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Art August, 31 2010

Curated Feature | Kim Asendorf’s 2010 series “Ralph Waldo Emerson”

Words by Adrian Pelliccia.

For everyday consumers, digital cameras provide the most convenient and user-friendly way to take a photograph. Largely gone are the hassles and costs of development (not to mention the risk of a ruined roll of film). It’s easy to forget that digital photography can be plagued by a set of problems all it’s own. Kim Asendorf’s Ralph Waldo Emerson series (which consists of intentionally glitch-ridden landscapes) brings the medium of
convenience back down to earth.

Asendorf applies an intentional “glitch” with pixel sorting, a process that randomly rearranges digitized images according to pixel density. In their finished state, his images depict landscapes with vast expanses wiped out and areas that are pushed and pulled to varying degrees of depth.

The immediacy and convenience of digitized media is ripe for critique, largely evident in the destructive tone of these modified photos. The randomized rearrangement of the vistas not only asks the viewer to assess their faith in digital photography, but brings to mind a few questions regarding the changing and at-risk capacity of photography to depict a truthful image. While Asendorf’s edits are immediately evident, the randomness of his process makes the relative threat of digital modification and erasure more than clear.

In an animated GIF version of one of his aerial shots (separate from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and available here), the pixel sorting process appears to destroy the world in a repetitive, computerized nuclear shockwave. This digital world exists entirely according to the terms of Asendorf’s virtual reality, and he has no trouble reminding us that with a
simple string of code, he can eliminate or rebuild an entire landscape.

The naming of the series for Ralph Waldo Emerson, the foremost pioneer of the American transcendentalist movement, is remarkably apt, considering the basic tenets of the ideology – Asendorf, like a good transcendentalist, is able rebuild the world entirely of his own accord, by destroying parts of it and rearranging others. He encourages us to look at the way we perceive these images (in their original, unmodified states) and to examine the processes by which they come into being.

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