In this ongoing project I'm producing a self-portrait through the assemblage of several videos of myself in a single moving image. The purpose is to compose an individual portrait out of several fragments of video recordings that are played simultaneously. Each video recording is made with a camera phone by different people in different places and moments. The resulting moving image is made up in real-time through the cut and paste of vertical fragments of each video. This process shares conceptual and visual elements with the early constructivist photomontage.
This (self-)portrait is an agglomeration of videos made at different moments and places within one single frame. This (self-)portrait pursues the interruption of the machine of faciality. This is reached through the fragmentation of my image. The main aspect that contributes to the interruption is the fragmented visual aspect of the portrait. In this portrait the frame is divided into several parts, each with its own time and space. Another aspect that contributes to the interruption is the making of the portrait because the author is diluted into a crowd. There is no one portraitist but many, as each video is made by a different person whose work is regulated through a visual pattern. The fragmented composition brings together various separated selves and places them next to each other. Thus, the interruption is fulfilled when all fragments are played simultaneously within the same frame.
The final (self-)portrait will be made up of several videos each of 1px width. The amount of videos needed to complete this (self-)portrait corresponds to the maximum width-resolution the camera phone in use provides: 640px. And by the time of this website there are 80 videos recorded.
Video is a medium primary concerned with time. This medium fixates time into a series of independent recordings that we watch in rectangular frames. Almost always the space of the frame is filled with one image that presents one time and one space. Although video fragments time, the visual frame keeps in each recording a unified time and space. The camera can only record a sequential flow of time; it cannot record several, non-sequential moments of time simultaneously. The assemblage of different times within the frame occurs always in the montage. In my work this is not different. Each time a different person records one minute of video of myself. In the final composition, a real-time montage, I agglomerate and play all these recordings simultaneously within the same frame. Each recording is cropped to a few pixels wide and placed next to another recording. This montage produces a moving image that is composed of several other moving images. The frame is thus fragmented into several columns and each is filled with a different video. The fragmentation of time that video produces is here carried inside the very frame. The manipulation I propose has a spatial character. Such a procedure is only possible in digital video because the digital allows the complete programming of the image and each pixel is susceptible to manipulation.
This fragmentation is taken to the production too. Each video recording is made by a different person using a camera phone. I've established a general set-up to regulate the visual aspect of the image and each portraitist should comply with it. The work of each portraitist is regulated through a visual pattern similar to biometric face photographs, that is externally assembled to the camera phone. In this form of production the raw material is produced by the work of a crowd. In my (self-)portrait there are as many portraitist as videos. The authorship is shared by many and I act as a catalyst for the making of the video portrait. My role as an artist is to provide the conditions for the production. Expressed mathematically, each column of my portrait is a function of one independent variable: you multiplied by a constant: me.
f(you X me)
Three notions have influenced this self-portrait: identification, regulation, and interruption. These notions relate to portraiture in a stylistic and functional sense. The visual style of portraits has varied over the years. Renaissance artists depicted people differently than Pop artists, and their techniques differ, too. Despite their visual appearance, all portraits share the face as the principal element. The face has served to identify the individual self and to regulate the individual image.
Individual portraits are cultural devices aimed at identifying and characterising people. This type of portrait was a Renaissance invention and it has been popular in visual arts ever since. According to Gottfried Boehm, the distinctive functions of the Renaissance's portrait are the identification of a person as an individual, and the characterisation of his/her subjectivity [1 p.15]. The individual as a category invented in the Renaissance has been sharply contested by different authors. To Jeffreis Martin, the Renaissance's self is not a discrete unit and it could rather be divided in at least three different parts: the civic, the performative, and the porous [2 p.210]. This typology should not be understood as close, as the author himself admits, but as an open model to grasp the complexities and the various roles that an individual has. In these paintings a person is cut off from the world and depicted alone. This removal focuses on the depicted as an individual while his/her association to a group is obscured. Individual portraits, according to Jacob Burckhardt, helped to create the sense of individuality [3 p.24].
Without a face there is no individual portrait; it is its main element. In a portrait, the face appears as the unifying surface for the physical outside and the psychical inside. Mouth, eyes, eyebrows, nose, hair, and skin are the material components that externalise feelings and affections. The face becomes the place where the inner character of an individual is projected. As the vanishing point in linear perspective, another Renaissance invention, the face organises the pictorial space and our relation to the painting. In a portrait the face is the principal aspect we heed. Thus, other elements like dress and background are arranged and noticed after the face.
The formulation of standards and stylistic rules was a preoccupation of the Renaissance art [4 p.321]. Today, a portrait is still described by the stylistic rules of the Renaissance portraiture. In this kind of depiction the subject is either in profile or in frontal position; and his/her eyes, nose, and mouth are easily identified as such. The face is located in the upper region of the frame and the subject is usually alone. The repertoire of techniques available to the Renaissance artist included the casting of shadows onto walls and the use of reflections produced by mirrors. Through these techniques a painter could achieve a great deal of detail in his work.
However, an individual portrait does not merely reflect the individual. Portraits are malleable material and the Renaissance elites of Italy knew this. In consequence, they moulded their own images. We have an idea of how the governing elites of, for instance, the courts of Florence looked because they had themselves portrayed. Renaissance lords hired renowned portraitists to perpetuate their image in paintings, coins, and busts. One purpose behind these depictions was to make the depicted person identifiable and recognisable by the others as the ruler. Princes like the Medici were among the few people who could afford a portrait. During the Renaissance, the individual portrait was exclusive of the upper classes and identified them as such.
