Visual Alchemy

Maria Chiara Fagioli
Abstract disquisition in sus4

Abstract liquid photography is the new old unphotographable

The exploration of the photographic medium thus reaches the abstract genre, the crucial limbo of many practices from painting to music. Technically blurred or not exactly sharp, multi-exposure, in immediately recognizable compositions, sometimes distorted, the photographs become interpretive and subjective. Abstract thought turns out to be vast, a free flow less constrained by schemes and rationality. Many photographers have pursued the invisible, or rather, what is distant from the visible, from the real. They are seekers of dreams, deities, builders of liquid and chameleon-like thoughts. Variables vary from the aesthetic factor to a more functional one, such as optics and science. Without powerful telescopic derivations we would ignore the lunar craters or other wonders of the solar system and surroundings. We can also mention other uses, light-beam or electron microscopes, and facial recognition that interact with global security systems. In the last months of 2017, Apple are also improving the Face ID technology, which scan faces via smartphones, mirror less camera and selfie logic. Some improvements to be implemented due to inaccurate authorizations. So photography is about computer engineering in the digital age, but also about dreams and allegories. Unthinkable worlds can be seen, and what we see becomes astonishment and representation of a limit just a moment before unimaginable. And from a photograph, visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, and from 13 years of Cassini’s orbit, we could hypothesise life on Saturn.


© Alvin Langdon Coburn, Vortograph, 1917, Photography


The distinctions between image and photography remain an almost unresolved issue, due to the various forms of representation and use. A labyrinthine meaning takes shape between sense and nonsense, in which the spectator without any reference point is unprepared and forced into too personal reasoning or emotion. So Pollock and Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph recall the spirals of the spirit, expanding colours and hallucinatory jets up to the kaleidoscope, not only an aesthetic appeal but an intense way of experiencing the creation itself, all-encompassing. Exploratory. The more or less organised entropic figures distance themselves from tradition and from indexical univocality, and this is the great fracture ontological and of significance, as well as immediate commercial embarrassment. The vision is transformed into turning leaves, photomontages, in which disciplines and vision of visions merges, and seal new and contrasting feelings because not completely grasped, even if they come from everyday life.


© Maria Chiara Fagioli, Anaesthesia series, 2017-2018, Digital photography, 50 × 75 cm


As in the well-known exponent of the Bahuaus László Moholy-Nagy, photography is the presence of thought, whether geometric and rational, or more casual and instinctive. Hence, new approaches to the genre and the image builders raise, no longer passive moment depictions, but waiters for Godot and visual alchemists. These distinctive efforts take shape into new codifications, composing images and stylistic individualities and languages.
The abstracts are distinguished into pure and real, and it is precisely the same concrete root that makes the intellectual process non-objective and contradictory in terms. Acceptance and liking are often proportional to our receptivity to new models. American pictorialism and expressionism have followed up personal imaginaries that can open to the universe. Geometries, colours, or dynamic fluids make the composition, which in turn may result in a harmonious product of elements.
The judgment coincides with the break-through openness.



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Combining all the possibilities together, up to mixed reality.

Experiencing unexpected combinations leads to mixed reality, spaces of languages and emotions. Mixed-reality is that system in which physical and virtual worlds merge together. Predictive and generally computational models are used in the virtual world to increase experiences and knowledge on visible reality. Digital photography has almost completely abandoned the dark red light caves, and increasingly uses software and dialogues with integrated systems executing various functionalities. In particular, such calculation systems are assembled according to architectures into hardware structures. Let’s take an ordinary smartphone or a PDA of the first twenty years of the Twenty-First century. They will include a digital photographic resource, objects that are increasingly interfaceable and able to communicate with each other. It is precisely this transversality and reversibility of the elements that move the concept of photography further. Controls and stimulations are the cause of a different approach both from the learning point and from the movement generated to obtain the expected results. The engineer and the designer are increasingly in symbiosis, a bit like the photographic concept at its birth.

The purposes are many: from visualization, to prototyping, to commercial developments. A verisimilitude to the world of reality is often required to make familiar and natural the context. This implies that the lighting and shadow conditions must be considered in the final rendering. In addition to photographic post-production, up to digital art, architectural studies use the method of image reconstruction, which it can be through sensors, with the purpose of obtaining real images, sometimes so photorealistic to lose the artificial taste. When rebuilding an environment, the starting point is to calculate the radiance distribution through optical instruments. Then proceeding with the numerical calculation in order to elaborate algorithms of luminance approximation, direct and indirect, and of probability. Calculations so precise and complex that they can also become real-time. Thus, it is possible to create hundreds of frames, to be then mechanized in successive dynamics, both simulating visual effects of light and interactions. The production of photorealistic reality is growing in visualization applications and augmented reality.


