Let me set the stage for a challenging act of balance:
A thin wire rope stretches between two poles. Right in the middle: the artist, high above the ground. Elegant, delicate, confidant. He must maintain balance, otherwise a deep plunge will end the performance quite abruptly. The artist firmly wraps both hands around a long rod; by doing so, he can compensate oscillations of rope and body. Looking straight ahead, knees slightly bent, there is only one way to finish this act of art: Walk forward, maintain balance, reach the save pole, relax; and turn around because the way back awaits.
But two opposing forces disturb the performance – while the actor is confident in his skills, his balancing rod causes imbalance: Attached to one side are his own aspirations, causing a slight, but constant, tilt towards the left. On the other side of the rod are the well-intentioned demands of the spectators pulling him towards the right. In order to survive, own intentions and the will of the spectators need to be integrated to accomplish the feat.
The feedback is essential to learn and improve; but own aspirations are important to maintain motivation and the drive to create. Balance between both has to be maintained. Asking two persons will give you three opinions – and then there is your own as well.
I became aware, that the noise of many will point you in all possible directions. But the voice of a few will show you the right path. So, listen to honest feedback of trusted ones whose only goal is your own success. But sometimes, only yourself can know what is appropriate and how balance can be maintained from start to finish – and all the way back.
I am accustomed to movement in different activities such as juggling and bouldering. Complex body movements, precise homogenous arm motions, balance, or momentum.
However, one major issue in photography is not movement itself, but the opposite: to keep the camera stable during exposure to light. Blurred images are undesirable – at least most of the times. Therefore, tripods and optical image stabilization are common techniques to reduce camera motion.
Recently, I am intrigued by images that are blurred; thereby, they can carry emotion and feeling, but in return they often have less tangible subjects. I just recently learned the term for this technique: icm (intentional camera movement).
Getting the proper movement is key; and I am still at the very start of playing around with different movements and getting them right. But especially when conditions are difficult for ‘normal’ photos, movements can create appealing abstracts.
We’ll mix it up this time. Correct: Not I, but We. Because you’re going to get involved in this one. One simple question, many answers. Take your time to think about it before reading on; here comes the question:
Are the following pictures similar?
Let’s start with the basics: They are digital pictures shown on a website, saved in the same digital format. Not known to you, they also have the same number of pixels along the long side. To be exact, 1000 pixels as all pictures here in order to not occupy too much space (and to not get stolen – but who will steal them anyway…). Color information is stored in Adobe RGB color space, however, since all are black and white, the information for red, green, and blue is identical for every pixel anyway.
Not so fast, you will intervene. And you are right in doing so: While the long side is always 1000 pixels, they do not share the same aspect ratio, nor the same orientation. And it won’t be a stretch to claim that between every two pictures no single pixel is identical. So already after these first simple investigations we see a problem emerging: They are similar to a specific degree, identical in some respects, but disparate with respect to other criteria.
Let’s dive deeper: Are the images we see here the actual images, let alone do they inherit or show some of our reality? First of all, they do not show the full data gathered, since the original pictures are much larger, also encode color, and a variety of additional information in their RAW format. And in any case, they are just some arbitrary representation of reality without any real connection to it. One of endless possible portrayals of reality. While this does not directly touch on the original question, it is important to keep this in mind when we search and interpret their similarity.
Lastly, how do the overall pictures appear? Even if the single pixels are different between all images, combined they create patterns that can be alike. The pixels combine to a variety of forms, which, in turn, are received differently by different viewers. Waves, scales, oscillations, geometrical forms. And are they really creating these patterns or does the viewer infer them? Can we infer different patterns from the same picture?
I could go on for a while, but it’s getting too long. Let’s move on to the second question: Now, we also need to quantify the difference between every pair of pictures. On a scale from 0 to 100, how different are these two?
And what about these?
I think you are getting my point. We can create an endless list of metrics and choose what we think is best. We can apply these metrics to these simple images, or we can gather more data, larger pictures, RAW data, and then apply the metrics. We can weight and combine metrics to generate an overall score of similarity, we can try to assess how it performs in comparison to other scores. We can compare pairs of pictures and create a hierarchy of similarity. But it will never be the same when done by different people. And in the end, it’s quite arbitrary. Do we look at pixels, color, form, format, derived patterns, povoked emotions?
Most of the day I am doing such arbitrary comparisons. Not between images, but between DNA strands. Instead of pixels I am looking at sequences of A, C, G, and T. Depending on the chosen metric, a variety of results emerges. There is no correct metric, no correct similarity measure. There is no correct way to describe reality, neither to analyze and exploit it. There is an infinite number and every single one creates another distinct result.
But fortunately, in the end, it somehow seems to work – at least sometimes, when it solves a problem in biology research or medicine; but most of the time I don’t get how.
This read is meant genuine and was written with honest intention. Please take your time to read it properly and don’t read it on the side when you have no time.
