Machine Seeing Ways of Seeing

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Preliminary notes towards Ways of Machine Seeing in Cambridge (26-28 June 2017).

For this we will present a series of experiments using machine vision algorithms to rework short extracts from the four episodes of the BBC documentary series Ways of Seeing. Our algorithmic interlocutors provoke new questions about the ideological role of the technical apparatus and add another (technical) voice to Berger’s own observations on visual culture and politics. After a brief presentation, the experiments will be used to open up discussion and to allow participants to experience the work of the algorithms directly.


Object detection




Experiments are based on the following initial ideas:

  • Episode one - draws on ideas from Walter Benjamin's Artwork essay
1. perspective 01:02 - 02:03 (what lies behind surfaces) - algorithm to identify background
2. reproduction 03:22 - 07:22 (destruction of aura) - recognition of patterns
3. scepticism 28:00 - 29:30 (ideology) - identifying edges
  • Episode two - discusses the politics of the female nude and the gaze
4. women 00:00 - 02:59 (women watch themselves being looked at) - gender analysis?
5. nude 03:16 - 08:08 (man as agent of god) - skin algorithm
6. the look 11:12 - 12.38 (male gaze) - face recognition algorithm
  • Episode three - reflects on the commissioning of artworks and property relations
7. value/property/ownership/class 11:55 - 13:41 (we look, we buy) - identification of objects? or Mr & Mrs Andrews as class enemy 19:18 - 20:38 - ditto
  • Episode four - on publicity, and how consumption (re)produces a distorted reality, reification
8. capitalism 10:24 - 16:29 (you are what you have) - again something like identifying objects or relations between objects

Geoff Cox & Nicolas Malevé
(Aarhus University/Plymouth University & London South Bank University/The Photographers Gallery/Constant)


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