Ways of Machine Seeing Workshop 2017 - call for proposals

Published: 20 March 2017 at 14:56

Cultures of the Digital Economy logo - blue electronic sign depicting the letters 'CoDE'

CoDE to co-organise two-day workshop with the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network and Cambridge Big Data

Since its broadcast 45 years ago, the BBC documentary series Ways of Seeing has had a wide impact on both popular and academic views on the history of art and the production of images. It presented a radical socio-economic understanding of western art history which was closer to the image itself than previous Marxist critics - helping spread the thinking of Walter Benjamin in the English-speaking world.

The analysis offered by presenter John Berger and his collaborators in the documentary is founded on technologies (oil paints, photography) and the ways in which they both reflect and create visual-ideological paradigms, or Ways of Seeing. Half a century later, this workshop seeks to explore how these concepts can be understood in the light of state-of-the-art technical developments in machine vision and algorithmic learning.

Can Berger's assertion that "every image embodies a way of seeing" be brought into fruitful dialogue with the concerns of researchers exploring contemporary technologies of vision, in a world where the theorisation of vision as a series of information-processing tasks profoundly affects the creation, reception and circulation of all kinds of images?

Does this require a perspective going beyond robots that "see” in order to work in a factory, through self-driving cars, recognition and response to embodied human experience, to understanding the cultural meaning of images that have been selected algorithmically, and the question of how the reciprocal nature of vision is affected by the intercession of new kinds of filters between viewer and viewed?

We are seeking proposals for paper presentations, technical demonstrations, static, dynamic or performative artworks (including films) or poster presentations by the deadline of 5pm, 17 April 2017. The programme will follow four themes corresponding to the four episodes of Berger’s Ways of Seeing series:

  • The impact of photography on our appreciation of art from the past. The image-machines of today - the phone camera, the GoPro, VR, 4K cameras, drones, the 3rd person video-game, Instagram, domestic and distributed image factories - inform our ways of looking at images of the past. How do these ways of seeing influence our historical view of images, and our search towards modern technologies? How does virtual photography (in video-games and CGI) influence our production and understanding of physical photography?
  • The portrayal of the female nude in the tradition of European art. Kenneth Clarke’s 1956 book The Nude starts with a praise of English for distinguishing, with elaborate generosity, the Naked from the Nude. Berger repurposes this distinction: exploring the contradictory relationships between gender, the economic structures of art-creation, and the power-structures inherent in its value-system. How might we further develop understanding the relation between computation, technologies of vision and politics of representation? Have practices of self-representation been changed by the advent of new technologies: the ubiquity of the camera-phone, the social network, and the ‘quantified self’?
  • Realism and the invention of oil paint.Oil paint is a technology; at its time, a revolution in photorealistic rendering. The oil painting is more than the application of this technology - it is an art form with a unique relationship to property, reflecting ideological interests in changing socioeconomic circumstances. How does a technology for image-production become a form, and how then does it become an instrument for visual hegemony?
  • How advertising and publicity relate to the tradition of painting. Berger argued that advertising and publicity were not just post-industrial appropriations of Renaissance visual language: their explicit economic structure (selling), their relationship to technology (photography) and their complex use of social memory (art-historical references) provide a crucial case study in the relationship between knowing, seeing and economic power. Can we make use of the same theoretical model to examine the relationship between publicity and art today? Can we understand the relationship between seeing and knowing as an expression of the relationship between image and text? What changes in our understanding of this relationship if we look at technologies which were unimaginable in Berger’s time, by analysing for example, the role of algorithmically-driven recommended systems in major digital platforms in shaping and reflecting both cultural ‘tastes’ and the economic logics of advertising?

The workshop will take place from 1pm Monday 26 June to 2pm Wednesday 28 June 2017 at Ruskin Gallery (26 June), Alison Richard Building (Tuesday 27 June) and Cambridge Computer Laboratory (28 June).

Selected presenters will be informed by the end of April. General registration for delegates (at waged and unwaged/student rates) will open in early April. We regret that the conference organisers are only able to assist with accommodation bookings for presenters selected through the call for proposals and not for general delegates. We advise delegates to book accommodation early. More information on local accommodation options is available on the Visit Cambridge website.

Limited funding is available for presenters selected through the call for participation; please indicate on the EoI form if you would like to be considered for a bursary to cover the cost of registration, and travel or accommodation.

Graduate students from Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Cambridge are also invited to apply to join the team organising the conference, including documenting sessions on social media and producing a post-conference report. If you are interested, please contact Dr Shreepali Patel (ARU students) or Dr Anne Alexander (Cambridge students).