Visual Forensics

Notes on the Visual Forensics elec­tive at the RCA


Collected im­ages

October 12, 2018


The first task is to doc­u­ment 51°30’37.6”N 0°06’56.3”W, the true ge­o­graph­i­cal cen­tre of London. Using a USB Microscope, a dig­i­tal cam­era and graph pa­per, I doc­u­ment a 1′ × 1′ square on the em­bank­ment.

Microscope 1

Microscope 1

Walk 1

October 16, 2018

Encouraged by Friday’s re­sults, I go back to the em­bank­ment to take more mi­cro­scope pho­tographs. If I take many im­ages of the same area, I can stitch them to­gether in Photoshop and gen­er­ate a much higher-res­o­lu­tion im­age. After a few hours, I have taken 2,764 im­ages.

After about 20 hours of ar­rang­ing these im­ages (testing the lim­its of both Photoshop and my com­puter), I end up with a num­ber of col­lages like these:

Walk 1 Walk 1 Walk 1

When I took these im­ages, I was do­ing my best to move the cam­era in straight lines across an area. The col­lages show how dif­fi­cult this is to do - the lines me­an­der from left to right, the im­ages are ro­tated by vary­ing amounts, cov­er­ing some parts of the sur­face re­peat­edly while leav­ing oth­ers blank.

I’m also find­ing some other ar­ti­facts re­lated to lichen. There’s a data­base of every recorded lichen in London, with all kinds of rich meta­data at­tached:

gb­i­fID Dataset Key Occurrence ID Scientific Name Country Locality Latitude Longitude Identified By
Source: (15 October 2018): *GBIF Occurrence Download* [DOI: 10.15468/dl.f1lmko](

The sec­tion of data­base (limited to London) I down­loaded has 2,548 en­tires. To save space, var­i­ous columns are omit­ted in the ex­am­ple above.

Also, Matt points out that the lichen in my im­ages are form­ing Turing Patterns. Turing pat­terns are a math­e­mat­i­cal con­cept that de­scribes how pat­terns found in na­ture (such as stripes, spots, growth pat­terns) can be de­scribed us­ing re­ac­tion-dif­fu­sion (which is a math­e­mat­i­cal model that de­scribes the mix­ing of chem­i­cals).

Turing Patterns Dolnik, Milos & M. Zhabotinsky, Anatol & Epstein, Irving. (2001): Resonant sup­pres­sion of Turing pat­terns by pe­ri­odic il­lu­mi­na­tion. Physical re­view. E, Statistical, non­lin­ear, and soft mat­ter physics. 63. 026101. 10.1103/PhysRevE.63.026101.

Turing Patterns Gray-Scott Reaction-Diffusion. Github

See also: Alan Turing (1952): The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis

October 19, 2018

Catrin Morgan on Visual Essays

A de­f­i­n­i­tion of il­lus­tra­tion: Any im­age that takes a com­mu­ni­cat­ing role in a text. Text mean­ing words or im­ages or both. Catrin did a lot of work on dif­fer­ent de­pic­tions of St. Jerome in his Study, which is de­tailed here.

St. Jerome in his study Vincenzo Catena (c.a 1510): St. Jerome in his Study The National Gallery

Constructing an ar­gu­ment with im­ages

James Elkins writes about this (at length) in Writing with im­ages (2013)

Illustrations that are used in art his­tory writ­ing. A mnemonic: An im­age to re­mind us what a paint­ing looks like. Doesn’t have to be a very good re­pro­duc­tion. The other way is ev­i­dence — here’s proof that this paint­ing re­ally ex­ists. Both of these aren’t very ex­cit­ing.

Images arranged on a time­line: a vi­sual ar­gu­ment

You start see­ing im­ages ref­er­enc­ing each other (chronology)

Details of dif­fer­ent im­ages next to each other**

You start see­ing rep­e­ti­tion of el­e­ments etc.

David Carrier (2000): The Aesthetics of Comics

Talks about the idea of con­cate­na­tion of im­ages: Whenever we see im­ages in the same con­text we start mak­ing con­nec­tions. The vi­sual es­say can build on this.

