Saturday, August 20, 2011

Indistinguishable From Magic Part 1

IBM has recently sent out a press release ( about 2 cognitive computing chips they’ve designed. These chips represent a drastic departure from traditional computational architecture and programming; they also represent a more extensive approximation of the level of interconnectivity displayed in the mammalian brain.

…from the press release: “The goal of SyNAPSE is to create a system that not only analyzes complex information from multiple sensory modalities at once, but also dynamically rewires itself as it interacts with its environment – all while rivaling the brain’s compact size and low power usage. The IBM team has already successfully completed Phases 0 and 1….. While they contain no biological elements, IBM’s first cognitive computing prototype chips use digital silicon circuits inspired by neurobiology to make up what is referred to as a “neurosynaptic core” with integrated memory (replicated synapses), computation (replicated neurons) and communication (replicated axons)….. IBM’s overarching cognitive computing architecture is an on-chip network of light-weight cores, creating a single integrated system of hardware and software. This architecture represents a critical shift away from traditional von Neumann computing to a potentially more power-efficient architecture that has no set programming, integrates memory with processor, and mimics the brain’s event-driven, distributed and parallel processing.”

What is not clear from the press release, but will hopefully be revealed soon, is if the developed chips are running all functions and control operations or subsets. The release states: “IBM has two working prototype designs. Both cores were fabricated in 45 nm SOI-CMOS and contain 256 neurons. One core contains 262,144 programmable synapses and the other contains 65,536 learning synapses. The IBM team has successfully demonstrated simple applications like navigation, machine vision, pattern recognition, associative memory and classification.” Under current understanding biological cognition can be generalized with the “form follows function” maxim. But in mammals, the cognitive processes that input visual signals do not control (other than simple reflex actions) the majority of the other biological functions of which an animal is capable. It is difficult to envision IBM capable of integrating the information input, decision-making, and motion control processes on a chip design with so few connections.

Subset processing is still a remarkable achievement, but does not equal the real-world environmental applications hypothesized as possible in the press release. It is my contention that a true cognitive computing system needs to meet 3 minimum criterion: 1)Be able to intake system-relevant input; 2)Be able to process that input and make rational decisions that; 3)qualitatively or quantitatively effect the system-relevant input it receives. A simple example of this would be a light sensor that measures the intensity of a particular wavelengths of light, the initiates a shutter to close-off the sensor when the light is intense enough to damage the sensor circuitry.

I believe part of the difficulty in developing a complex, real-world capable artificial cognitive system will ultimately be how to create synergistic subset cognitive systems. To bring that example to a mammal analogue; mammals can narrow the iris, close the eye, turn the head, or even move away from the light source. Each of those actions progressively uses more and more cognitive subsets, and the latter two actions have little direct linkage to the initial sensor (i.e. the eye) that received the information.

Part 2 of this post will delve more into the psychological, philosophical, and moral-ethical ramifications of this type of artificial programming.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Late but still relevant

Breast Cancer Awareness Ad MockUp

Today's image is from some work I shot several months ago. Unfortunately, I didn't finish the post-production in time for Breast Cancer awareness month (October), but I'm still proud of the finished product and think it is relevant.  Many thanks to the model who was willing to trust me to paint and photograph her. The paints are latex paints from Aside from the expense, the product is superb.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A World of Change

Gina Barros
     I remember hearing a question back when I was a child in elementary school asking if I thought I was going up in the right
period of history. I cannot clearly recall what the question stemmed from, but I have been asked either that or related questions multiple times throughout my life. With the nature of current events—Egyptian protests, Libyan revolts & slaughter, Japan’s earthquakes & tsunami, the question has recently entered

