Articles

Documenting the Digital Degradation of Images in Project LOSS

by Allison Meier on December 5, 2013

Project LOSS

Ellie Pritts, “Project LOSS” (all images courtesy the artist)

Each time a JPG is compressed, something of the original image is lost, and the anomalies and imperfections hiding beneath are slowly revealed. The process of this digital degradation is the focus of photographer Ellie Pritts’ glitchy Project LOSS.

The project, brought to our attention by Boing Boing, has a series of images that started as regular digital photographs of various cities Pritts has visited. As they experienced “loss,” they were transformed into rainbow-hued, fragmented visuals. As Pritts told Hyperallergic, the interest in the “lossy” files started with her being a “reluctant convert” from film photography to digital, which has made her concentrate on the differences of the two mediums:

When I began working primarily with digital files, I encountered the ‘loss’ that can happen when a JPG is saved too many times over and the crazy glitches that can spring up out of nowhere when a file is corrupted. I instantly loved these effects, and after obsessing over them for a while I decided to create my own spin on these visual anomalies.

Project LOSS

NYC skyline in “Project LOSS”

The changes to the image happen each time it is saved or opened, and the final results in Project LOSS reflect a repeated compression of the images. But while the images are striking in a trippy way in their own right, they also reflect the usually hidden digital structure behind the image. On her site, she notes David Elliott’s “Generation Loss” where he experimented with saving a JPEG 600 times, as well as Georg Fischer’s image glitch experiment that reveals the image encoding through corruption, as similar projects exploring the layers of digital.

Project LOSS

Photograph of the Public Market Center in Seattle in “Project LOSS”

It’s a sort of digital archaeology, where like the layers of paint on a canvas, the images are also shown to be a more complicated building of an image, and something worth examining. As Pritts stated:

Every day we rely on a multitude of computers, often without even thinking about our interaction with them. They are machines that usually do exactly what we want them to do, but sometimes arbitrary elements cause them to react unexpectedly. When a JPG file is corrupted it’s essentially broken. Unlike other instances when your computer is dealing with problematic files, you can actually see what has happened to the file. You see these artifacts and glitches take over your image. It’s almost like you’re getting a glimpse of the computer itself, watching how it thinks it should deal with a file which is broken.

Project LOSS

Chicago skyline in “Project LOSS”

Click here to view Project LOSS by Ellie Pritts. 

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