See also: Various ver­sions of Cardinal Albrecht as St Jerome by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Introducing a new (diagrammatic) voice to make an ar­gu­ment

Semantic Sesseation: When you say a word over and over again and it stops sound­ning like a word. The same works for im­ages: Image be­comes a pat­tern. Graphic nov­els have this con­ven­tion where a full bleed im­age is time­less. See also Scott McCloud (1993): Understanding Comics.

We can use de­vices like this (from graphic nov­els) to make crit­i­cal ar­gu­ments.

Using book ry­thm, pac­ing etc. If the reader thinks they know what’s com­ing, you can em­pha­sise a point by mak­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. All of this is rep­e­ti­tion.


In graphic nov­els, white space slows down time (see McCloud). We’re talk­ing about space in a spa­tial medium.

Spacing also cre­ates hi­er­ar­chy. You can do head­line, body copy and side­notes with im­ages. Using ty­po­graphic con­ven­tions with im­ages. All of the struc­ture of an es­say is still there, you can use it with im­ages as well. However, be aware that this hinges on read­ing di­rec­tion.


Pulling out parts of the im­age (through trac­ing, dis­tor­tion, etc.) to make a point.

Direct com­par­i­son

Brian Dyllan (2017): Essayism

Talks about ways to write es­says: One of these is the list (i.e most of the stuff above). Visual es­says al­low us to demon­strate ar­gu­ments rather than de­scrib­ing them.

Overlaying im­ages that have vi­sual sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Historical Comparison

Pull in im­ages from a dif­fer­ent con­text to make com­par­isons

Reduction, Elimination

Cut out parts of the im­age. You draw at­ten­tion to what’s been cut out, and also the stuff around it.

Part 2: Visual Grammar

Midnight Mexico City Sarah Sze (2015): Midnight Mexico City. Silkscreen, Digital Print, and Laser Engraved Paper, 58.1 × 63.2cm. Artsy

Using found struc­ture (such as the grid of a news­pa­per) John Berger: Ways of Seeing

McGuire Richard McGuire (1989): Here. The Atlantic

Richard McGuire is look­ing at the same cor­ner of a room in dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods. Using time, lay­er­ing of dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives.

Hollis Frampton (1971): Nostalgia. Frampton shows early pho­tographs of him­self burn­ing on a hot plate, while a nar­ra­tor talks about the pre­vi­ous im­age (which just got burned).

A Spiegelman comic in early in raw mag­a­zine plays on a sim­i­lar idea, with char­ac­ter talk­ing about what hap­pened in the last panel:

Spiegelman Art Spiegelman (1973): Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Slate

Rachel Moore (2006): Hollis Frampton (nostalgia)

Cindy Sherman’s Instagram is a vi­sual es­say in some way (even if maybe un­con­sciously). She’s one of the rare old-school artist who’s do­ing good things on Instagram.

Using dig­i­tal plat­forms to in­form vi­sual es­says can be use­ful. The Instagram grid is a vi­sual gram­mar you can make use of.

Visual Essays don’t have to hap­pen in a book — see Nostalgia.

Tutorial notes

October 26, 2018

Reading for week three

There is no spec­i­fied for­mat and we ask you to think care­fully about ap­pro­pri­ate out­comes for your vi­sual in­ves­ti­ga­tions. This might ex­tend to book, wall based, ob­ject based and pro­jec­tion based work.

Outcomes and Crit Notes

I talked about the way the mo­saic pho­tographs were made — mov­ing the USB mi­cro­scope along the sur­face mil­lime­tre by mil­lime­tre (within a 1′ by 1′ square I de­fined). The move­ment was then re­peated in Photoshop when I stitched the im­ages to­gether. The fi­nal col­lages were laser-printed at a large for­mat for the crit.

