‘P-Cap-T’ and the Genesis of ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’

A Eureka-moment is usually accompanied by the phrase:
“Hmm, I wonder what would happen if I tried this…”

Being well into the digital age, and especially in the area of photography, you would think by now everything had been tried and that most ‘rocks’ had been over-turned by someone, somewhere with a computer and some basic creative software. Well, think again. The following is a ‘step-by-step’ accounting of how Pixel Capture Technique, or ‘P-Cap-T’ was created, culminating in the exquisite collection of images titled ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’. At precisely 2:30 pm on April 9th, 2011, I was sitting at the computer experimenting with some filters (Elements 9) and on a whim I zoomed into the image I was working on and was amazed to discover that the sequence of filters I was applying to the image resulted in a most unusual layout of pixels, quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. Instead of the uniform and nondescript configuration of pixels one would expect from a conventional digital image, the pixels in this affected file looked more like a dazzling, multi-colored ‘checker-board’…each pixel a brilliant and distinctly different color than any of the adjacent pixels. While sitting and contemplating the colorful arrangement of pixels on the screen, the eureka-moment occurred…it only took a few seconds to come up with the idea; what would happen if I cropped out just a few of these exquisite, multi-colored pixels and blew them up?

I immediately took the cropping tool and captured a small cluster (eight pixels to be exact) and, keying in the dimensions of a large canvas print (40in x 80in x 220dpi), re-sized those original eight pixels to an astronomical file containing 510 million brand-new pixels. That’s half a billion fresh glistening pixels, each endowed with full color value and intensity. When looking at the newly enlarged image it was easy to make-out the general forms and colors of the eight original pixels but what had changed during the transformation to half a billion was the imperceptible gradation, or blend, from one color zone to the next. To expand a bit more on this gradation phenomenon, when observing the original eight pixels – before re-sizing them – I noticed that each pixel was a solid color right out to the edge with a precise border separating it from the pixel next to it. After the re-sizing process was completed, the border that separated any two primary colors had mysteriously vanished and in its place was a soft and ever-so graceful blending from one color zone to the next. I can’t explain how the computer did this but the soft, ever-so gentle transition, spread over tens of millions of pixels, has become the distinctive signature of the images contained in ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’. Using the tools available in Photoshop Elements 9, I began shaping and molding the newly mega-sized images into the delightful creations that now appear in the above collection of works. Please take note that both the background and foreground colors are rarely ‘solid’ but appear to gently segue from one color to the next with no discernible demarcation between them…that’s the defining hallmark of the ‘P-Cap-T’ method.

This is where it starts to get weird.

Remember the original image created back on April 9th, 2011 at 2:30 in the afternoon… well, that single image became the mother-ship of all future images including the ‘creme de la creme’ which now constitutes the ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’ collection. This includes the many tens of thousands of working images that were deleted towards the end of the project. Perhaps another way of looking at this is that all images produced using the ‘pixel-capture technique’ share a common ancestor. When I sat there that afternoon and created the original checker-board arrangement of pixels I unknowingly set in motion a chain of events that would, three and a half years later, begin to approach the exquisite beauty and mind-boggling boundlessness of fractal geometry. The main characteristics of this unique chain-reaction, when combined, propel this simple technique into the new and uncharted waters of infinite possibilities.

Some of the characteristics are as follows:

  • Firstly, when I zoomed into the original image (the mother-ship) and cropped-out those first eight pixels, I had only utilized a tiny, infinitesimal speck of the whole digital image. (The original image contained around ten million pixels).
  • After completing my first pixel capture and crafting it into a work of art, I returned to the ‘mother-ship’ and, zooming in once again, selected another snippet of pixels from a different area and repeated the entire process.The ‘mother-ship’ embodied within its ten million pixels an astounding array of ‘capture’ possibilities perhaps numbering in the thousands.
  • Secondly – and this is where the infinite possibilities first became evident – after I re-sized the original eight pixels to 510 million and transformed the enlarged file into a work of art, I then transported that completed work of art (with its humongous file) back into the editing software and applied the very same series of filters that had produced the original ‘checker-board’ effect and Voila!…. in the blink of an eye, a whole new generation (the first generation) of ‘capture’ possibilities exploded onto the screen.
  • What adds to the mind-blowing scope of the adventure is that the original ‘mother-ship’ file only contained a ten-million pixel-base of capturing potential. The first generation – and all future generations – contained a whopping 510 million pixel-base (fifty time as many).

Anyone who does the math, using the figures provided above, realizes how quickly the exponential curve rockets off the graph and disappears into the stratosphere of unlimited possibilities. (I did a quick calculation in my head and come up with 50 million potential ‘captures’ by the end of the first generation). Using the figure ’50 million’ when referring to works of art is downright silly even though I know that it is mathematically possible. Why I say ‘I know’ is that all the works of art contained in the ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’ collection were created by the exact same process. And supposing for a moment that I had an extra hundred million years at my disposal (which I don’t) and supposing I had the inclination (which I don’t) I could conceivably begin developing the astronomical potentials contained within the ‘mother-ship’ file and its first digital off-spring (the first generation). But I’m not going there and neither is anybody else. So beyond the limited collection of images I did create and now display on this website, I no longer use the term ‘works of art’. Instead, from that point forward, my focus switched to pure mathematics and the ‘journey’ into the realm of infinite possibilities. So far we have been talking in terms of the ‘mother-ship’ and the first generation…what about the second generation, the fourth, the seventh, the fifteenth? The ‘mother-ship’ itself embodied the potential of around a thousand ‘captures’…the first generation embodied approximately 50 million. By the fourth or fifth generation the notions of nano-bytes and terra-bytes have been left far behind in the dust. Who, besides maybe Captain Kirk, would want to venture that deeply into the uncharted waters of digital infinity.

