bedrooms. They populate utopias and heterotopias, are assigned to certain topologies, and transcend them. Animals are ignored and loved, segregated and caged in, but nevertheless build relationships – with humans and other animals, architectures and cities, environments and ecologies. Werner Herzog’s film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams from 2010 gravitates poetically around this relationship in its search for “ecstatic truth” while dealing with the Chauvet Cave drawings in France. Dating back an estimated 30,000 years, the cave paintings are twice as old as any other visual artifacts of human history. Both the birth of man and the birth of art are depicted as one and the same act – a moment that supposedly was inextricably linked to animals and images of animals.

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2. Towards a Theory of the Zoopolitical Unconscious

There are utopian spaces knitted into the fabric of the seemingly pessimistic film La Haine.[1] One famous scene in La Haine condenses this “fleeting utopia”[2] more then any other moment in the film: Hubert packages and smokes weed in his bedroom, listening to “That Loving Feeling,” sung by Isaac Hayes, and looks outside the window of his “rabbit hutch” (cage à lapins – as the identical flats of the cité are called). His gaze falls onto the inhabitants of the banlieue below. While the sound of a police helicopter immerses the social landscape in a tense mode of being watched by unfriendly eyes, Hubert’s gaze arrives at another window. Here we see a DJ, Cut Killer, positioning the loudspeakers by the window to sound outwards into the space between the buildings. The non-admission of young migrant men into discotheques is a recurring theme in banlieue films[3] and also later in La Haine; here, the loudspeakers transform the open space of the banlieue into a grand dance floor.[4] Cut Killer stages an ingenious mix with samples of U.S. hip-hop artist KRS-One’s “Sound of the Police,” French rap formation Supreme NTM’s “Nique La Police” and Edith Piaf’s notorious “Je ne regrette rien.” Read More »

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1. Last Night, During the Riot, I Ran Into a Cow

Without cows and their appetite there would be no photography as we know it, argues Nicole Shukin in Animal Capital.[1] The scientists at Kodak’s research laboratory had a problem at the beginning of the 20th century: The gelatin used by Kodak to bind light-sensitive agents to a base had produced results of poor quality. Only after mustard seeds had been added to the cows’ feed were satisfactory photographic results achieved. Read More »

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