© Maria Chiara Fagioli, AR book Wonder Branada, 2015, AR digital photography

Notes: Thanks to the augmented reality you can see the evolutions of Spartacus’ flight, a seagull traveller. Given a photograph and through a third-party application, the photograph comes alive.


This technological requirement has led to the creation of methods and tools to identify the brightness level and create scenes of composite objects, returning mixed-reality renderings.

In this sense, the truthfulness of the images can be questioned about the difference from a human eye, so when the image coincides with photography, and therefore also on the ethics of production. It is exactly when there is an act of progress, that it is difficult to understand if what we depend on is at our service or against our humanity. For this, the effects of the technical frenzy boomerang might be foreseen and assimilated within our societies. The exploitation of resources is not understood only as a form of coercion on the environment, but also on our nature itself. Every change affects the whole world balance. When a precarious and exploited existing state accomplishes a model that leads to technological unemployment and technical improvements, a shared and widespread permanent prosperity opens a diatribe, in the name of new cyclical austerities. At best, humanity could give birth to sedated, specialized beings, and unaware of the greatest right of life, but overwhelmed by consumption that from time to time will change name and form. So, here we come to the army of Google Robot that automatically processes and recognizes the best photographs of Street View, and drones that fly over our future. Precisely at the frontiers of artificial intelligence and the issue of giving robots a black box, there’s a need to understand the limit to the use of robotic means before their industrialization, and the modality of our interaction, in the most extreme war and pornography scenarios. The artefacts of these new realities, in the photographic sector and in general in the real world, will define the ethical boundaries of this new humanity, if abnegation or new dignity development, and its interaction, aesthetic perceptive and experiential.

In the beginning it was the individual image.


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The possible declinations of the photographic concept arise

Cinema, in its essence photography in motion, offers many ideas for experimental research, and can embrace the abstract concept of use and meaning through colour, which in turn can synaesthetically affect physiologically induced music.
At the base of the cinema development, there are visionaries, inventors and storytellers who, from the moving sequence of photographic images, have structured a highly technological and narrative language according to time and therefore in perspective of the evolution variables. Much of the technique results to be manual, as well as was hand colouring films in the early colour cinema, while the intellectual contribution has been the stimulus to the investigation and interrogation of possible realities. Understanding the era and the reactions to novelties is also tracing the boundaries of a medium, which can then be disregarded from time to time. The manual colour applied as it was done in the late-19th century before the invention of colour photography, was understood as an approach that did not conform to the values of cinema aesthetics and its intrinsic realism. In fact, Kinemacolor and Technicolor were the first successful colour photographic processes. Nowadays, digital software, like Lightroom and mostly Photoshop, have reduced the clear distinction of the photographic medium, expanding the initial vision of reality and mixing other techniques such as watercolour. Photography meets fantasy, provoking new mixed media concepts, especially in the fashion industry and in the editorial.


© Craig Mc Dean, Vogue Italia, 2008, Mixed media photography


However, the Myth of Total Cinema seems to be affected by the doctrine of the faithful and realistic reproduction of what the eye of our eye sees in everyday life, mechanically projecting matter and movement. Exactly the dynamic evolution loses the perceived subject based on a more detached narrative dialectic. The photographic anthropocentrism is subverted, according to variables of use and a more sophisticated and structured sense, expressing the visible as macros, like the solar galaxy. The film director is only the creator of the Big Bang, always assuming is the Great Beginning, the one from which the whole chain reaction starts, leading to the cosmological model of the constituted universe. There is no longer a thesis and its opposite, but a current that shapes tendencies and disciplines a collective experience, ultimately producing the film.
The search for transcendental knowledge has made synaesthetic studies possible across various media. Oskar Fischinger, through his optical poems during the Second World War, managed to significantly connect Franz Liszt’s music to paper in stop motion, in Technicolor. Harmonised chromatic circles that vibrate and move visually, and drag the viewer towards dynamic and abstract rhythms, intend to reproduce the sound. Previously the neurologist J. Leonard Corning, had written on the effects of chromatic vibrations and music, which can influence the observed patients until hallucinatory forms, bringing consequent emotions.
The artistic and modernist attempts to interpret the medium can be defined as a vernacular approach to matter, not in the derogatory sense, but as an act of profound research and otherness. The nature of the medium is studied in a given historical period, offering reflections on cinema as an extension of other existing and possible means. So, the enchanted images of the Phantoscope pictures projected, become wonder and curiosity, an end in itself and the boundary of the device, which is why the experimenter plays and explores new languages, future new mechanisms. The underlying logic is the amused enjoyment of performance and personal culture, such as the use of Jenkins’ applied iconography. A standard of reading and understanding is possible thanks to literacy. The colour dynamics are taken for non-fictional uses, public communication and advertising, with the purpose of guiding the viewer emotionally.

