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How One Photographer Is Hacking the Concept of Time 124

Posted by Soulskill
from the about-time dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Hungarian photographer Adam Magyar doesn't work like most artists. He takes the world's most sophisticated photographic equipment, then hacks it with software he writes himself — all in order to twist our perception of time inside out. In this latest story from the digital publisher MATTER, Joshua Hammer discovers how Magyar's unique combination of technology and art challenges the way we understand the world. At one point, Magyar realized he needed a 'slit-scan' camera, 'the type used to determine photo finishes at racetracks and at Olympic sporting events by capturing a time sequence in one image. Such cameras were rare and cost many thousands of dollars, so Magyar set out to build one himself. He joined a medium-format camera lens to another sensor and wrote his own software for the new device. Total cost: $50. He inverted the traditional scanning method, where the sensor moves across a stationary object. This time, the sensor would remain still while the scanned objects were in motion, being photographed one consecutive pixel-wide strip at a time. (This is the basic principle of the photo-finish camera.) Magyar mounted the device on a tripod in a busy Shanghai neighborhood and scanned pedestrians as they passed in front of the sensor. He then digitally combined over 100,000 sequential strips into high-resolution photographs.' There are pictures and videos interspersed throughout the article."
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How One Photographer Is Hacking the Concept of Time

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:57PM (#45900775)

    >> wrote his own software for the new device. Total cost: $50.

    Sure, if the time to write the software was worth nothing.

    • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:07PM (#45900851)
      I'm glad he gets out more than the stereotypical slashdot developer. I would imagine that a series of slit scan camera shots of a basement and the action in there would be quite boring.
    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:08PM (#45900859)

      As long as it doesn't take away from another activity, then the cost of time is nothing. If this were not the case, then it would never be cheaper to cook at home rather than go to a restaurant.

      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:09PM (#45900867)

        I should add that you could also calculate it as a profit. Take the cost of a commercial alternative (said to be thousands of dollars in the summary), then subtract material and time costs. What's left is your profit.

        • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:31PM (#45901065)

          So if I buy a bicycle instead of that Bugatti Veyron I've been lusting for, it means I have a tax problem because of that $1,700,000 profit, (minus the cost of the bicycle)?

          Brilliant!
          All the government's budget deficit problems were nothing but an accounting error!

          • Profit: The difference between what's gained and what's spent. If you spend $50 and gain something equivalent to a $5000 camera, then you have essentially created a $4500 profit.

            And it's 100% tax-free profit. That's the beauty of it. While you attempted a purposely bad analogy, it still works as long as you remember both things need to be equivalent for your purposes - as is the case for the cameras in question. If the bicycle and the Veyron perform the same task *that you intend to use them for* equally we

            • by i.r.id10t (595143)

              Nah, think about it in terms of energy - potential vs. kinetic.

              Sure, you bought 100 shares of AAPL at $7/share so you have a huge *potential* profit. Or you've got a big rock sitting on the edge of a cliff.

              But until you sell the stock, or lever the rock over the edge, it is just potential.

              • by Pope (17780)

                Nah, think about it in terms of energy - potential vs. kinetic.

                Sure, you bought 100 shares of AAPL at $7/share so you have a huge *potential* profit. Or you've got a big rock sitting on the edge of a cliff.

                But until you sell the stock, or lever the rock over the edge, it is just potential.

                Imagine 4 shares on the edge of a cliff. Time works in the same way!

            • by icebike (68054)

              Profit: The difference between what's gained and what's spent. If you spend $50 and gain something equivalent to a $5000 camera, then you have essentially created a $4500 profit.

              Well, I posted purely in jest.

              You appear to be serious in equating avoidance of cost with profit. They are quite different in economic terms.

              The fact that alternative methods are NOT used commercially suggests that there is no market for images of
              this size, given the cost involved. Had there been such a market, this guy could corner said market.
              However, he would also not be able to demand the same price. (Because there is no market at that price).

              Since there is essentially ZERO market for his images, the w

              • Since there is essentially ZERO market for his images,

                He's an artist; doesn't art always have a market, at least theoretically? I could apparently paint an entire canvas red and sell it for a ton of money if I could find the right rich person and convince them that I'm a famous artist.