my ponderings again.
    The most recent renewal of the time period query occurred to me when I realized that even given me having the exact same
personality, my question today might vary greatly dependent upon where in the world I was located. As I consider the broader implications to people at large, I wonder if the Japanese hit by the dual disasters of earthquakes & tsunami might be asking themselves that question.  Given the advances in earthquake-proofing construction, the country has suffered remarkable little damage from the major and less-major quakes that have
been rattling the area for the last week or so. A 9+ magnitude quake would have been a city-killer in 1911 Japan. But when photographs of tsunami damge are
viewed, it leads one to wonder how much has advanced since that time.
  For the most part, I tend to take the long view on natural disasters. The planet is much more complex, beautiful, and dangerous place than it seems to someone who spend the majority of life in 1st world cities. Every so often, nature reminds us of that. Though some disasters have roots in the workings of man (i.e. the flooding of New Orleans after Katrina), there are a small subset of disasters that fill me with awe, because there is little man can do to prepare or counteract nature on that scale.  The subset is:
Hurricanes – once you get up past Category 4, there is little that can be built (short of a bunker) that can withstand the storm without taking damage.
Krystine Garcia
Tornados – again past Category 4, you are pretty much looking at whatever is hit being wiped out.
Tsunamis – like taking a giant eraser to the affected coastline, these events tend to wipe out most structures along coasts, particularly since the majority of structures are designed for asthetic, commercial, or industrial function and not designed for wave-damage resistance.
Volcanic eruptions – these are dual-threat problems: in addition to the potential for magma/lava damage, the eruption tosses pollutants into the air that can suffocate, block sunlight access, and the ash can contaminate soil & groundwater.
    Today’s images come from a group photoshoot event I participated in May of last year. These images are outtakes that have been directly formatted for web without any post-processing. As each year passes and the number of images in the virtual stockpile increases, I have now implemented the outtake strategy for images I think are interesting, but not critical nor recent enough to spend the precious hours of time to edit. This blog gives an opportunity for the images to be presented and not forgotten.
    The shoot was organized by a model I had wanted to work with for quite some time and the venue was a large event hall arranged in the architectural style of a castle-palace. This was a free-for-all type shoot where the photographer could pick whatever models they wanted to work with, the models brought whatever wardrobe they felt met the fashion theme, and the equipment & lighting was whatever the individual photographers brought.  As I’ve discussed group shoot events in previous posts, I’ll broach my biggest disappointment from the shoot instead. As a free-for-all, I never had the opportunity to work with the organizer, a then 19yr-old female model whom I had been trying to work with for months and had based attendance for the event upon her emailed confirmation that we’d have an opportunity to work together. For the more experienced models, group events are often the only times the models have low enough rates for individuals on student-budgets to be able to work with them.
Sammie M

  The organizer had brought in some photographer she had previously worked with to the event and she spent about half of the little time she had free shooting nude work with them, for free. This was after announcing at the opening of the event that she would be charging for any nude work.  So not only did these particular photographers basically steal away the opportunity I or other individuals would have had to work with the organizer, they exploited an existing relationship to undervalue whatever an unfamiliar
individual would have paid the model to shoot nude work.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Group Photoshoots 2: Skill Builder, Networking Mecca, or Time Waster?

Cat Moone

    In continuation from the last post, the question of the worth of group photoshoot events should be addressed. Do the benefits outweigh the negatives in the areas of skill building, networking, and efficient use of time?

Cat Moone

  The first area—skill building—is a complex one to address because how photographers and models learn can vary. I breakdown photographers into 3 basic groupings: theoretical actualizers, spur experimentalists, and task-dependants. 
Theoretical actualizers set up—via diagram or mental images—the shoot concepts, lighting, wardrobe, and potentially even the poses they desire. 
They then take this vision and attempt to make it reality in the actual photoshoot. Actualizers find pleasure in taking the concept to execution and may even enjoy the post-production work as much or more than the setup process. Spur experimentalists may have an initial shoot concept but work primarily from the idea that the best product comes from a collaborative flow of ideas as the shoot is going rather than a rigid plan of shooting: this creative process runs throughout all aspects including lighting, wardrobe, poses, etc. Task-dependants keep a relatively stable process that only varies in the dimensions required of the shoot. While they may not be the most intuitively creative photographers, they do produce a product of consistent quality.
Kimm Davies

   The issue then becomes which type benefits more from a group photoshoot endeavor and how does this benefit play out? Novice theoretical actualizers can benefit from a group photoshoot, but need to receive information about the shoot, lighting arrangement, wardrobe, etc. for them to utilize the shoot experience in planning the next solo photoshoot. In other words, the shoot done today helps improve the shoot done tomorrow.  The multiple model nature of most group photoshoots allows the novice spur experimentalist an opportunity to try setups, lighting, poses that haven’t been done before. 

