Lev Manovich at OCAD

24 03 2012

It’s not everyday that you get a chance to do a workshop with Lev Manovich so when I got wind of his coming down to Toronto, I didn’t let the opportunity pass. The afternoon consisted of about three hours split into a theoretical lecture and a practical workshop around Manovich’s digital visualization project, Cultural Analytics.

I came across Manovich’s writing four years ago while completing my MA. In his work, The Language of New Media, Manovich puts forward the convincing argument that our screen-based graphic user interface is derived from the visual language of older media. I find this of particular interest as the Steve Jobs prophecy of the ‘Post PC Era’ is fast approaching with tablets inundating wealthy homes and nations around the globe. User interfaces are changing quickly and it would pay to take heed of Manovich’s older analysis of PCs.

That said, Manovich’s workshop today was about his new interest in visualizing the ‘big data’ of large picture collections. Using open source medical visualization software, ImageJ, Manovich has written some straightforward macros that essentially give one the ability to visually organize a large set of pictures according to either metadata, brightness/contrast, hue, etc.

I first heard of the Cultural Analytics project back in 2010 and appreciated the unique perspective that this type of visualization provided. It’s less the code that was impressive but more the endless possibilities of viewing possible patterns in any set of images from Mondrian’s life’s work to film frames to Time Magazine covers to Flikr. Furthermore the project code is open source so as a community builds around this method of visualization we will start to see some interesting things.

Already I have ideas to spend some time fiddling around with visualizing the frond of archival images I have been working with in Seville.