I did sec­ondary re­search on lichen in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions — there’s the British Lichen Society, and also the data­base of lichen sight­ings which they con­tribute to. I mapped a sec­tion of the data­base onto a map of London, but un­for­tu­nately the sight­ings don’t all have in­di­vid­ual co­or­di­nates as­so­ci­ated with them. Instead they’re all grouped into maybe a dozen sets of co­or­di­nates which I’m sure has a good rea­son, but does­n’t make for a very nice vi­su­al­iza­tion.

The Natural History Museum has one of the largest col­lec­tions of lichen spec­i­mens in the world, con­tain­ing about 400.000 items. They’re beau­ti­ful:

Specimen of Lichen at the Natural History Museum, London Specimen of Lecanora vitel­lina var. re­flexa Nyl. (BM001096649) The Natural History Museum

I’m also still in­ter­ested in di­a­gram­ming the em­bank­ment in dif­fer­ent ways, maybe de­vel­op­ing this draw­ing I made at the site:

Diagram of the site

Eventually, I de­cided to fo­cus on the Turing Patterns. I wrote a Javascript im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Gray-Scott al­go­rithm so I could con­trol every­thing about the sim­u­la­tion. After ex­per­i­ment­ing for a while, I found a few sets of pa­ra­me­ters that led to pat­terns that matched the lichen pho­tographs very closely. I then wrote a Puppeteer script that takes a screen­shot of the sim­u­la­tion every few sec­onds. Using the script, I gen­er­ated a se­ries of im­ages us­ing dif­fer­ent pa­ra­me­ters. I then printed and bound these into a book in chrono­log­i­cal or­der:

The book is de­signed to add a sec­ondary voice to the ar­gu­ment. There is also the idea that the book maps a sin­gle en­vi­ron­ment as it changes over time (while the pho­to­graphic col­lages move across the sur­face spa­tially). I’m imag­in­ing it like this:

Diagram showing images along spatial and temporal dimensions A: Photographic col­lage, B: Turing-Pattern book.

November 9, 2018: Materiality

Reading for November 9

Brief for Novemeber 9

Hi All, It was great to see your re­sponses to Image’ in last week’s re­view ses­sion and to share ideas, thoughts and com­ments within your groups. During Across RCA, please com­plete the primer task at­tached. This will in­form the next ses­sion, a work­shop to be­gin our ex­plo­ration of Materiality’. We in­tro­duced some back­ground ideas at the end of our last ses­sion and here are the ref­er­ence links if any­one would like to watch the short films again;

Materiality Brief (DOCX)

The brief is to find a Process, a Material, an Object and a Tool and write a few words about each. It also sug­gests to think of these as seper­ate things, so that’s what I’m do­ing be­low:

Process: Tuning an Instrument

I have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence here of course. I re­mem­ber learn­ing to tune your own vi­o­lin to be a pretty big step, and it took me for­ever to learn how to do it. Part of it is hear­ing: First, you tune your A string to what­ever ref­er­ence you’re us­ing — an­other vi­o­lin, a tun­ing fork or a pi­ano. Then, you ad­just each string to the A string - first the D, which is a fith be­low A. Then G, a fith be­low D. Finally E, a fith above A. There’s also a mus­cle mem­ory com­po­nent — how do you hold your hand on the pegs to achieve the right amount of lever­age? Unlike gui­tar tuners, these are just ta­pered pieces of wood stuck into a hole.

In or­ches­tra per­for­mances, every player goes through this process at the be­gin­ning of a per­for­mance. It al­ways hap­pens the same way: Orchestra walks on, Applause, Orchestra sits down, Concert Master walks on, Applause, Concert Master turns around — this is the com­mand to tune. It al­ways hap­pens in the same or­der: Wind, Brass, Strings from low to high. Finally, con­duc­tor (and soloist) walk on.

Material: The Enron Corpus

What the Enron Corpus Says About Us I orig­i­nally found this dur­ing by un­der­grad at Camberwell, but did­n’t re­ally do any­thing with it at the time.