However, the novice task-dependant is tends to benefit less in skill building than the other types in group photoshoots.

Kimm Davies

 If the photographer doesn’t have the resources to duplicate the shoot variables (environment, lighting, wardrobe, model, etc.), the novice task-dependant doesn’t really understand how to innovate beyond the groupshoot.  Thus, the type of photographer who benefits most from a group photoshoot is probably the spur expirementalist.

Natalie Angela
  When it comes to networking—the utilization of exposure, building of social capital, and the expansion of brand/product recognition—all three types of photographers can benefit from a group photoshoot. This is because the benefit has little to do with the type of photographer and more to do with the personality & likeability of the shoot participants, and the socializing opportunities available at the shoot. It is the same principle behind the success of meet & greet events.

 The last question about time efficiency is multilayered because ultimately efficiency depends not just upon the photographer but also the type of shoot and how many other individuals are involved in the shoot. Assuming all the non-photographer variables are equal, a novice theoretical actualizer can benefits if he/she has foreknowledge of the photoshoot variables. Thus the actualizer has the potential to cram many more high-quality photographs in than the average photographer. 

Kimm Davies
The spur experimentalist is also capable of obtaining more high-quality photographs than the average photographer. However, the spur experimentalist is also capable of ending up with more junk as well. Not everything tried will succeed, but when success is obtained it will yield wonderful product. So unlike the actualizer whose product is directly related to how much forthought is put into the group photoshoot, the experimentalist will—on average—benefit from the shoot, but there is no guarantee. The task-dependant is least likely to benefit from a group photoshoot, because the benefit garnered comes completely from the quality and organization of photoshoot organizer. A free-for-all shoot is the least efficient, a small, meticulously detailed shoot is more efficient.

Natalie Angela
   Today’s images are from a themed bodypaint shoot. The goal was to have the models painted in water-resistant paints in designs reminiscent to mermaids. Unfortunately the bodypainter really dropped the ball on this shoot, showing up late and neglecting to bring the proper type of airbrush paints. Consequently, once the models got wet paints wet, the paint flecked off rapidly and the designs became unusable within about 4 minutes. Overall the models were a pleasure to work with.  
Natalie Angela

      The father of one of the models had been diagnosed with a myocardial infarction the prior evening and was hospitalized. It was clearly weighing on the model (you can see in the images the progression of unhappiness) and she left the shoot early to go be with her family. Since that day, I don’t think she has modeled again, I’ve been unable to ever contact her, and she hasn’t logged onto to her MM account. I always wonder what happens to models that drop of the face of the modeling earth. Another model from that day has ceased to model and discontinued her MM account. I sometimes wonder if it is life, discontent, or familial/social pressures that lead once enthusiastic models to completely cease modeling. For women in their late teens and early twenties, I know from discussion that it is hard for them to forsee all the future consequences from modeling. But I’ve also witnessed individuals in their late twenties and early thirties summarily drop out so I’m unsure if unforeseen consequences is the only reason.
Cat Moone
Natalie Angela

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Group Photoshoots: Skill Builder, Networking Mecca, or Time Waster?

Veronica Vaughn
 Pt. 1

    I just finished processing images from a group photoshoot event I participated in about 2 weekends ago. This was the first event I had attended with this particular meetup group and I went to the event not knowing anything about how the shoots were run until I showed up at the door. Like most things in life there were positives  and negatives I took from the event, but it made me think about the title question more seriously. I’ll address the particular event first, and then the question as a larger issue second.

