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Jeffrey Ladd

The artistic collaboration between Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin has spanned over two decades since their beginnings working as photographers for Tibor Kalman’s Colors magazine in the early 1990s. Using a wide variety of means, their practice, which has often concerned itself with how history and current events are perceived through images, reevaluates and challenges the classic ideas of photography as a tool for documenting the social condition. Broomberg and Chanarin have authored ten books including Trust (2000), Ghetto (2003), Chicago (2006) and People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (2011). Their latest book project Holy Bible is being released this month by MACK.

Jeffrey Ladd: Can you talk a bit about this current book project Holy Bible? Had it evolved from your recent work War Primer 2 which is a modern reinterpretation of Bertolt Brecht’s Kriegsfibel (War Primer) from 1955?  

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: When we were researching Brecht’s work in Berlin we stumbled across his personal copy of the Holy Bible. It caught our attention because it has a photograph of a racing car glued to the cover. It’s a remarkable thing, and in retrospect, seeing and handling this object definitely planted the seed for this book. Just like the War Primer, our illustrated bible is broadly about photography and it’s preoccupation with catastrophe. Brecht was deeply concern about the use of photographs in newspapers. He was so suspicious of press images that he referred to them as hieroglyphics in need of deciphering or decoding. We share this concern. Images of conflict that are distributed in the mainstream media are even less able to affect any real political action now then they ever were.

An essay by Adi Ophir called Divine Violence is reproduced in an epilogue to Holy Bible. How did you come to this particular essay? 

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin—Courtesy MACK

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin—Courtesy MACK

Holy Bible, 2013

If you read the Old Testament from cover to cover, you notice very quickly that God reveals himself through acts of catastrophe, through violence. Awful things keep happening: a flood that just about wipes out most of his creation, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra – we constantly witness death on an epic scale and the victims hardly ever know what they have done to deserve such retribution. Adi reflects on this theme of catastrophe in a really interesting way that connects with our modern lives. He concludes:

“States that tend to imitate God benefit from disasters… even when they cannot claim to be their authors, because any such disaster may serve as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency, thus reclaiming and reproducing the state’s total authority. And when earthly powers imagine that they can take His place in the divine economy of violence, faith may provide resistance but no shelter. It is not God’s response to human sins but sheer human hubris that might bring the world to its end.”

This extract from his book, Two Essays on God and Disaster, became a philosophical and political map for the whole project. We felt lucky that he permitted us to publish it, as it’s previously only appeared in Hebrew. We’re going to badly paraphrase his argument, but Ophir suggests that the Old Testament is essentially a parable for the growth of modern governance (God eventually chooses his people, issues them with a set of commandments and punishes them when those are broken). At the same time, he points out that when his laws are broken, he meters out the most radical, unimaginably violent punishments. So this reading of the Bible suggests a contract we are all silently and forcibly bound into with the modern state and our naïve acceptance of the harsh punishments the state meters out; prison, the death sentence, a war on drugs, on terror… The camera has always been drawn to these themes, to sites of human suffering. Since it’s inception it has been used to record and also participate in catastrophic events. Catastrophe and crisis are the daily bread of news.

Is it possible any longer in your opinion to provide images directly with a camera from war or natural catastrophes that are not in some way undermined by this?

We both believe that events still need to be witnessed and documented. But what happens when those images of suffering are turned into currency, into entertainment/ Recently we were asked to give a presentation of our book, War Primer 2, which contains some of the infamous Abu Ghraib torture images. We had a moment of concern regarding the copyright of these images and did some research into the reproduction rights. It shocked us to discover that most of these well-known torture images are syndicated by the Associated Press. When we approached AP before we gave a public lecture showing the material, they requested that we pay £100 per image per presentation. How is it possible that those images have become currency? We must owe them hundreds of thousands of dollars by now.

Photographs are essentially mute in telling the “who, what, why, when, where of journalism without a caption and where simple gestures are read, properly or not, as a kind of photographic “shorthand” – what responsibilities do you feel a contemporary journalist with a camera has in bringing images to the public? 

