Algorithmic Photography

Algorithmic Photography is an ongoing series of artworks by Alex May that reveal the hidden motion of the world around us through the eye of the computer.

May uses digital cameras and computer code to create composite images from thousands of frames of video, capturing the world in motion in a single frame. Taking inspiration from traditional chemical photography, May replaces the pinhole camera with a viewfinder-less GoPro and photographic film with an algorithm, watching the image develop in his ‘dark room’ software.

Grand Canal in Venice (detail)

Like using different types of film, each algorithm is designed to capture specific information, from bold swathes of colour as people travel through the shot, or subtle movements in nature that are too slow or small to be perceived by the human eye, such as the movement of clouds, raindrops, and insects.

“I’ve always worked with moving images” says May. “I find still photography somewhat alien to how I experience the world since it traps and preserves a moment in time that can no longer be moved through. The images that I’m creating with this technique celebrate motion and use digital technology to bring the world to life beyond the ways we are normally able to physically perceive.”

The resulting photographs usually feature visual noise and video compression artefacts that are an inherent part of the digital process. May is keen to preserve such glitches within the image and rarely uses post processing filters.

“These visual traces, which would normally be hidden or edited out, are fascinating to me in that they reveal details about the equipment and processes used in the capture of the image. If you look at early photographs, such as daguerreotypes, they don’t just capture what’s in front of the camera, they also embody the state of the technology at that time.”

News

  • Talk: Digital Arts Practice in the time of the Pandemic - July 20, 2020
    Alex May will preview new work in response to the pandemic lock down, exploring the opportunities and drawbacks of dissemination of digital arts online.
  • TECHnique Interview - March 24, 2020
    Richard F Adams speaks to Alex May, a British contemporary artist whose practice forges links between art, science and technology through a wide range of digital new media.
  • Trebuchet Audio Interview - January 4, 2020
    A recording of the live interview from Trebuchet’s Time & Space talks event in October 2019
  • Trebuchet Talks – Time & Space - October 8, 2019
    Trebuchet talks featuring: “Psychohorology” Jordan Baseman (Royal College of Art) “Painting Objects in Dynamic Space” Alex May (Artist) “Dark Matters” Malcolm Fairbairn (Kings College London) Hosted by Kailas Elmer (Trebuchet) Space Soundtracks by Danny De Matos (Lisbon Kid) Showcasing a mixture of Art, Science and Culture Trebuchet talks is an energetic evening of discussion, drinks and discovery. FREE event but registration required Laylow10 ...
  • Intelligent Machinery Exhibition - September 9, 2019
    This exhibition and events programme critically explores robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and bio-computation through a series of installations and robotic artworks.
  • Artistic Exploration of BioRobotics and Sequencing - January 31, 2019
    Alex May gave a talk about art science collaboration, robot art projects, Flow State, Sequence VR, sequence music, and algorithmic photography at the SynBio and Art conference at Warwick University.
  • Algorithmic Photograph shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019 - November 26, 2018
    “Trails of Birds Over Merlin’s Cave” was shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019 in the Birdlife category. The algorithmic photograph was taken in 2018 on a trip to visit Tintagel Castle in Cornwall and captures five minutes of birds flying above the crashing waves next to the sea cave where, according to Arthurian legend, Merlin ...
  • Algorithmic Photography Latest TV interview - April 22, 2018
    Alex May was interviewed by Latest TV about his Algorithmic Photography project. https://youtu.be/1lv3dGQ4leI
  • Exhibition at Texas A&M – March 2018 - February 4, 2018
    College Station, Texas– Art, science, and technology combine in a fascinating fusion as the Wright Gallery of the Texas A&M College of Architecture opens their latest exhibition Anna Dumitriu and Alex May: Recent Works, running March 5-8, 2018. Through their innovative approaches, British artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May have established themselves at the forefront of ...

Exhibitions and Awards

Trails of Birds Around Merlin’s Cave” was shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019.

The first exhibition of Algorithmic Photographs was part of the “Anna Dumitriu and Alex May: Recent Works” exhibition in the Wright Gallery at Texas A&M University, March 5th-8th 2018.

  • Intelligent Machinery – Ugly Duck, London (27th-29th September 2019)
  • Flow Photo – National Waterways Museum, Gloucester (6th June-13th July 2019)
  • Flow Photo – National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port (1st April-30th May 2019)
  • Wright Gallery of the Texas A&M College of Architecture (5th-8th March 2018)

Background

May’s Algorithmic Photography technique for generating these images was first developed in 2008 as an interactive artwork called “Statues Also Die” that was part of a series of video projection mapping audio visual installations situated on the south bank of the River Thames in London, created by Alex May and Martin A. Smith for the InTransit Festival.

“Statues Also Die” by Alex May (2008)

The installation takes a real-time video feed from a camera and creates a composite image from elements that remain still.

Pre-production test for the “Statues Also Die” algorithm (the exhibition was titled Statues Alive)

3 thoughts on “Algorithmic Photography”

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