Arbitrary subjects turn into kaleidoscopic imagery with Light Pattern

The intersection of photography and computers generally connotes Photoshop and Instagram. The first is a tool for refining and altering photos, enabling manipulation far beyond what’s possible in the darkroom. The second is a sort of casual dumping ground, a worldwide clothesline sagging with millions of Polaroids. They share some basic features but work at cross-purposes: Photoshop is a process. Instagram is, well, instant.

But both of them aspire to a photographic ideal that is well-lit, in-focus, correctly exposed, and depicting a visually interesting subject. Digital artist Daniel Temkin is taking a decidedly different tack with his project Light Pattern, a photo-based programming language which will be showcased at Brooklyn’s Transfer Gallery starting August 9th.

If you’re at a loss as to what’s happening there, it’s okay. On the right side of the frame is a descending list of outputs: the strips of colored photos scrolling across the screen are being fed into Temkin’s Light Pattern, and Light Pattern is scanning each image for “the exposure and dominant color required by its ruleset.” When it gets an acceptable match, it prints part of the phrase “Hello, World!” 

And that’s that. The photos’ subject matter is as “arbitrary and meaningless” as Temkin can find, and the photos are deliberately taken at noon to achieve the most dynamic contrast—a choice that makes them aesthetically unappealing but perfect for Light Pattern.

What’s particularly interesting is that unlike traditional code, which is language-based and constant, Light Pattern’s programs are always comprised of unique images. It’s a strange tension between the art of photography and the rigid demands of programming. Light Pattern makes no aesthetic demands, only technical ones. The photos can be as banal or as meticulous as the artist likes so long as they contain the necessary values of exposure and color.

Temkin’s other Light Pattern projects are similarly process-oriented. “Three Lamp Events” is based on Fluxus artist George Brecht’s score of the same name, part of a larger work inspired by Duchamp that isolated mundane everyday tasks in order to force an audience to consider them out of their usual context. 

In a larger sense, Light Pattern is doing the same thing with photography; making it unfamiliar, twisting notions of what is valuable and what isn’t, forcing the artist to consider their work on a different axis in order to achieve results.