Ways of Machine Seeing

New Ways of Witnessing the World

Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Monday 26 June – Wednesday 28 June 2017

Ways of Machine Seeing 2017 was a two-day workshop organised by CoDE, the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network and Cambridge Big Data. The event revisited the 1972 BBC documentary series Ways of Seeing and explored its wide impact on both popular and academic views on the history of art and the production of images. The series presented a radical socio-economic understanding of western art history which was closer to the image itself than previous Marxist critics – helping spread the thinking of Walter Benjamin in the English-speaking world. The analysis offered by presenter John Berger and his collaborators in the documentary is founded on technologies (oil paints, photography) and the ways in which they both reflect and create visual-ideological paradigms, or Ways of Seeing.

Taking place 45 years after the initial broadcast of the series, Ways of Machine Seeing examined how these concepts can be understood in the light of state-of-the-art technical developments in machine vision and algorithmic learning. Can Berger’s assertion that “every image embodies a way of seeing”, be brought into fruitful dialogue with the concerns of researchers exploring contemporary technologies of vision, in a world where the theorisation of vision as a series of information-processing tasks profoundly affects the creation, reception and circulation of all kinds of images? Does this require a perspective going beyond robots which “see” in order to work in a factory, through self-driving cars, recognition and response to embodied human experience, to understanding the cultural meaning of images that have been selected algorithmically, and the question of how the reciprocal nature of vision is affected by the intercession of new kinds of filters between viewer and viewed?

Organising Committee:

Dr Anne Alexander (Cambridge Digital Humanities Network / Cambridge Big Data); Professor Alan Blackwell (Cambridge Computer Lab); Dr Shreepali Patel (Director, StoryLab Research Institute) Dr Geoff Cox (Aarhus University/Plymouth University); Luke Church (Cambridge Computer Lab); Leo Impett (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne);

Please find the programme and abstracts here.