     The event was held in a San Francisco studio that clearly had been created as a near-permanent photostudio. This was the first time I had been in such a space, so seeing the 4 different set setups and additional set spaces available was astounding.  There was more lighting and wiring equipment in that studio than I’m likely to ever have in my lifetime. That studio is capable of providing a plethora of lighting resources, so creativity should not be a problem for a prepared photographer.

Veronica Vaughn
      The organizers of the event were genuinely friendly and willing to talk about the shoot, the studio, life, etc., so time didn’t seem to drag on at any point during the day.  Before the shooting started, the organizer explained the process to the photographers, stating that we’d have free run of 2 fashion sets (black or white backgrounds) , use of 1 of the glamour sets (pink background), and free use of the natural light area (open space in 2nd room of studio). He also explained the few rules: no touching, no entering the dressing room, no adjusting wiring, etc. He then explained that all of the models were aware of the shoot style (Italian-style Vogue Fashion), and that these would be edgier images than typical fashion but not glamour images.

Veronica Vaughn
      At this point, it is important to note that it did state in the meetup groups signup sheet that these were all newer models. This was evidenced by a model who, after dressing in some lingerie and walking onto the first set, immediately decided to quit and left without actually modeling. This forced the female organizer (a model herself) to have to step in so the model total would be back up to 4 models. As I still have no idea if the models were paid for this event, I don’t know if the quitter ended up costing the organizers any money or not. Either way, it was critical for this event to have 4 models because there ended up being ~11 photographers(not counting the male organizer who shot images, and the 2 late shows) at this event.

     Up to the present time, I have participated in several free-for-all style photoshoot meetups, and personally do not prefer them. That said, I have been in some that have ran better than others. While I’m not a full-time, career photographer, my impression is that photographers who are would probably not like free-for-all shoots if they intended to use the images for anything useful. The most obvious problem this creates is that the aesthetic biases(to put it politely) of the photographers always come up. One of the models in this fashion shoot was tall, pretty, and generously & naturally endowed. Her MM profile states she’s a D cup, but she is probably larger. As I happened to be into the room she walked into for her first set I was able to observe the flock of male photographers stream to shoot her. It went from 2 photographers in the room to 10 photographers clamoring over each other in less than a minute. I shot 2 images of her in that outfit then left to find another model to work with. In every free-for-all I’ve attended, the photographer shooting stampede has split the model’s attention in to many directions, impeded her ability to find a posing flow, and resulted in the model adopting canned modeling poses rather than really utilizing the wardrobe to the fullest extent. Consequently the photographers shoot quantity over quality and getting great images becomes mostly a crap shoot, rather than a definitive practice. Now I’ve seen highly skilled and experienced models rise above the melee; but that has only occurred as the photographer glut lost interest and moved to the next model or set so the number of shooters dropped down to less than 4.
  I’m traditionally a pretty laid-back shooter; I prefer to spend my energy preplanning what & how to shoot before the actual shoot date. I then take a “let’s see how it goes…” approach on the actual shoot date using the ideas and plans as catalyst or generation points for shooting. I am therefore not opposed to attending free-for-all events. I do however feel that these types of events shortchange models, unless they are compensated in money for modeling. A model serious about generating future work should know that he/she can’t have 25 images of the same wardrobe and from the same shoot in his/her portfolio. Such a port demonstrates a lack of range or experience in modeling. F-F-A shoots tend to provide a model a glut of these images. Yes he/she will have a pose from 10 different angles, but additional angles doesn’t automatically yield a superior picture. In many cases, poses only look good from particular locations so extra angles are just wasted shots.
 A second concern for models should also be increasing the skill level through practice in a shoot. The ability to interact with a photographer to create the desired image is hampered when multiple photogs are shooting at the same time.  However, if the photographers are new, or inexperienced, they may be incapable of shooting for a particular image and instead shoot-to-hope for something good.