Been there, done that and got nine t-shirts to prove it.

I decided to make the journey myself, into an infinite universe of ‘millions of billions’ and ‘billions of trillions’…and I lived to tell the tale. Actually it was quite easy…instead of pursuing the inexhaustible potential contained within each generation traversed, I simply followed one single thread, through one generation and on into the next, beginning with those eight original pixels cropped from the ‘mother-ship’. Just how far did I venture into the incomprehensible magnitude of unfathomable boundlessness? I stopped at the ninth generation. And I brought back nine ‘t-shirts’ representing each stop along the journey….the nine works of art created along this infinite pathway are now all included in the ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’ collection.

A Petrushka Doll on acid.

A pixel is an actual thing, a finite and tangible entity much like a piece of real estate. I came to appreciate this fact the more times I zoomed in to a ‘checker-board’ configuration and observed the distinctive color of any particular pixel in relation to its adjacent neighbors. Individual pixels really stand out in the colorful neighborhood of a P-Cap-T checker-board. In the realm of inter-galactic and inter-stellar travel, distances and reference points are measured in light-years and warp-speed, worm-holes, black-holes and space-bending. In terms of the deep, infinite journey into ‘pixel capturing’ the only reference points along the way are pixels themselves. And, as airy-fairy as ideas like ‘billions of trillions’ may sound, the basic unit of measurement in that micro-cosmic nano-world is still the common pixel. As trusty and as bankable as a twenty-dollar bill.

The journey from the mother-ship all the way through to the ninth generation can best be appreciated if viewed as a voyage from outer space to deep and infinite ‘inner’ space (digitally speaking) – much along the lines of fractal geometry. Forgetting for a moment the complexities and wizardry involved in creating the actual work of art, the process of ‘pixel-capturing’ itself is disarmingly simple. First you zoom into a massive digital file and crop-out a tiny speck of pixels. Then you re-size that tiny speck to a second massive file and repeat the whole process by zooming into that second file and cropping out another tiny speck. That’s basically it…zooming in, cropping and enlarging…zooming in, cropping and enlarging…zooming in, cropping and enlarging – bearing in mind that the massive file from which you are extracting a tiny speck was, only one step before, a tiny speck itself. All along this infinite pathway, from one generation to the next, the voyager ‘disappears’ ever more deeply and ever more microscopically into the boundless expanses of a speck…within a speck…within a speck. Ad infinitum. By the time I reached the ninth generation I was beginning to feel like a Petrushka doll on acid.

Don’t forget that each step along this infinite ‘walk-about’ is inextricably linked to those orginal eight pixels cropped from the ‘mother-ship’. The journey to the ninth generation and beyond, plus the infinite ‘capture’ possibilities lying dormant within each generation all owe their ‘raison d’etre’ to those first eight pixels (the common ancestor). In fact the adventure is not so much a journey into this generation or that generation but more a journey deep, deep, deep within the eight original pixels themselves.

This is highly addictive stuff folks. After three and a half years of ‘tripping the light fantastic’ – punctuated by the occasional ‘eureka moment’ – I wound up a huge body of work. That’s when the questions and the self-doubt began to creep in. I had gone this far into the realm of digital infinity, how much farther was I prepared to go? What happens if I decide to check out the tenth, the eleventh, the twentieth, the fiftieth generation? What if I get sucked into a vortex? What if I can’t get off the merry-go-round? What if I’m still capturing pixels while lying there on my death-bed?

What if I go out of my mind?

I remember sending out an email to a number of my artsy friends, requesting information on a possible ’12-step’ program for consummate artists incapable of tearing themselves away from the creative process and getting on with their lives. Apparently no such animal exists. But with the help of some close friends I eventually came to realize that I do have a life outside of Photoshop and on December 31st, 2014, being completely sober and of sound mind and body, and gathering up the necessary courage, I deleted (forever and ever) tens of thousands of working files stored on a number of hard-drives.

Then I sat down on the bed and wept.

Just kidding of course…do I really strike you as the weepy kind? Having destroyed all the working files effectively set me free…I haven’t returned to the process ever since. Which also means that the images contained within the ‘Shape-shifting to Kathmandu’ collection are complete…there won’t be any more. I did however have the foresight to save a few key images (including the ‘mother-ship’) that best portray the evolution and working dynamics of the Pixel Capture Technique or ‘P-Cap-T’ – in case I have the opportunity to explain the technique at some point in the future. If serving no other purpose, the images will at least attest to one crazy artist’s unbridled creativity and his amazing adventure into a universe of infinite possibilities.


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