I'm a writer and visual artist in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

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index of first lines at Reese Bullen Gallery

index of first lines at Reese Bullen Gallery

My digital print index of first lines is currently being shown in the art department faculty & staff show at Reese Bullen Gallery, Humboldt State University, in Arcata, CA. I’m currently teaching Web Media & Design here at Humboldt.

Here’s the artist statement you can see on the wall there:

I am interested in adapting digital photographic data into information systems usually associated with language and literature, such as an index of first lines.

Occasionally found in anthologies of poetry, an index of first lines lists poems alphabetically according to each first line, eschewing authorship, title and chronology. A reader might not always recall the title or author of a poem, but is likely to remember how it begins. I’ve always found indexes of first lines amusing as exercises in found poetry – reading the lines sequentially often results in a charmingly garbled, wandering diatribe, full of false starts.

index of first lines contains the first row of pixels from every image created with my first digital camera, from the day I bought it until the day it died. The lines of pixels are stratified in chronological order, with the earliest photo at the top. The resulting image contains 2048 × 5197 pixels (my camera produced images that were 2048 pixels wide, and there are 5197 photos).

Software tools such as Photoshop often impose a film-photography metaphor onto digital imaging. To get away from such metaphors, I use computer programming to manipulate digital image data in a way that is intrinsically digital. In this work, a PHP script was used to copy pixels from thousands of photos on my hard drive and compile them into this image.

index of first lines is a product not only of a digital camera, but of computer code. It is composed of a series of sequential images that are never perceived individually. Like an index of poems, its usefulness as a reference device depends on my memory. Taken out of context, it has a certain surreal quality.

While it’s impossible for me to identify individual photos, looking at this image does bring back memories. Thicker bands of colour indicate distinct sessions of photographing, when I snapped many photos with similar backgrounds. For instance, a certain band of white near the centre is the trace of the overcast sky on the afternoon I first visited Stonehenge. In this way, index of first lines is a cross-section of my memory, or at least my photographic habits. Examining it is an act of reading.

The faculty and staff show is open from September 13 – October 4, 2012.

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