Ranie Mae

Ranie Mae
  At this particular Italian, vogue-style fashion event wardrobe was a big issue. I don’t know if the concept was clearly explained—with visual examples—to the models, but it was my impression that the majority of them did not come prepared for the type of shoot sold to the photographers. Showing up to a shoot with only 1 pair of underwear is not planning ahead. If a model states she is willing to do implied work, proper preparation would be arriving with 1 strapless bra and no thongs or panties.  This was of particular interest to me as the models walked onto the sets already in their wardrobe and the photographers had no input as to what outfits (or how the outfits) were worn. The one model who actually had layered her wardrobe—allowing for staged removal of clothing items—came in more gothic-style wardrobe which none of the sets were set up for; this resulted in the wardrobe looking at odds with the shoots rather than complimenting the shoot.

Ranie Mae
    Moving away from the modeling end, I find as a photographer that F-F-A shoots do not yield me as high returns of quality images. When I’m firing on all cylinders(when conducting a solo photoshoot) my bad-to-excellent image ratio tends to hover around 12-to-1, and drops to 18-to-1 on my off days. I’ve never had a group F-F-A shoot that yielded me anything better than a 20-to-1 ratio. This is due to the dual confound of shooting less total images (I have to clamor over or compete with other photogs to shoot) and not having a flow with the model to shoot through many poses(I end up shooting what I can get, not what I’d like). The longer I’ve been in photography the stingier I’ve become with my time and energy. I see little benefit spending hours of time for useless images that don’t improve my skills nor improve my portfolio.

   Today’s images are of silhouettes taken at a couple different times. I am wanting an opportunity to revist silhouette photography as I feel I’ve learned much about the photography style over the past 18 months. Hopefully my results for the MM casting I will put up will yield better results.

Ranie Mae

Ranie Mae

Ranie Mae

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Long Delayed...but worthwhile.

So it’s been over half a year since my last post. In addition to questioning the continued output of the blog, much of life has gotten in the way of posting. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting some of the photographic work I’ve done in the interim time. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to attend to my writing as much as I’ve wished. I still have the fully plotted novel I’m working on sitting on a shelf awaiting completion. Of the many essays I’ve wanted to research and write, I’ve not begun a single one.

While my previous goal was to use this blog as a means of conversation, I find my drive to electronically publicize my work has diminished since undergraduate education. I value interacting with people more than electronics. Just processing photographs puts me in front of a computer for more hours than I’d prefer. But it appears that generating traffic to a blog site requires a higher level of dedication, both in posting and networking.

Now that I’m reaching the limits of allowed photographs on MM and OMP, I’ve decided to begin using the images posted here as an extension to show more from shoots I participate in. Today’s images come from a shoot done last summer.

Today’s images are of a model named Antonita(MM#1282645). At the time I worked with her, she was still relatively new and wanted practice in developing facial expression variety. I’ve noticed newer models tend to have similar difficulties with facial expression variety as well as knowing what to do with their arms & hands. As a photographer I’m often stymied as to how to deal with those issues when they come up in a shoot. I can tell when something looks bad—or when a model is likely to dislike an image—but explaining what to do is much more difficult. It is much more simpler to explain slight adjustments than wholesale instruction on how to get an exact pose. This is why I now always have examples available for a model to look at when I set up shoots. Modeling is a physical activity as well as an art. Descriptives without images would be akin to attempting to describe the paintings in the Sistine Chapel without the listener having ever seen any of them: much is lost.

Antonita worked hard at our shoot. In addition to the headshots we shot with a mirror up so she could view herself, we worked through some fashion, glamour, and artistic photography. It took her some time before she was confident enough to try the artistic shots, some of which were topless. Despite the fact that some of the silhouette images were her best poses and shots of the day, Antonita decided she wanted to pursue a different direction in her modeling and hasn’t used those images in her portfolio.

What would be nice is to be able to find another model willing to shoot them with me now that I’m much better at the process. My skills in shaping light and shadow are ones that improve the more opportunities I have to use them. I now also have better equipment which both gives me greater control over what occurs before the lens, and allows more precise post work.

Coming up in the next post… Group shootouts: Skill builders, Networking meccas, or Time wasters?