Is there still such a thing as a contemporary journalist with a camera? Anybody with a telephone could pass for one. And the world, particularly war zones, are littered with cameras. Soldiers, insurgents, civilians, even weapons — all have cameras attached to them. The so-called professional journalist must contend with all these other forms of witness. We have engaged with so-called war zones and skirted around the parameters of violence. But we’re cowards and have always kept back from any real prolonged danger. The Tim Hetherington’s and Chris Hondros’s of this world are a different breed. Our role, is to instead think about how images produced in the theater of human suffering are consumed; the individual response to such images. We only went to conflict zones to explore these ideas, never to responsibly document any specific war.

How did you come to decide to use the Archive of Modern Conflict for gathering images as opposed to using many sources? Was there a method you applied to sifting through AMC since it contains vast amounts of material? How did you approach such a task?

The Archive of Modern Conflict is a weird place — a lot of that comes through in our book. Officially it’s an archive that spans the history of the medium and concentrates on images of conflict. Looking through the thousands of images at the AMC, the narrative that unfolds is not at all a straightforward account of war. It’s an extremely personal and very idiosyncratic one; an unofficial version of the history of war.

One shelf contains hundreds of personal albums of Nazi soldiers. We see moments of intimacy between men — we see them kissing their wives goodbye, hugging their children and then fooling around with their friends. These images run counter to the narrative we can morally cope with. We’re not used to seeing Nazi’s displaying human traits; showing tenderness, emotion, desire. Our days at the archive sifting through all this material was difficult. So many dead people. It’s depressing. But somehow we discovered a lot of humor, too. In particular, a large collection of photographs of magic tricks became a running motif through the book. We always pair these delightful images with the phrase, “And it came to pass,” which appears again and again like a form of punctuation throughout the text.

Words as image (I am thinking of work on the Egyptian surrealists), or texts integrated into the images, have played a part in your practice. In this work had the underlined fragments found on the bible pages come first and then the images paired?

Our only intervention is to underline phrases on each page to add an image. Pick up any old Bible and you might see similar notations. There is a long history of this. But we wanted to avoid a purely illustrative relationship between words and images, so at times the connection is quite oblique. Anybody reading through will be able to make their own connections.

The scope of your practice has extended beyond making images in fairly traditional ways (working as creative directors at Colors magazine) to including appropriated images from archives and exploring different narrative styles. How has this shaped (and evidently challenged) your notions of photography?

We’ve always been more interested in the ecosystem in which photography functions rather then in the species itself; more intrigued by the economic, political, cultural and moral currency an image has then in the medium. We’re fascinated by how images are made but also how they are disseminated, and how that effects the way they are eventually read. Photographs are the most capricious objects — way less faithful then words. They can’t be trusted. So we need to be on guard just looking at them, never mind making them. We still take photographs, however. It’s just that we don’t radically discriminate between images we take and those that we find. We’re equally mistrusting of both.

As collaborators, you have worked both in books and exhibitions in a certain degree of success where many of your projects work well in both forms. You have also started your own small imprint Chopped Liver Press. I was wondering if you have a preference for the intimacy of books over the public exhibitions?

The definition of ‘book’ is undergoing a radical transformation. Far from becoming obsolete, the book — particularly the photo book — is experiencing a new lease of life. They speak to us. They turn their own pages. They update themselves. They have been de-materialized. Chopped Liver Press emerged as a response to this. We make handmade books in our studio. Very limited runs. When they are gone, that’s it. For War Primer 2, however, we produced two versions, a handmade edition of just 100 copies that was instantly sold out, and an e-book version that was freely available and continues to be downloaded. The code that powers these digital books is limited. But there’s great potential for intimacy.

I understand you are both artists and your role is bringing thoughtful art and ideas to the table and where it leads after is not really your business. But, is there any frustration in the thought that these ideas or philosophies get trapped by the “art world” in which they are presented and the world of philosophy (another comparatively small arena)?

We are more interested in the world than the art world, which is exactly why we are so honored to have this conversation with you.

Holy Bible is being published by MACK in June 2013.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions.

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Original author: 
Soulskill

An anonymous reader writes "We're seeing a new revolution in artificial intelligence known as deep learning: algorithms modeled after the brain have made amazing strides and have been consistently winning both industrial and academic data competitions with minimal effort. 'Basically, it involves building neural networks — networks that mimic the behavior of the human brain. Much like the brain, these multi-layered computer networks can gather information and react to it. They can build up an understanding of what objects look or sound like. In an effort to recreate human vision, for example, you might build a basic layer of artificial neurons that can detect simple things like the edges of a particular shape. The next layer could then piece together these edges to identify the larger shape, and then the shapes could be strung together to understand an object. The key here is that the software does all this on its own — a big advantage over older AI models, which required engineers to massage the visual or auditory data so that it could be digested by the machine-learning algorithm.' Are we ready to blur the line between hardware and wetware?"