By developing contexts that influence the subconscious, colour consciousness broadens the spectrum of the social and educational function of cinema. Thus, our experience in the world explores our inner interests in occult desires, up to the spirituality obtained by Kandinsky’s musical metamorphosis and senses. And perhaps this is the greatest critical and aesthetic challenge of the moving image.
Visual becomes silent, silent becomes sound.


© Maria Chiara Fagioli, AR experience – Edea, 2017, Video

Notes: Augmented reality enhances experiences. I used the photographs of the Edea portfolio to enrich the reality of the printed book. The images in motion, allow an alternative key to the use and meaning of picture, exploring techniques and languages. The spectator is involved in this abstract rhythm of mixed media concepts.


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Every color is emotion, every emotion is persuasion.

It is interesting to understand how colour can affect the emotional sphere according to factorial analysis models, given by experimental observation on scientific basis. Often in advertising, tonalities are chosen based on what they want to communicate, so feelings up to an epistemic vision that is stimulated in the spectator.

This is the case of a research conducted on 31 volunteers to understand how they responded to 20 colour stimuli on a given preference scale of colour-emotion, thus taking into account the activity-weight-temperature degree for single colours categorized by Osgood and observed by Kobayashi and Sato, until the development of a fourth factor to be analysed, the hardness. The significant differences in the data obtained were not so much of gender, as those of chroma and brightness, directly connected to the fifth factor that is the dynamics hypothesized by Hogg, and possibly of appreciation. Tense and liking indicators responses underwent significant variations between British and Chinese people. Specifically, British people intended tension as active and like was cool as well as cool colour, while for Chinese tense coincided with hard, masculine, heavy, and like with cool, modern, clean and so applied in colour.

Despite different conditions and data, however, such colour-emotion factors can be reached, partly demonstrating that there can be a universal reading key, independent of geography and local culture. Sato studied the likes of the Japanese, and so on. It turned out that green and blue as primary colours, but also white were the favourites.
The factorial evaluation of the elements before the analytical collection is comparative: the classic hot-cold basically, although in this research this is considered an indirect emotional attribute. Subsequently, data are parametrized in the three-dimensional hue-lightness-chroma CIELAB colour space, the result of which is given by the relationship between the accuracy value of the interviewees and a negative-positive coefficient of correlation. The highest accuracy was estimated in weight and then weight-hardness. There are also interrelations and proportions among the factors and attributes.

From the factorial analysis, a predictive model of a couple’s emotion-colour combinations is realised, given by an equation that approaches the average idea of the intensities of each colour-emotion. The same applies to the various factors, which generate harmony-disharmony from the pleasure or less that arise in the observer, and attributes, such as chroma and luminosity. Certainly, a method with strong limits and inaccuracies.
Hence, the colour preference method based on values belonging to the CIELAB colour space, thus modelling a multi-variable system.
The model shows a certain preference based on hue, and in the subspecies on lightness, from the most appreciated blue to the lesser yellow, then the combination and quantification of the chromatic elements.

The perception of colour significantly impacts the human experience. The colour psychology and its persuasion that comes from these considerations is also a marketing aspect. Think of the red Coca Cola, which easily is associated with the brand.


© Maria Chiara Fagioli, Anaesthesia series, 2017-2018, Digital photography, 50 × 75 cm


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The irrational and unconscious, the associative stimuli in photography and in the arts.

Since the end of the 1950s, the artistic movement Op Art, born from the encounter between Bauhaus’s shapes and colours in the first artistic phase


© Johannes Itten, The Encounter, 1916, Oil painting on canvas, 105 x 80 cm


and Futurism studies,


© Giacomo Balla, Velocità e rumore, 1914-5, Sculpture, 40.13 x 46.5 x 7.9 in.


becomes established, exploring phenomena of perception, and psychological and optical mechanisms in symbiosis with technology. It is formal abstraction, a language properly based on patterns of perception psychology, which stimulates visual effects, and optical sensations from the viewer’s point of view.

The greatest production is in painting and in cinematographic works, while the photography recalls objects on light-sensitive paper, the “Photograms” by László Moholy-Nagy, professor at the Bauhaus school, but also the cross avant-garde of the eclectic precursor Man Ray, like his “Rayograph” of the 1930s. Photographic work becomes an act of genius, mental, as well as image from real life. The mechanicalness of the medium blend imagination and shutter click elements. The technique is mixed with irrationality, towards new mechanical creations and ways of perceiving images by connecting them to unconscious and individual anxieties, till erotic fantasies. The spectator is indeed projected into formalist mechanical forms expressive languages or abstracting visions, where he acquires new knowledge of the world of senses and intellect.

