The current Computer Arts Society print exhibition at BCS Moorgate features algorithmic photography by international digital artist Alex May. His custom-developed technique compresses sequences of video frames into intriguing and evocative single images. BCS Computer Arts Society Chair Sean Clark MBCS discusses the work further.

It used to be believed that ‘the camera never lies’ and that photographs captured a true moment in time. However, this has never been entirely accurate. Photographs have always contained an element of construction, and viewing a photograph has never been the same as experiencing the world visually. With the development of ‘photo-realistic’ image manipulation tools such as Adobe Photoshop, and now the emergence of image-generating AI, most of us have come to accept that a photograph is, at best, a representation of reality and not the reality itself.

Algorithmic photography

Alex May’s ‘algorithmic photography’ technique embraces this idea, using computer programming to combine multiple views of a scene over time to produce images that reveal previously hidden patterns and movements.

Alex May's Koi carp in the hotel garden pool, Guangzhou, China (2018)

Unlike timelapse photography, which overlays a sequence of frames without any decision making involved, Alex’s software allows him to select which elements of a frame to combine, enabling him to focus on movement, colour, or any other attributes he thinks will be interesting to include in the final image.

Alex May's Birds and a drone pass a family posing for a photo in front of Brighton Pavilion, UK (2018)

In the collection of 20 artworks currently on show at BCS Moorgate, you can see vapour trails of pigeons over Brighton Pavilion, the complex patterns of movement within a murmuration of starlings, and the micro highways on a log followed by a nest of ants. In one image, a wind turbine creates a complex abstract artwork and in another a pond of Koi carp takes on an almost painterly quality. All of the images have a crispness that makes you wonder if you are looking at something real or generated — and of course, it is both.

AI and the artistic process

Alex is looking to extend his algorithmic photography technique further with the use of AI image segmentation in the combining process, meaning that he will be able to specify the types of objects that the resulting image will focus on.

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You can imagine London scenes showing only the red buses that have passed in front of the camera, or just people wearing hats, or anything else Alex’s artistic process brings to mind. Photography, and our perception of the reality it represents, may never be the same again.

Alex May’s Algorithmic Photography will be on show at BCS Moorgate until the 25th of June 2024. The exhibition will then move up to the Phoenix in Leicester where it will remain on display until the end of the summer. A downloadable exhibition catalogue and a recording of a talk given by Alex at the BCS Moorgate exhibition opening can be found on the Computer Arts Society Website. For the latest Computer Arts Society news please follow us on Instagram at @computerartssoc or join our mailing list via the CAS website.