                The GP was talking about the value of the camera, not the art it produces. How much he sells the art for is besides the point.

              • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @05:27PM (#45901587) Journal

                Actually, The is now an increase the market for his images, because I have seen them, and want one. Whether I can afford one or not, is besides the point. And having seen his 12 second clip, the thing that struck me the most was how three dimensional it was, and I could easily imagine adapting the technique to normal cinematography sequences or even real (improved) 3D sequencing.

                This value you do not perceive doesn't mean that there is "ZERO market" for his images, it simply means you do not see the value where others do. And to be honest, that is your view, and that is okay. I just don't share that view.

              • by Yaur (1069446)
                As art its kind of neat. The technique used in the shot of the 42nd street/grand central platform I could easily see used in normal movies. There is a market, he just needs some advertising...
                • by mekkab (133181)
                  I didn't care for the photos but 42nd street was rather amazing. I love how it captures fast motion (moving lock of hair, hoisting a knapsack up).
                  • by chad_r (79875)

                    I didn't care for the photos but 42nd street was rather amazing. I love how it captures fast motion (moving lock of hair, hoisting a knapsack up).

                    I found the last clip on the page, with the two girls running, was a powerful piece of art on a visceral level.

              • Well, I posted purely in jest.

                You should either give it up or practice more.

                Probably the former.

            • by Baloroth (2370816)

              Profit: The difference between what's gained and what's spent. If you spend $50 and gain something equivalent to a $5000 camera, then you have essentially created a $4500 profit.

              You are confusing profits with savings. I do not "profit" by $10 when I buy a $100 item at $90, I "save" $10. You do not profit until you actually gain a return on an investment. So if he sold his program or images? That would net a profit. Until then, he saved, but did not profit.

              • "Nevertheless, I'm taking your high-speed camera and its friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It's your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power." --Luke Skywalker

            • by narcc (412956) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @06:03PM (#45901895) Journal

              If you spend $50 and gain something equivalent to a $5000 camera, then you have essentially created a $4500 profit.

              Math. How does it work?

          • HA! I was going to say something similar, but not quite as funny. Thanks, I needed a laugh today.

            It sent me off into left field thinking of the possibilities of how much tax I owe due to saving made when I bought the home that I did, rather than buying one of these places [luxuryrealestate.com].

            I think SJHillman would be blown away by "complex math [mathforum.org]". ;)
      • by Imrik (148191)

        Cooking at home and going to a restaurant both take time.

        • Yes, but cooking at home is time in which you can do very little else simultaneously. At a restaurant, you have much more freedom to do other activities, either socially or through a smartphone/tablet. Most restaurants also have a lot of the prep work for your meal done before you even leave the house, and many foods with longer cook times are started before anyone orders - both of which means a restaurant usually takes less of your time than making yourself. You can point out exceptions, like a sandwich, i

          • by the_arrow (171557)

            Yes, but cooking at home is time in which you can do very little else simultaneously. At a restaurant, you have much more freedom to do other activities, either socially or through a smartphone/tablet.

            I find that it's quite the opposite.

            If I'm at a restaurant and waiting for food, what I do is social things like talking, browsing Facebook, reading mail. And that's all. If I cook at home, I can do lots of other stuff besides the social things. For example, I put some thing in the oven, and while it's there I

    • by gnick (1211984) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:16PM (#45900927) Homepage

      Sure, if the time to write the software was worth nothing.

      Of course, if he enjoyed doing it or got some sense of satisfaction, hell it's cheaper than a movie. Total cost could have been less than $0.

    • by AvitarX (172628)

      And how much is the medium format lense? I suspect not cheap.

      • by sjames (1099)

        If you're already a professional working in the medium, it's just getting more use out of something you already have.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There's things people do that may waste time and/or money, but they do them anyways because they find them enjoyable. They're called "hobbies". You should get one.

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:34PM (#45901081) Homepage

      And it's not particularly new. There was a guy doing the same thing with the scanner head from a flatbed scanner back in the late 90's/early 00's. The general idea of long exposures goes back further than that, much further.

