Do pictures want to be real?

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In Hubble's classic Pillars of Creation photo, made in 1995, astronomers changed some of the red emissions they detected to green in order to highlight information that would otherwise have been lost amid other red emissions.

In Hubble's classic Pillars of Creation photo, made in 1995, astronomers changed some of the red emissions they detected to green in order to highlight information that would otherwise have been lost amid other red emissions.

After our discussion last week on what pictures want and then reading the blogs regarding ‘real’ vs. ‘unreal’ photographs, I began thinking about the images of that defy human visuality.  We often see photographs, and we cannot believe our eyes. What we are confronted with may challenge our perceived realities, captivate and transfix us, repulse us, confuse, or please us…but we can usually locate them within our ever-expanding rolodex that forms in our mind’s eye.  We have seen these types of images before with our own eyes, or permutations of those images, and we have the conceptual, linguistic, and visceral vocabularies to digest them with.  

But what about photographs of things that we can never actually see for ourselves (using our own perceptual faculties), or know in the sense of ever being sure.  Images of space have been very popular ever since we have created the kinds of technologies that allow us to capture these entities that lie far outside our reach.  These are images that are not visible except when delivered to us via a ‘thing’ that extends our sight far beyond our natural capabilities.   But something that I did not know was that most of the images of space we see are not real, in the sense that they are manipulated by scientists and artists.  The images of galaxies and formations in their raw form are colorless and often far less complex then what we are delivered.  What we consume are composite and rendered images that have been imbued with surreal features and agencies.  All Hubble images are created with black-and-white cameras and ones and zeros are sent to the earthbound. Color is photo-shopped in.

 “This is a representation of some kind to convey the information that Hubble has gathered,” Kenneth Brecher, a professor of astronomy at Boston University says. “It’s scientifically sound, but their presentation is subjective.”  This quote was taken from an article titled: Coloring the Universe: Why Reality is a Gray Area in Astronomy.  The professor’s words, ‘their presentation is subjective’ stuck with me along with the title’s notion of reality being a gray area.  As technologies are endowing the visual world with new capabilities, presentation and representation are being blurred, liberties and subjectivites are becoming inter-changable even in the scientific community, and reality is becoming a gray zone.  As we become more and more dependent on things to deliver us our realities, I was pursued by this question: Do pictures want to be real?  And if the answer is no, my imagination starts to take wing and I wonder about how the visual landscape will continue to shift towards thingness, how intelligibility will continue to rely on things, how experience will continue to be mediated through things, and how the way we think about things will likely be how things think us.  

And back to those pretty and ‘out of this world’ space images, maybe we imbue them with color and fanciful imagery because we want them to be more sensuous than they are in reality.  And maybe in this realm where neither objects nor humans can ‘know’, agency is neither here nor there for its in an gray area.

This Hubble image of four colliding galaxies, released in earlier this month, was created mostly with infrared light. Astronomers mixed some visible light taken with the telescope's optical imager, too. The visible light was recorded as yellow but made blue before being combined with this picture.

This Hubble image of four colliding galaxies, released in earlier this month, was created mostly with infrared light. Astronomers mixed some visible light taken with the telescope's optical imager, too. The visible light was recorded as yellow but made blue before being combined with this picture.

 

 

 

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