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Finalist No. 7: Steven Silberg

Artist Steven Silberg's aim is the deconstruction of the 21st century's most common visual currency -- digital images. To make his computer-based photographs and video, he breaks pictures down to their tiniest element: the pixel.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

How do I break this down for you?

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That's the question Steven Silberg asks when he's making art.

Silberg's aim is the deconstruction of the 21st century's most common visual currency -- digital images. To make his computer-based photographs and video, he breaks pictures down to their tiniest element: the pixel.

Silberg's even got a name for what he does. He calls it "pixel lapse photography."

When I visited Silberg's soon-to-be-studio in the basement of his brand-new house (he hadn't moved in yet), he walked me through the process. He'd brought along two computers, some images and a photo booth that he uses in exhibitions of his work. The booth -- actually more of a console, featuring a monitor and a single red button that users press to begin shooting -- is the centerpiece of the pixel lapse process.

Silberg took a seat and pressed the red button. A series of prompts appeared. (Get Ready! 3-2-1.) Then the computer's webcam begin assembling Silberg's portrait . . . .one pixel at a time. First, a pixel appeared at the top left of the screen. Then the image grew, moving horizontally until it hit the far right edge of the screen. From there, it begin again one line down, the image growing steadily from top to bottom, left to right. It took a minute and a half for the screen to fill.

But here's the catch: as each pixel displays on screen, it registers what's in front of the camera at that exact moment. So if you move -- even a little -- you'll blur your picture. And if you intentionally move, as Silberg showed me in his demonstration, then your final product can have a dizzying, almost kaleidoscopic appearance. (Exhibition visitors get to take home a copy of their prints. See all of Silberg's pictures at www.pixel-lapse.com.)

Not only is Silberg breaking down the image and showing us how it's made, he's also adding the element of time to a medium that usually captures a single static instant. These long exposures recall the endless waits of 19th-century daguerreotype sitters.

Yet pixel lapse is also a very 21st-century way to undermine the instantaneousness of image-making. For Silberg, these and other experiments (past works included sound elements, too) are a way for us to experience and understand the fragility of digital information. His latest work involves digital video, to which he hopes to apply similar concepts.

Steve, your ideas are intriguing, but I'm concerned. Your souped-up photo booth, while groovy and fun, may not convey the depth of your concept. Visitors leave with a picture. But do they leave understanding your aim? Your latest inroads into video sound promising, though. Keep on keeping on!

-- Jessica Dawson



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