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Friday, 30 May 2014

Analysing Images of Disaster: The Smoke Rubble Index

More student work from Aaron Law at the University of Brighton. I've been writing a piece for the RPS Journal on graduating student's work and going cold through various websites and the Source Magazine site (which is where you'll find lots of student work). It's interesting to see what's hot and what's not in graduating student land, what is being recooked, reheated and reinvented.

And then there are the people who are doing something really different, who are following their own path and their own obsessions.  I think Law's work (he's not in the RPS simply because I didn't get to talk to him in time ) is in that category - basically it's pictures made from aggregations of various disasters and how these are represented and disseminated. It's playing with major themes in other words.  It's called the Smoke Rubble Index and, well, I'll let Aaron explain...

What is the Smoke Rubble Index?

The Smoke Rubble Index – accessed via smokerubbleindex.org - is an online interactive database that attempts to approximate the scope of global disaster periodically between 21 December 2012 - 2013. The website collates online news photographs of events of catastrophe or conflict, selected for capturing either prominent scenes of smoke or rubble within them. They are then analysed, stored and indexed, located and mapped across atlases of each month the events transpired in.

All of the images are subsequently digitally compiled and merged together, creating sequences of accumulating formations of smoke, or rubble, over the course of the entire timeline. Statistical data is also presented – image search results, source links, charts and graphs – as part of the information that gathers and amasses over time alongside those images.

The website is made under the guise of an imagined organisation – fashioned on cult underground societies or the forums of conspiracy obsessives – intent on investigating ‘post-apocalyptic images’ following the 2012 phenomenon. But really, it is to be viewed and experienced as a piece of internet art in itself; it’s truly best just to go ahead and interact with it yourself online.

Why did you make the work?

When I began the project, I was initially simply curious in an exercise of seeing if I could effectively combine different images of smoke together using Photoshop. But soon afterwards, I was drawn to and started re-evaluating the very nature of what I was doing – combining not just these visual components from the photographs, but individual contexts, locations and events, from devastating geographical calamities to violent, mass political upheavals - condensed into single forms.

I also began to question the sourcing of these images too – from online news sites – and how the images themselves have individual information and data attached that gathers with the sequences.

In an effort in uniting these concerns – of the contextual layers, and the image data – I constructed the website as an interactive means of viewing the smoke and rubble sequences, and the images attributed to them. From there prompted broader questions, of what visually determines representations of disaster, and how we view these images online. How do we picture disaster under the rhetoric of journalism, and, when online, what kind of agency exists for the image when it is to be circulated and multiplied? These kinds of inquiries I felt could only capably, and perhaps more compellingly, be experienced on the kind of online platform from which the photographs were sourced.

How did you make the work?

The website is built using a CMS web host – the tremendously convenient berta.me – from which I’ve designed and arranged the web pages and navigation system. The sequences of smoke and rubble are entirely Photoshop creations, digitally merging parts of all of the images compiled for the database.

I was sought such references as Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, and, more broadly, the work of Broomberg and Chanarin. But also interactive internet art, such as Taryn Simon’s imageatlas.org, proffering methods of organising and presenting the work as an online piece.

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