Tour of Computational Photography: Title Page and Overture

  • Post category:Art / Books

Computational Photography, as it developed, became less and less like a regular photobook and more and more like an art project in itself.

In a regular photobook you’d start off with an introductory text, followed by an essay from a curator or scholar associated with the kind of work that is about to be presented, someone who could place the work in context, highlight interesting biographical details, and generally add the umph associated with their name and reputation.

That was my plan, too. But then we–my book designer Bob Aufuldish and I–dropped the back matter (the list of plates, the timeline, at the back of the book) and then dropped the front matter (the intro and the essay). We even dropped the page numbers–what are they really for, after all?

What we wanted was not my work reproduced in a book but a book that was a thing unto itself. And that book begins here, with this spartan title page and then the Overture.

An overture is, of course, a piece of music at the beginning of an opera that presents some of the main musical themes of the opera to the audience, in a way, previewing them. This serves to get the listener a little familiar with the music so when they encounter it later the music is more effective–the audience is ready for it.

Computational Photography does the same thing here across its first six pages. Printed very dark, you can see six images from six of the projects that follow, giving the viewer the flavor of the work, printed dark to allow the work to remain a little mysterious and suggestive of what is to come.

But the overture is previewing something else, something secret. Throughout the book the attentive viewer will notice something odd about some of the pages–the varnish–the shiny coating applied to give the image on the page gloss–isn’t applied evenly. Closer inspection will reveal that the gloss is itself an image, layered almost invisible over the images printed with ink. I’ve never seen this done before–using the varnish as a content layer.

On these Overture pages, the images preview the coming varnish images as well–in fact, these are the varnish images. The photographs here, as you can see, are made up of patterns. One looks like scan lines, another resembles the etched patterns on the Fresnel lens on the groundless of a view camera, yet another, if you look very closely, is made up of tiny words, massed together to make the picture.

When a book is printed the printer doesn’t use RGB inks–red, green, and Blue–they use CMYK inks–cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Four plates are made, each holding the color information for just one of these colors, with the combination of the four producing a full-color image. But there is a fifth plate that no one talks about–the varnish plate. Instead of using ink, they use gloss, and they can apply it to the entire page or to just the picture area itself, giving the photo on the page the look of being a real photograph sitting there with a duller, white border. But if you can match up a rectangle to the inked page perfectly so the borders of the varnish line up with the borders of the image–if you can varnish with accurate registration–then that suggests that you can do much more with that varnish.

And so we “printed” images with the varnish.

Developing the book was a not linear process, although I make it sound like Bob and I sat down one day and planned all this out, that developing the book, moving from conception to planning, to design, to printing. moving from conception to planning, to design, to printing Not at all. How the varnish idea came about was approximately like this:

I had been talking about trying to find a way to use every available opportunity to put content in the book. I wanted the letters in the title to be made up of other pictures, for example, I wanted every design element if at all possible to use my images in some way. One day I’m with Bob and I’m trying to explain my (vague) idea of putting images or text very faintly “beneath” the pages of the book–perhaps putting them in faintly printed or in a different color or in some other way so that there would be content “behind” the main content. I’m in the middle of my pitch and Bob suddenly says “Yes, the varnish!” apparently agreeing with me–but I hadn’t said anything about varnish. I didn’t know anything about varnish. I was smart enough to just stop talking at this point and let Bob continue as he talked about how to implement the idea.

I’m not sure if he ever realized that I wasn’t talking about varnish.

(This post is part of a guided tour of my book, Computational Photography.)