People can be spiteful and violent, people can be nasty and devious: It’s the warlord who terrorizes an ethnic group, the president who declares war and is backed by the country, the company that fosters child labour without consequences. In our privileged daily life we are experiencing mostly the little misconducts of fellow humans: The person who jumps the queue when shopping groceries, the reckless car driver who doesn’t care about your bike, the ignorant dog walker that neglects his duty to use a leash, or the friend who talks ill behind your back.
This world can be a depressing one: It seems that everybody is in it for themself, no one cares about the others, and maximizing ones own profit is the goal. Suffering from this are the poor and the lonely ones, nature and the planet, minorities and discriminated, the polite and modest ones. And what else is left than to surrender to the overwhelming forces of negativity? What else is left than to join the circle of hatred, fear, and egoism?
Let me convince you that this is a better way. Don’t join the others, better bridge the gap between the others and you, because: we are all in it together. It’s not only you who had a bad day. It’s not only you who feels tired and offended by the doings of others. It’s not necessarily you who is in the right. And also, sometimes, it’s not important who is in the right to begin with. What is important is empathy. Be kind. See the good in other people. Embrace differences and allow for discrepancy. Engage in discussion, but not to win, but to understand the validity of other opinions. Retrace their line of thought; carry it on with better arguments. Only then you can get their side. And don’t make fun of the ignorant or uninformed. Instead, be kind and teach. Share your knowledge, humbly, and offer your wisdom that you were lucky enough to absorb in your life. It’s easy to judge, but most often it’s not your place to judge. Instead, support them in resolving their own struggles. Have compassion; show compassion. Help the weak and poor, help your friends, help the people you dislike. Don’t do it to feel better; do it honestly and because it improves someones life. Do it because you want to. Demonstrate courage. Don’t be the one who sees the wronging and summons a smart phone for the fleeting amusement of strangers on the internet. Don’t be the one who points at others when it’s your turn. Step in and act according to your beliefs. Be courteous. To the queue-jumping shopper, to the leash-less dog-walker, and to the reckless driver. Not because they are right, but because it’s the right thing. And because it makes the world a better place.
This doesn’t mean you should accept the wronging of others, nor does it mean you should welcome the brashness that someone displays. But it means you should question every bad thought you have about someone before jumping to conclusions, or worse, actions. And this won’t be easy. It will be difficult, exhausting, and demanding. And I get it: Your own day was difficult and you are tired. But this means it is even more important to practice, day in day out, to make it not your second, but your first thought in every situation: Do I show empathy? Do I judge? Do I know where the other person is coming from? And with enough practice, it will become natural: To be kind and welcoming. To be compassionate and courageous. To be courteous when the opposite isn’t. And to be it out of belief that it brings something good to this world and not to feel superior. And sometimes it won’t help, sometimes it will come to a tough point where empathy does not resolve. Then, stand up for justice and defend your beliefs. But always critically question your actions. And I know, this post reads like an idealistic vision. But I don’t think it is. And even if it were, what is there to loose in not trying? Go for it – to make this world a better place.
This post was closely related to my earlier posts on labels and shall remind myself to practice: Empathy, compassion, and kindness.
Also: My camera body is not weather resistant. But I received a rain cover as a birthday gift! That’s why there are so many snails on the pictures – I went out during rain for the first time and its so much fun: No people, and so many droplets everywhere on macro photos.
There has been too little time to appropriately maintain the blog lately. Lots of work, some routesetting, and other hobbies devour my time. I also often feel restless when I have some free space, it feels like I need to use these hours in some meaningful or productive way – whatever that means. When I have a free evening I mostly go outside to take some pictures. Last week I was on a small hill south of our home town for the sun set. After many days of rain, the sun finally showed again and all plants sprouted, especially the hawthorn.
After shooting panoramas and macros, I also tried some new techniques for abstract nature photography as such images always appeal to me when I see them online: Images where it is unclear what exactly is depicted, images that leave room for interpretation but follow patterns. The first 100 tries were uninteresting, but then I changed settings substantially and started playing with the lens zoom while shooting longer exposures:
After another 300 photos I felt somewhat satisfied with the results that also were quite unique from what I have seen. The hawthorn and my 10-24mm lens made a nice combination with the evening light, resulting in textured hawthorn spirals:
When I started the blog I had little idea in which direction it would evolve. So far, I like the loose combination of computer science topics and everyday life observations accentuated with my latest pictures. However, the writing often takes longer than taking pictures and my backlog of pictures is slowly building up. Thus, I am thinking about some new blog post format that mainly consists of pictures, but I didn’t come up with an appealing idea yet. If you have any, please let me know! Additionally, I would like to make some longer blog posts about specific interest of mine (if time allows), as well as integrate further hobbies into the catalog of potential topics. So, in general, the blog will probably become more diverse, as the hawthorn pictures in this post: Sometimes great vistas, sometimes specific details, and sometimes quick abstracts.