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This is an article about how each side of our mind, imagination and rationality, affect the outcome of the game design process.

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Aurich Lawson

One of the great untold stories in science is the process of science itself. I don't mean stories about what scientists have discovered and what that discovery tells us; we (and many others) cover those every day. I also don't mean stories about the pure joy of discovery and the excitement of finding out that everything you thought you understood was total bollocks. We cover that here at Ars occasionally, and there are plenty of books on it if you're hungry for more.

What's missing is the background for these stories of discovery. How do you take an idea from its very beginning as a casual musing through to an actual research program? What's involved in that process? How do you sort out good ideas from bad and choose what to pursue and what to abandon? That is the story that I want to tell.

Since this is the story of science-as-a-process rather than science-as-a-result, I will be using myself as an example. I am, as some of you may know, a tenure track faculty member at a research institute in the Netherlands. Being a researcher in the Netherlands is not that different from being a researcher anywhere else, so a lot of what I discuss will be familiar to scientists everywhere. Since I recently hopped on the tenure track, I have the next few years to prove that I am able to not only carry out research, but to start and manage entire research programs. And, as yet, I have no research program to manage.

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1. Ideas don’t come from watching television

2. Ideas sometimes come from listening to a lecture

3. Ideas often come while reading a book

4. Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them

5. Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly conference rooms where there is a history of criticism, personal attacks or boredom

6. Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide

7. Ideas often strive to meet expectations. If people expect them to appear, they do

8. Ideas fear experts, but they adore beginner’s mind. A little awareness is a good thing

9. Ideas come in spurts, until you get frightened. Willie Nelson wrote three of his biggest hits in one week

10. Ideas come from trouble

11. Ideas come from our ego, and they do their best when they’re generous and selfless

12. Ideas come from nature

13. Sometimes ideas come from fear (usually in movies) but often they come from confidence

14. Useful ideas come from being awake, alert enough to actually notice

15. Though sometimes ideas sneak in when we’re asleep and too numb to be afraid

16. Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we’re not trying

17. Mediocre ideas enjoy copying what happens to be working right this minute

18. Bigger ideas leapfrog the mediocre ones

19. Ideas don’t need a passport, and often cross borders (of all kinds) with impunity

20. An idea must come from somewhere, because if it merely stays where it is and doesn’t join us here, it’s hidden. And hidden ideas don’t ship, have no influence, no intersection with the market. They die, alone.

What an awesome list, much of which are about the best conditions for creativity. Occasionally some of the points are a ramble, but fun all the same. Enjoy!

Shamelessly stolen from Seth Godin’s blog.

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I just got done reading Ray Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind, his latest on how machines will soon (2030ish) pass the Turing test, and then basically become like robots envisaged in the 60's, with distinct personalities, acting as faithful butlers to our various needs.

And then, today over on The Edge, Bruce Sterling is saying that's all a pipe dream, computers are still pretty dumb.  As someone who works with computer algorithms all day, I too am rather unimpressed by a computer's intelligence.

He also notes that IBM's Watson won a Jeapardy! contest by reading all of Wikipedia, a feat clearly beyond any human mind. Further, as Kurzweil notes, many humans are pretty simple, and so it's not inconceivable a computer can replicate your average human, if only average is pretty predictable. Sirri is already funnier than perhaps 10% of humans.

But I doubt they will ever approximate a human, because human's have what machines can't have, which is emotions, and emotions are necessary for prioritizing, and a good prioritization is the essence of wisdom.  One can be a genius, but if you are focused solely on one thing you are autistic, and such people aren't called idiot-savants for nothing.

Just as objectivity is not the result of objective scientist, but an emergent result of the scientific community, consciousness may not be the result of a thoughtful individual, but a byproduct of a striving individual enmeshed in a community of other minds, each wishing to understand the other minds better so that they can rise above them. I see how you could program this drive into a computer, a deep parameter that gives points for how many times others call their app, perhaps.

Kurzwiel notes that among species of vole rats, those that have monogamous bonds have oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, and those that opt for one-night stands do not. Hard wired emotions dictate behavior.  But it's one thing to program a desire for company, an aversion to loneliness, another to desire a truly independent will.