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        you got modded interesting for not knowing the difference between a short and long exposure? Sigh, what a waste of time slashdot has become.
        • you got modded interesting for not knowing the difference between a short and long exposure? Sigh, what a waste of time slashdot has become.

          No, I got modded interesting for knowing enough about photography and the processes involved to grasp that this is a variant of the ideas behind some long exposure work.

          You can find them as well in other media [wikipedia.org]. Created century ago, it's the same general idea as Magyar's work and that of the printhead scanner guy I mentioned above - capturing single moments in time and

          • by Jmc23 (2353706)
            So... you can't tell the difference between a long exposure and a short exposure.

            oh, you mean they're similar because they both deal with exposure? Idiot.

            • You have no fucking clue what you're talking about. It's almost like you didn't read what I wrote, or if you did....your below room temperature IQ rendered you unable to comprehend it - leading to your kindergarten level reply.

              The key idea in play here isn't the length of the exposure.

    • by dfsmith (960400) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @05:18PM (#45901497) Homepage Journal
      Therapy can run many tens of dollars an hour. Maybe he considers coding to be theraputic, in which case it saved him money. Your time is worth what it's worth to you.
    • by aix tom (902140)

      And only if he didn't have any fun. If he did have fun writing the software, then he additionally saved the money for movie tickets, theme park rides, drinks in pubs, etc... that other people seem to have to PAY to have fun, so the cost for the device might even come out negative.

    • Even the time spent on a hobby is worth something. Because it prevents you from spending time on another hobby.

    • What about the cost of all us Slashdot readers having to read about it, post about it, argue about it? I'd say the real costs to society in up the millions in lost productivity already...
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:58PM (#45900781) Homepage

    There's an free iPhone app [funnerlabs.com] to simulate a slit-scan camera. It doesn't take a "$50,000 camera".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:03PM (#45900827)
    So his last name is "Hungary" in Hungarian? What an amazing coincidence! Like Lou Gehrig .. what are the odds that he got the disease named "Lou Gehrig's Disease"!

    (I got nothing)
  • by korbulon (2792438) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:06PM (#45900847)
    Wrong. Some of his work is pretty wild, especially the vids. Really cool stuff, this.
  • by E++99 (880734) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:18PM (#45900957) Homepage

    This is the same photographic technique used to create the stargate special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but putting the camera on a trolley and zooming it in. Here's a really good video on the evolution of the technology. http://youtu.be/KhRo2WbWnKU [youtu.be]

    For artistic slit scan photography, check out Jay Mark Johnson's work. It's much more interesting than this stuff, imo.

  • huh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MitchDev (2526834) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:23PM (#45901005)

    Not so much "Hacking the Concept of Time" as "Hacking camera software to change how it takes pictures"

    • Re:huh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:52PM (#45901277) Homepage

      Not so much "Hacking the Concept of Time" as "Hacking camera software to change how it takes pictures"

      Let me guess, you either didn't read the article, or didn't understand it:

      Magyar mounted the device on a tripod in a busy Shanghai neighborhood and scanned pedestrians as they passed in front of the sensor. He then digitally combined over 100,000 sequential strips into high-resolution photographs.

      He's not taking a single exposure. He's taking a very large amount of small slices over a span of time, and stitching them together into a single image.

      He hasn't so much taken a 'snapshot in time' like a traditional camera, he's made images out of snapshots which occurred across time.

      Which means he's taking objects going by at a pretty good clip, and combining a whole lot of them into something which looks like a single astounding image.

      Some of his images have a time lapse quality to them, because they show things which are both in motion and still, over a time sequence:

      Eerie distortions of objects in motion and at rest reminded viewers that they were looking at a pictorial representation of time, not space. Speeding buses were compressed into Smart cars. Individuals who paused at a bus stop were elongated like Metroliners. Slower walkers had billowing pants legs, or feet like skis, or Oscar Pistorius-style blades. And because of the peculiar nature of the scanning technology, everyone was moving in the same direction. "The horizontal axis is not about space, it's not about left and right, it's about earlier and later," he says. "If two people are crossing the pixel at the same moment, they will look like they are walking together."

