UWE Photography Research Takeover

I am not sure where to start. So I just will. The images you will see over the next seven days are first attempts in the exploration of something new. Playful experiments in response to words and concepts found in two papers, ‘Loop-weighted walk’ by Tyler Helmuth and ‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth. I could spend a lifetime trying to understand their work (mathematics), and that still wouldn’t be long enough.

Some of the words/concepts I am directly responding to are: Self-interacting, self-attracting, self-avoiding, random walks, loops, repulsion, loop erasure, spin, bubble chain, memory, zigzag, unwieldy, spacelike, non-empty collections, hyperedges, connectedness, flips, heaps of pieces (I especially like heaps of pieces).

The following recurring themes will also be featured in this work: Reveal and conceal, affect, the use of layers and collage, sound, and the otherworldly/make-believe.

What I find appealing about these words/concepts/themes are their ability to penetrate through the membrane of the mundane. I use this affect to attempt to illustrate the exiting of the mundane with the use of photography and digital processes, a retelling of an experience.


The papers I am referring to can be found here: ‘Loop-weighted walk’ by Tyler Helmuth: https://arxiv.org/abs/1410.3119

‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth: https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.07673

A special thank you to Tyler Helmuth for taking the time to talk to me about some of his research.

Day 1. Concrete Building

What attracted to me to self-interacting/attracting/avoiding and random walks was a simple word association that made me think of the flâneur or in my case the Flâneuse. Wandering with a camera is the starting point of my image making. My approach towards photography in the early stages of a project is traditional in the way I take photographs. It is when I enter the post-production stage when I am most influenced by concepts and ideas, and my desire to leap into another world, this is when I feel that I am making photographs.

For this image I was referencing some of the illustrations of a ‘self-avoiding walk’ used in Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Self-avoiding self attracting walk’. Their illustrations remind me of pixels and glitched images, and why it is easy for me to take hold of them, to see them as something other than their intended purpose.

Day 2. Water

I was thinking of the words ‘self-attracting self-avoiding walk’ when making this image, and the inevitability of a union. I am also using layers to conceal and erase sections of the image to talk about memory and erased memory. I often use opaque layers like those used in screenprinting to flatten the photograph. To create an artificial landscape through a synthesized photograph. The ‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ comes from a mathematics paper with the same title by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth. I will use this concept throughout this takeover, and although I will never truly understand the mathematics, I am attracted to the contradiction and the poetics of the words. The snaky pixel chain up the middle of the image is my interpretation of this idea.

Day 3. Shrubs

This is my version of ‘non-empty collections of hyperedges’, a term found in Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Loop-weighted walk’. I think of trees as having ‘hyperedges’, especially when it comes to trying to cut them out digitally. I obviously manipulated these shrubs, trying to make them look like they are consuming themselves, which also relates to the ‘self-attracting’ theme.

Another interesting term in this paper was ‘bubble chain’, but in this case I wanted to think of this idea in an absurd way, more like shrubby bubbles, hence the bulbous crude cutouts. Some of these ‘mathematical’ terms are so curious to me. They almost seem like they were created for self-amusement, and perhaps one of the reasons why I like them so much. Finding these curious terms in an unexpected place speaks to my dis/interest in the mundane.

Day 4. Hedge 

When I found this hedge I was struck by the patterns of life and decay, and how the line between the two seemed like a map of a ‘random walk’. When making the image I was also interested in the ‘flippable’ and ‘flippability’, terms used in Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Self-attracting self-avoiding walk’. Using a repeat image in this way also made me think about altered memory. Or a memory from a different position.

More recently I started thinking about whether plants can feel, and this simply came from a sound memory that I have from Michelangelo Antonioni’s film ‘Blow Up’. There is a scene at the location where it is thought that a murder took place, and the leaves are rustling creating white noise. It is as if the trees and leaves are asking for help and attention.

When I came across this hedge, I wondered if it was trying to tell me something.

Day 5. Nested Loop

When making this image I was interested in sound loops and the repetition of sound and the term ‘loop erasure’ from Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Loop-weighted walk’. I couldn’t help but associate William Basinski’s album ‘The Disintegration of Loops’ when thinking about the term ‘loop erasure’. The combination of these ideas takes me to a sonic place. This idea will definitely need to be explored further in the future, most likely in the form of a book.

For the past year I have been exploring affect and sound, and making photographs in response to sound. Trying to create sonic documents based on experience. What is interesting about responding to text that embodies a sound idea (even if it is imagined in the case of the ‘loop erasure’), is that I am making a photograph about sound without sound, but imagining sound.

When you spend too much time with mathematicians polygons fill the sky.

Day 6. Water Tower

I have used various mathematical words and concepts as an experiment to see how it might bring something new to my photographic image making. For this image, I am using the concept ‘heaps of pieces’, as I really wanted to make a photographic heap. I dissected the image of the water tower and layered the little pieces into a heap. I wanted them to sit next to each other to show a deconstruction. Possibly a comment on the water tower being a ruin. Although, I find the pieces look optimistic, like seeds.

It was thought that it might be interesting to you that when I am not making photographs, I spend half of my time working with mathematicians. I have photographed them, made films about their creative process (not very good ones), and I have noticed that there is a ‘type’ of mathematician depending on what area of maths they do. If I should take anything from them, it should be their focus and stamina to solve problems. I would be further along in my career if I had what they had.

I made a series of images in response to some mathematics in the past, but I was asked to do it as a gift. The past projects have been public engagement efforts, not art. Some might want to label those activities as ‘art and science’ projects, but my opinion is that ‘art and science’ is an empty concept. When scientists suggest that art has impacted their research, then I might come around.

It has only been recently that I came across the papers I have been referring to this week, and that was slightly accidental. It was the titles that intrigued me. They were words without maths that I could attach meaning to. At the start of the week I wrote the sentence, ‘What I find appealing about these words/concepts/themes are their ability to penetrate through the membrane of the mundane’. What I meant by this was that most of life is the mundane, if you are lucky enough to have found a passion then everything else slips into the mundane category. So, when I was in a deep mundane moment, and these interesting words presented themselves, they seemed extraordinary because I found them in a place I wasn’t expecting to find them.

This image shows an exercise that people do when they are interested in ‘found poetry’. I wasn’t interested in poetry in this case, but by stripping away the mathematics (sorry mathematicians), it amplified the words/concepts that captured my curiosity.

Day 7. Overpass

I was thinking about two magnets when making this image, and how in certain positions they fly apart and seem to be repelled by one another, but when flipped around they cannot resist each other. To my simple mind, this seems like ‘self-avoiding self-attracting’ (the concept found in mathematics that I have been referring to throughout the week). This magnetic appeal is also felt when using Photoshop, when images or layers lock to the grid or other layers, a kind of digital magnetism. I used thin layers when making this image. Like the thin layers that make an onion. There is a fragility with each layer of this photograph, which is a bit of an oxymoron when thinking about magnetic strength, and that the subject of this photograph is an engineered concrete structure.

The subjects of the photographs this week were of nature and concrete buildings and infrastructure. Some of them shared the theme of systems or repetition. Such as the high and low tides, the ritualistic cutting of a hedge, the cars flowing on the overpass, etc. The idea of ruin and decay also featured. What once was. A memory, but no longer a collective one. Whether it is sound/music, photography, memory, nature and our hand in it, you and me, I am thinking of the temporality of it all.

The images I am sharing this week are new, not seen by anyone other than you. Works in process. An experiment to see how words and concepts from a different field might influence my work. I am not sure if I will continue exploring the subject of mathematics in this way, but it has stimulated some new ideas.