Proto humans presumably had the consciousness of dogs, so something in our striving created consciousness incidentally. Schopenhauer said "we don't want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it." The intellect may at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads the master. He saw the will to power, and fear of death, as being the essence of humanity.  Nietzsche noted similarly that "Happiness is the feeling that power increases."  I suppose one could try to put this into a program as a deep preference, but I'm not sure how, in that, what power to a computer could be analogous to power wielded by humans?

Kierkegaard thought the crux of human consciousness was anxiety, worrying about doing the right thing.  That is, consciousness is not merely having perceptions and thoughts, even self-referential thoughts, but doubt, anxiety about one's priorities and how well one is mastering them. We all have multiple priorities--self preservation, sensual pleasure, social status, meaning--and the higher we go the more doubtful we are about them. Having no doubt, like having no worries, isn't bliss, it's the end of consciousness.  That's what always bothers me about people who suggest we search for flow, because like good music or wine, it's nice occasionally like any other sensual pleasure, but only occasionally in the context of a life of perceived earned success.

Consider the Angler Fish. The smaller male is born with a huge olfactory system, and once he has developed some gonads, smells around for a gigantic female. When he finds her, he bites into her skin and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. He is then fed by, and has his waste removed by, the female's blood supply, as the male is basically turned into a parasite. However, he is a welcomed parasite, because the female needs his sperm. What happens to a welcomed parasite? Other than his gonads, his organs simply disappear, because all that remains is all that is needed. No eyes, no jaw, no brain. He has achieved his purpose, and could just chill in some Confucian calm, but instead just dissolves his brain entirely.

A computer needs pretty explicit goals because otherwise the state space of things it will do blows up, and one can end up figuratively calculating the 10^54th digit of pi--difficult to be sure, and not totally useless, but still pretty useless.  Without anxiety one could easily end up in an intellectual cul-de-sac and not care.  I don't see how a computer program with multiple goals would feel anxiety, because they don't have finite lives, so they can work continuously, forever, making it nonproblematic that one didn't achieve some goal by the time one's eggs ran out.  Our anxiety makes us satisfice, or find novel connections that do not what we originally wanted but do what's very useful nonetheless, and in the process helped increase our sense of meaning and status (often, by helping others).

Anxiety is what makes us worry we are at best maximizes an inferior local maximum, and so need to start over, and this helps us figure things out with minimal direction.  A program that does only what you tell it to do is pretty stupid compared to even stupid humans, any don't think for a second neural nets or hierarchical hidden markov models (HHMMs) can figure stuff out that isn't extremely well defined (like figuring out captchas, where Kurzweil thinks HHMMs show us something analogous to human thought).

Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche were all creative, deep thinkers about the essence of humanity, and they were all very lonely and depressed. When young they thought they were above simple romantic pair bonds, but all seemed to have deep regrets later, and I think this caused them to apply themselves more resolutely to abstract ideas (also, alas, women really like confidence in men, which leads to all sorts of interesting issues, including that their doubt hindered their ability to later find partners, and that perhaps women aren't fully conscious (beware troll!)). Humans have trade-offs, and we are always worrying if we are making the right ones, because no matter how smart you are, you can screw up a key decision and pay for it the rest of your life. We need fear, pride, shame, lust, greed and envy, in moderation, and I think you can probably get those into a computer.  But anxiety, doubt, I don't think can be programmed because logically a computer is always doing the very best it can in that's its only discretion is purely random, and so it perceives only risk and not uncertainty (per Keynes/Knight/Minsky), and thus, no doubt. 

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Dr. Rick Schubert: Concepts and Cages: Life Beyond the Limits of Ideas - at TEDxAmericanRiviera 2012

Our ideas shape our lives. And none of our ideas shapes our lives more than our ideas of who we are, what philosophers call our "self-conceptions". Many of us struggle as adults to "find ourselves," to break free from our old, externally imposed self-conceptions and to arrive at new ones of our own choosing. But Daoism, a classical Chinese philosophy, warns us that all our concepts are cages. They impose limitation, take our freedom, cloud our vision. Some cages are more pleasant than others. But we're better off being free. Rick Schubert explains the Daoist path to freedom; how we can use concepts to move past concepts, how we can use our cages as things to stand on so we can get a better view.
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