From Optical Art, numerous experiments of visual mechanisms have been made, expanding the horizon with mathematical formulas and technical experiments.
Effects and sensations are the answer of the perceptual process as a result of visual stimuli organized in shapes, directions, and movements, finding crossroads between anatomy and physiology of the nervous system and the conscious of the observer. What it’s seen can manifest constancy phenomena, referring to constant elements for adaptation, experience, desires nature. The perceptive process establishes relationships with neural mechanisms of patterns, such as translations, dilations, rotations that can be combined into percept and unitary macros. What happens when percept leads to more perceptual experiences? This is the case of the synaesthetic phenomenon, where multisensory experiences occur as a result of a given stimulus, as in the case of graphemes and colour that may be associated. Synaesthesia influences perceptual and cognitive mechanisms in the same neural condition. Studies on colour contrast effects have hypothesized the relevant object-color association catalysed by a low-level visual perception, thus with-unconscious access.

From the tasting pictures, to colours that sound, art has described two types of experiences: the one realised by the synaesthetes, the one that provokes associations in the spectators, and we can remember Kandinsky and Anne Salz. In photography, we often find experimenters who recount an indefinite sense of impossible rationality, through compositions often hung in the balance between emotional involvement and the shutter click.


© Eggleston , Untitled Improvisation DCC 02.25 3-01 + Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973, Photography



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Who are you, oh Photography!

Photography is the transportable vehicle that carries information and syntax of experience.
It interprets the social change, testimony of the society we live in by intersecting technical modalities. In the 21st century, we have the convergence of photography with computer-based literacy, radically changing speeds, processes, debates, and trends. The film roll remains a medium to be archived or to be exposed, a memory of memory brushed up, if necessary, collectively. The birth of photography saw a mechanical device creating realistic images, in proportion to the times, primarily for cultural and social purposes, nourishing the traveller’s curiosity or what is ethnographic and anthropological documented with respectful reflection.
Between art and science, initially it was difficult to be placed. Accuracy was the specific feature of the medium, which was intended to recreate faithfully what the human eye saw, and later to give a personal style through the technique imposed by the hand, and so on, compositions and rules, image manipulation. In the industrial era it has become a representative and democratic means, albeit with significant differences between mass-media and sophisticated models. So the utility has extended up to fashion, ad, and forensic sectors, reinforcing also the concept of uniqueness now easily reproducible.
And every novelty breaks old certainty. The obvious correspondence with reality becomes digital manipulation, distorts realism, is flow of unconsciousness.
It is the human eye that makes majestic the photographic parable, candid curious radical significance dreamer. It was during the ’90s that photography has embraced other areas, such as graphics and typography, and skills have begun to expand and mix. Moreover, photographic images have changed also according to the processing and reproduction development, and finishing. On screen, they display a peculiar brightness or typical backlight, making the experience of the same picture so different from the printed version. Chemistry becomes a digital cloud, realism blurs toward abstraction.


© Maria Chiara Fagioli, Anaesthesia series, 2017-2018, Digital photography, 50 × 75 cm


So, the spectator-vision relationship also depends on the aesthetic and technological context, by relativising a way of living the medium in complex systems and multiple execution possibilities, engaging emotionally at various levels.

The theorized content interpretation is gradually overturned, and the empty message that was believed to be intrinsic in the multiplicity of portrayed “Figures”, as the quality of the thing itself, becomes an attempt of generative semiotics to be coded and transferred to the viewer. The significance of the message does not only reflect what the eye sees, but goes beyond the perception and the subject, expounding organized structures of different attributive status, in a kind of semantic grid of associative nature or less. Behind the “Mirror” we find the cosmos, the knowledge, our relationship with the existing society. Photography opens to the sequence, imaginary and structural movement, the lexeme abounds with lexemes. Photography is permanence, truth, dimensionality, and it can be just the opposite as abstract and transformative seed. Being and having to be actualised, significantly changes deeds over the years, focusing the attention on narrative-object motives.

The common denominator of photography is the technical instrumentation for obtaining the image: instrument and image. The 21st century sees the growth of a class of image makers who explore the boundaries of the medium to make it instrument of instrument, and open it to the broader sense of visual imagery connected to contemporary visual arts. Snap is eye, manipulation is intervention, increasingly sophisticated and multi-coordinate.



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