ID photo: regulation
The situation described before has radically changed since that times because today almost everyone carries a portrait in their wallet. The advent of photography facilitated the production of portraits on a massive scale and made them portable. Nowadays, one of the primary means of identification is the ID photograph that is in ID cards and passports; and contrary to the Renaissance, the portraitist, photographer, is not necessary as this style is embedded in the photo booth. The photo booth was invented in 1925 by Anatol Josepho and inside his automatic machine people can take portraits anonymously . The style of portraiture is regulated in a close space while the capacity to produce portraits is decentralised.
The style of the ID photograph is always the same: frontal position, lack of gestures and headdress, and a neutral background. This arrangement allows to thoroughly measure the face of an individual. The distance between eyes, dimension and position of the nose and mouth, height and breadth of the face, and all other sort of physical features can be documented. The face can be then reduced to a set of discrete data that eliminates any trace of expression or emotion. And the style of the ID photograph regulates the manner how this information is recorded.
The face recognition procedures can be divided into two parts. First, the identification of the face's shape, it means the silhouette. Second, the location of the constitutive components inside the face shape: eyes, nose, and mouth. Based on these two parts, the salient features of a face are recognised, extracted, and stored. This procedure is the basis of computer facial recognition based on the biometric information extracted from face photographs [6 p.87]. The aim of this process is the verification or discovery of the identity of any person. If the photo booth regulates the style, then computer face recognition facilitates identification processes. The modern systems of surveillance in public places like airports and government facilities largely depend upon the boring ID portrait.
The machine of faciality: interruption
Deleuze and Guattari (DG) describe the face as the product of a system composed of two elements: a white wall and a black hole. They called this system the abstract machine of faciality [7 p.187]. This machine is a facial unit that, when coupled with other machines, produces a face, e.g student and teacher, or portraitist and portrayed. The black hole traverses the landscape judging and defining the faces it recognises. The abstract machine not only produces faces, it also generates a grid to frame others faces. The camera, as the eye of the painter, points to a white wall, identifies its components, and reconfigures them into a different white wall.
A key element in DG philosophy is the term machine which they define as the system of interruptions that occur when different flows are coupled [8 p.38]. Thus, every machine is part of a system of machines and all of them form a constant current. This current is just a collection of connections that flow. A machine is only perceived through the fractures it creates when it interrupts a flow. The fractures frame discreet portions of the flow, therefore machines have inputs and outputs (other flows); and inside the frame a particular flow is processed. If there is something to say about a machine it is that it interrupts a collection of flows. A machinic attitude in media art must then make evident the fractures rather than to hide them.
The machine of faciality is triggered when it is coupled with other machines. The eyes connect to the screen. The eyes connect first to the face and then to the canvas. In these operations a flow is interrupted and simultaneously a face is produced. Whether a canvas, a screen, or a physical face, the white wall remains compact. The interruption, the black hole causes in the white wall, is the distinctive feature of the machine. Without interruption there is no machine of faciality.
Elements and process
In the process of production of the self-portrait three elements take part: the camera phone, the regulatory pattern, and the video processing and programming. These elements include the processes of social interaction, video making, and real-time video assembling.
Digital media machines such as compact digital cameras and camera phones have attracted a considerably large number of enthusiasts who on a daily basis make movies or take photographs. The cause of this is the almost effortless production of media in the computer and more recently in mobile phones . Mobile phones with cameras appeared in the market around 2001 and their popularity have grown with the smart-phones.
This project uses first, the apparent simplicity of operating a camera phone to produce moving images. Second, it uses the portability of the camera phone to foster participation and to accelerate the generation of source materials. Another aspect worth mentioning is the format of the digital video. Camera phones compress digital video in mpg-4 part 10, and store it in a mp4 or 3gp container. The video file is then small and it is possible to store several videos in the phone. The video resolution is 640px X 480px.
The camera phone mediates the relation between the portraitist and me at the moment of making each video. The phone produces a white wall. The camera phone interrupts the usual coupling between the eyes of the seer and the seen. It frames me but at the same time defines the position of the portraitist. Our two flows converge during the production of the video in the screen of the phone.
The second element that takes part in this process is a visual pattern I created. This pattern regulates the visual style that the portraitist should comply with. This pattern is based on the silhouette of my face and within it my eyes, nose, and mouth are located. Once the pattern is assembled before the phone's screen, it indicates to the portraitist the distance, height, and angle he/she should take in reference to me. The pattern is made of transparent polystyrene and it is complemented by a external case of cardboard. The latter serves to the assemblage and position the pattern to the phone.
Video processing and programming
After the videos are made, they are transferred to a computer to be processed. The processing for each video only includes: the trimming of the material to have a duration of about 60sec., and the compression of the material to mpeg-2 avcodec. The compression in this codec is necessary in order to have a smooth playback in real-time. All the processing is made using Avidemux and ffmpeg.
The self-portrait is assembled in real-time using GEM, Graphics Environment for Multimedia. GEM creates OpenGL graphics and works as a library within Pure Data, a real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphics processing.
The machine that produces the self-portrait is composed by four connected units: The frame unit, the location unit, the file unit, and the texture unit. There is one frame unit, one location unit, and one file unit. There are as many texture units as videos.
The frame unit contains as many instances of the texture unit as required, enumerates them; and generates the video frame. Each instance of the texture unit creates a rectangle and passes its number to it. The location unit produces an ordered list of x-positions and sends in ascending order each x-position to the rectangle of the respective texture unit. The file unit loads the location and name of each video file and assigns them as texture to the rectangle in the corresponding texture unit.
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