More Than Just Pixels: Experiencing Colours, Vibration, and Contrast in Digital Images

I got word yesterday that a paper I proposed has been accepted to the “Screen Textures: Haptics, Tactility, and the Moving Image” conference taking place at the University of Pittsburgh on October 17-18, 2014.

The paper is titled “More Than Just Pixels: Experiencing Colours, Vibration, and Contrast in Digital Images” (just like this blog post) and this is the paper’s abstract:

When gazing at images on digital screens—whether they are smartphones, laptops, or cinema projectors—what you come to see is more than just the colourful offerings of the pixels generate for perception. The assemblage of coloured pixels found within digital screens go beyond just freckled depictions of local surface colours and the representations of light reflecting off of depicted objects. The colours contained in every pixel have an elasticity that extends beyond themselves, affecting all the other colours surrounding them. This ability for colours to stretch beyond the limits of their confines is what they have always done. However, as I will argue in this paper, you cannot directly see this elasticity of colour occurring because it usually exceeds human perception. Yet this imperceptible activity is still experientially felt as sensations below the threshold of visibility.

The elasticity of colours, which launch the invisible sensations you come to feel in the seeing, is what Deleuze calls vibration. Vibrating is a self-generated activity. The colours within the pixels subtly quiver because, as Bergson notes, that is what colours do. Yet they never vibrate alone. Colours can never be experienced by themselves. They always have neighbours that they constantly reach towards or are reaching towards them. Through their self-generating movements, colours actively seek to enter into relations with each other. But before these relations can occur, a contrast must take place. According to Whitehead, relations cannot emerge into experience without an encounter with contrast. For him, contrast doesn’t simply differentiate neighbouring colours but also enables them to actively conjoin, generating the potential for something new to emerge into sight. Without contrast, as I will contend, there are no relations among the colours, felt sensations through their vibrations, or images to be seen.

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