What You Don’t See

The orchard behind the house is is thick with hoar frost, glorious in the winter sun. Despite the sharpness of the imagery in this video capture, what I experience is not what you see here, good though my I-phone camera is. Tiny irregularities on the surface of the human eye make the crystals of ice appear to glitter and flash as I move through the garden. It’s utterly beautiful. Dazzling.

Think back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whenever a screen goddess appeared in rhinestones or sequins, her image would simply be off the charts with the reflective sheens and sparks given off by them, because the lenses back then were a lot closer to the imperfect human eye, and their surface imperfections created the starbursts of dazzle which photographers and cinematographers turned into glamorous magic. Here Marlene Dietrich turns the ‘pixie’ hat into an accessory for seduction, with cuffs to match.

Watch any film or tv commercial today and glitter has been added in post-production, and frankly looks like it. Instagrammers add sparkles to their selfies, staring in soft-focussed self-absorption through storms of ‘glitter’ produced by an app. All those 20th century Christmas cards embellished with glitter-frost spoke to us because they looked the way we saw ice and snow crystals with our own eyes. Everything glittered and flashed. These days the Etsy merchants selling vintage Christmas cards ‘with glitter’ can’t reproduce them effectively to show at their online stores. Their cameras can’t capture the reality. Everything flattens out, the glitter/glimmer/sparkle vanquished.

I recognise digital sparkle the moment it appears. It’s unconvincing, not remotely similar to what we see with our own eyes. It isn’t even what cameras from an earlier age captured. I know it isn’t real, just as surely as I know when confronted with a CGI dinosaur, no matter the artistry involved in its making, that it isn’t real. The artifice makes me feel differently about what I’m watching, certainly on a conscious level but almost more so on an unconscious one. I’m just not as engaged/involved. In the first Jurassic Park film the stand-out episode for me was not one created with CGI, but rather the sequence with the hunting velociraptors in the kitchen, which was created with brilliant puppets and razor-sharp editing.

All this is to come to the elephant in the room, which is the AI generated imagery now flooding Instagram. So much of its candy-coloured allure and textural brilliance is leaving many illustrators, painters and stage and production designers feeling that their long-honed drawing and painting skills are going to become obsolete. How, they wonder, can anyone compete with AI capacity to take/steal existing materials and reassemble and embellish them to such clever effect? How can any artist with pencils and brushes compete at anything like the speed? While I don’t believe there will be any turning aside from the technology, neither do I believe it’s game set and match. Just as CGI continues to co-exist with analogue skills, so there will be things which people still do better than a computer programme. After all, old-style glitter is still defeating the apps.

8 thoughts on “What You Don’t See

  1. Clive, a fascinating post, speaking as someone who adores glitter.

    I had dinner with Robin and Robert last night in The Walnut Tree and wore a red sequinned dress that I knew would glitter and shine in the restaurant lighting!

    I hope you and Peter and Rudi have a peaceful and loving time at Christmas.

    Wendy x

    Sent from my iPad

  2. I totally agree about CGI, there’s a certain way a CGI dinosaur moves that is utterly unauthentic, ( speaking as a dinosaur myself!) there’s no weight to them, or natural energy or spirit , when they run or jump its all wrong, yet If you see a wild animal on film, like a lion for instance, the raw feral quality of the animal still emerges even through the medium of film. CGI never manages to capture it.
    Interesting isn’t it that when new technology is invented it eclipses the old? much like what happened when silent films moved on to sound, or black and white films moved on to colour, that move from b/w to colour seemed to forget the art of ambience and composition created by wonderful lighting and shadows. Colour became the prominent requirement and atmosphere took a back seat. That’s no longer the case of course with talented filmmakers thank goodness, and as you say, now CGI and true artists can work together in harmony.
    Glitter, to our post war generation was a bewitching and magical fairy dust, (and probably not planet friendly like most of man’s inventions,) but all about mystery and delight, like capturing twinkling stars from the night skies. xxx

    • I agree with all you say. Good analogy, the cinema going from silent to talkies, from black and white to colour. And those who ‘know’, say that the move from analogue to digital film, has done much for CGI, though nothing for the art of the ‘film’. And when you look, at this distance you can see it. It’s always harder to see at the beginning, exactly what’s being lost.

  3. Wonderful artlog – ta for this Mr Hicks-Jenkins. I always enjoy reading these.

    Now, if ANY mobile phone company came up with a “old” lens for a phone that could record images with flaws, with sparkles revealed, well, that would be something that many of us would be delighted to have. Just saying….. Wishing you a very happy Christmas Kind regards Rosie ________________________________

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