I con­sider data­bases like this one ma­te­ri­als be­cause they’re the stuff al­go­r­tihms are made from. By them­selves, there ba­si­cally use­less — many con­tain many more in­stances than you could ever look at in a life­time, and they’re usu­ally pretty monote­nous. They only be­come mean­ing­ful when they’re turned into some­thing.

We spent the morn­ing han­dling the ma­te­r­ial and ar­rang­ing it by var­i­ous cri­te­ria:

VF Table VF Table VF Table

The task for the next ses­sion is to gen­er­ate a vi­sual out­come on an as­pect of ma­te­ri­al­ity in time/​space.

November 10, 2018

![Maths notes](/​as­sets/​cab­i­net_053_hunt_kather­ine_002.jpg) “The strange op­er­a­tion & mis­tery of num­bers.” Peter’s Mundy’s no­ta­tion of all pos­si­ble changes on three, four, five, and six bells in his travel jour­nal Itinerarium Mundi.” Entry made af­ter Mundy’s visit to London in 1654. [Cabinet Magazine](

Notes for Friday, Febuary 8th

Reflect on all work pro­duced as part of VISUAL FORENSICS through IMAGE, MATERIALITY, COLOUR, LANGUAGE. Include (physical) ex­am­ples of all work. What worked? What was a sur­prise? What did you un­cover? Did this con­sti­tute a step for­ward in your work­ing meth­ods? What con­nec­tions have you ob­served in your ap­proach to the mod­ule? Have any threads emerged?

What are the key-themes, as­pects, processes and/​or con­cepts in­form­ing your prac­tice?

What have you been read­ing or look­ing at dur­ing this mod­ule?

What is your re­la­tion­ship to the idea of FORENSICS’? How are you us­ing, in­ter­ro­gat­ing, un­der­stand­ing and de­vel­op­ing this idea?

Friday 1 March: Is this Tomorrow?

Is this Tomorrow? at the Whitechapel is a re-cre­ation of the 1956 show called This is to­mor­row. From what I un­der­stand, that one was full of post-war op­ti­mism (this is the time of the great so­cial pro­jects) while this one seems much darker.

mono of­fice

6a ar­chi­tects


Marina Tabassum Architects

Salvador Mundi Experience

Black bar­ri­ers


Notes on the Canal Museum Show

Please pre­pare a dig­i­tal pre­sen­ta­tion and bring any phys­i­cal work that you have made so far. Your pre­sen­ta­tion should cover: Concepts, Process, How it re­lates to a forensic’ ap­proach, What you have made so far, Supporting ma­te­r­ial (including rel­e­vant work from past pro­jects), Potential modes of pre­sen­ta­tion and dis­play struc­tures, How you want peo­ple to en­gage with the work, Proposed space re­quired within the Canal Museum.

We un­der­stand that the work might change and we are not ex­pect­ing you to know ex­actly what the work will look like at this stage but this state­ment of in­tent will be re­ally use­ful in help­ing de­velop the work in the com­ing months and in cu­rat­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion/​event.

The build­ing used to be a stor­age fa­cil­ity for ice blocks im­ported from Norway.

The sound of ice melting Paul Kos (1970), Sound of Ice Melting. Via Discover Magazine

This piece was orig­i­nally made in re­sponse to the Vietnam War (The mi­cro­phones re­call a press con­fer­ence), but now the im­me­di­ate as­so­ci­a­tion is cli­mate change / the an­thro­poscene. Kadist on the piece.

Ice core showing band of volcanic ash Ice core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet pro­ject. The dark band is a layer of vol­canic ash that set­tled on the ice sheet ap­prox­i­mately 21,000 years ago. Via the National Science Foundation

To Do

Show Setup

  1. Plug we­b­cam into USB ex­ten­sion and into com­puter
  2. Frame us­ing an­tive cam­era app
  3. Close na­tive cam­era app
  4. In Anaconda prompt:
    1. cd D:\Projects\visual-forensics\show-piece
    2. node .
  5. Open lo­cal­host:3000 in Chrome
  6. From browser com­mand line: Run startCycle()
  7. Close de­v­tools, F11 for fullscreen

8: Kill server from com­mand line, close browser