Manovich’s Human-Scale Data

While Lev Manovich will reject a number of definitions in his reformation of “media visualization,” the project reaches a newly organic stage in the final examples of his “Visualizing Vertov” piece.  The relationship between eye and interface, and the shifts in this relationship, undergird each of “Visualizing Vertov,” “Media Visualization” and “How to Compare One Million Images?”  The focus, however, will remain visualizing data in a way to make it, once again, human scale.  Something most human, I argue, occurs in the final examples of “Visualizing Vertov.”

In “One Million Images” Manovich focuses on the eye and interface but with a more sever critique of the eye.  Not only is the eye not scalable to different data collections, but “[t]he second problem with using our eyes is that we are not very good at registering subtle differences between images.”  Wisely, I think, he shifts to a complaint of the interface more singularly in “Media Visualization:” “Although it may appear that the reasons for this are the limitations of human vision and human information processing, I think that it is actually the fault of current interface designs…This access method does not allow us to understand the ‘shape’ of overall collection and notice interesting patters” [sic].  Here, we can again notice interesting patterns!  Phew. The trick is to change the scale of the project to one at which we can use our apperceive apparatus to notice “shape.”

However, the idea of media visualization does not, I would argue, come to fruition until the last couple of examples in his “Visualizing Vertov” piece: “Anatomy of a Shot” and “Visualizing Movement.” Notably, figures 8.2 and 9.4.  These images represent shots “averaged” into a single image.


FIG 8.2


FIG 9.4

The process works differently here than in the graphs and “montages” of images. Shots averaged together most completely fulfill the definition of “media visualization” in which  “pictures are translated into pictures” but also, pictures, as well as they can, do not hide the original images of the media under consideration.  Manovich makes a special note of this move away from this traditional graphs: “Typical information visualization involves first translating the world into numbers and then visualizing relations between these numbers.  In contrast, media visualization involves translating a set of images into a new images which can reveal patterns in the set. In short, pictures are translated into pictures.” The result, at first and for a good while, is “images in a collection superimposed on a graph” (5).  Such graphs offer little more information that the graph itself would, except perhaps to understand the axes more intuitively.

What seems, however, the final result of this project, most nuanced interpretation, and most engaging image built from images, are these composite images of shots. They do not, admittedly, have the potential to convey raw-ish information like the superimposed-upon graphs, but differently do more with the visual data.  Namely, they seem to have the potential, of any of these visualizations, to tell us something we did not know, and to beg further questions, rather than, as Manovich often freely admits, verify claims. The image apprehends something itself of the shot beyond the algorithm used to generate it.

These approaches have problems, too.  For example, with projects 8 and 9 in “Visualizing Vertov,” Manovich tacitly acknowledges the inability of such projects to scale (the problem in the other two pieces).  In fact, the projects seem only to reveal movement at a single scale.  If an object within a shot moves too quickly, the movement will be erased from the composite image.  However, if an object moves too slowly, the object would appear stationary in the composite shot.  In this way, an object’s ability to be perceived has a direct relationship with the “scale” of the data set, the scale here being the length of the shot. I note these particular examples, however, because these exact complications generated by the composite images offer the greatest potential for a future project.


4 thoughts on “Manovich’s Human-Scale Data

  1. jpkatz10 says:

    So, what about this compiled shot is “most human”? In your declaration that “[t]he image apprehends something itself of the shot beyond the algorithm used to generate it,” I read you as suggesting a sentiment similar to my own feeling that Manovich’s use of the digital necessarily ends at the point of subjective or semantic analysis. What exactly are the new questions that these images beg?

    Perhaps more interestingly, on a “meta” level higher: What is it about these particular images that separate them in potentia from Manovich’s other schema? When I read your post, it resonated with me; something about those images does seem more human. Is it the sudden resurgence of a spectator, even if that spectator sees in the fourth-dimension (sees the passage of time as a single frame)? Is it the importance of that spectating position–the very fact that these images would not exist were it not for an imagined spectator who watches space change? I’m obviously going to push this route, because it allows me to subsume the textual into the embodied and then into the inevitable infinite rabbit-hole of affect.

    On the other hand, is it perhaps less embodied, and more to do with the representation of time? After all, the human is not fit to be the subject of film. The key difference of temporality here seems to be the grafting of time onto the physical (some inane theorization of “inorganic bodies” lurks in the shadows of that sentence, but let’s leave it as a trace). Time no longer operates as a Y-axis in a Cartesian graph, but instead moves into a Spinozan space attached to the thing.* If this is the case, perhaps what makes these images most human is their inhumanitiy, their explicit object-ness, their tie to the physical, their imminent immanence. The scatter-plots verify; these images evoke?

    *Descartes argues that apprehension occurs separately from judgement which occurs separately from belief. Spinoza argues that all three (apprehension, judgement, belief) occur simultaneously, that to apprehend requires one to believe and is an act of judgement. I’m suggesting that the Cartesian X-Y graph Manovich loves depends wholly on Descartes’ disembodied supposition.**

    **Who puts footnotes in their comments on other people’s blogs? Seriously.

    • jkappes says:

      “What exactly are the new questions that these images beg?” indeed. And RE: your post, I do agree that Manovich’s project is show and tell, though I think he makes no pretensions otherwise–it’s like a tech demo: WWMDC. I am also wholly on board with your comparison between the Cartesian and the Spinozan space of the image, and perhaps this is what is so engaging. The images to do not pretend to offer any answers but evoke, as you say. Perhaps throwing “human” in there, as you may identify (?) does nothing but sidetrack the issue of the potential interestingness or usefulness of these composites. But certainly, the images play not to “data” but to intuition (as does my post, which resonates without necessarily making sense). Is this a valid move in scholarship–either my post or the composites? Or is this more on the side of “critics are just artists who are bad at art?”

  2. […] finds in Manovich’s visualizations of movemment something unique. These composite images, which capture (or visualize or perhaps simply smear) the motion of a shot […]

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