      If you read the article, you'll find he's done much much more than "Hacking camera software to change how it takes pictures" -- the resulting images look like a still frame, but are composited from a time lapse, and are MUCH more sophisticated than you seem to realize.

      Why do people on Slashdot persist in dismissing things they don't really understand? What he's done is taken what look like still images, but are in fact a cross section in time.

      That you think all he's done is to hack camera software means you don't have the barest idea of what it is he's actually done.

      • the resulting images look like a still frame, but are composited from a time lapse, and are MUCH more sophisticated than you seem to realize.

        Much sophisticate. So video artifact. Wow!

        Why do people on Slashdot persist in dismissing things they don't really understand?

        I don't know. Why don't you tell me. Anyone experienced with real time graphics and video will have not just a 1D concept of frame composition weirds, but 2D or even 3D "time hacking" if that's what you want to call it. If the artifact / video error is affected by some other object's properties (say, forgetting to pop a matrix stack, or clear a stencil, etc), or somehow leads to negative elapsed frame time for the physics equation (even in spatially localized a

        • Anyone experienced with real time graphics and video will have not just

          So a fairly small minority.

          If the artifact / video error is affected by some other object's properties (say, forgetting to pop a matrix stack, or clear a stencil, etc)

          *squints* Ummm...QED.

      • It's not really different to what a horse race finish camera does, or even those rotating-lens panoramics.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "How one renegade photographer is hacking the concept of time."
    "Time doesn't exist for him."

    Anyone remember a similarly fawning article about how the greeks don't have strict time concepts in their language?
    It's because so few of them go to work on time.

  • by hydrofix (1253498) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:28PM (#45901041)
    The website where the story article is hosted is pretty terrible. It's apparently based entirely on some sort of JavaScript hacks. I can only zoom one photo before the JavaScript code crashes. Then, when I try to reload, it loses the position I was on the page. I also dislike those texts and images that change brightness and scroll in dis-syncronization with the rest of the page. Not to speak of those "Share" buttons jumping out from behind page elements when I move my mouse cursor around. This page, although apparently meant to be "artistic", is sadly just a staple of horrible and dysfunctional web design.
    • The website where the story article is hosted is pretty terrible. It's apparently based entirely on some sort of JavaScript hacks [...]

      Maybe they were... wait for it... Hacking the Concept of JavaScript?

    • I've seen a few Slashdot links to this "medium" website recently. I think it hosts single pages from different authors in a format that is supposed to be comfort able to read on a tablet computer. Just my guess, I don't have a tablet that will show this type of page (just a hacked e-ink Nook running Android).

      I now check where the link leads before clicking it in the fine summary as well as the comments. If it leads to "medium" I don't even follow the link anymore.

  • by dmatos (232892) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:40PM (#45901145)

    Really, this guy didn't need a "slit-scan" camera. Any linescan camera would work. They're not rare. They're used everywhere for industrial inspection. You can find them on eBay for under a hundred dollars. Yes, you'll need to put a lens on it as well, but most are compatible with normal camera lenses. You'll just need a mount adapter.

    Heck, you could even do this in post-processing using a normal 2-D camera that's capturing a movie. Just snag a single column from successive frames and stack them into a single picture. Sure, your frame rate will be limited, but it's technically feasible, especially if the 2-D sensors allow for windowing to increase frame rate.

    • by Carnildo (712617)

      If you'd read the article, you'd see that he did use an industrial linescan camera for some of his work.

    • ...Heck, you could even do this in post-processing using a normal 2-D camera that's capturing a movie. Just snag a single column from successive frames and stack them into a single picture. Sure, your frame rate will be limited, but it's technically feasible, especially if the 2-D sensors allow for windowing to increase frame rate.

      AFAIK this single column capture is very close to what NewTek's Digiview did on the Amiga computer and it was done that way because that was the cheapest, simplest way to digitize an NTSC/PAL frame on a slow computer which just happened to have a clock rate synchronized to the NTSC, PAL or SECAM video refresh rate.

      Magyar's technique is more sophisticated but if you panned a tripod at the same rate as someone walking past a video camera during a Digiview capture, you ended up with a space/time distortion s

  • Awesome job, cops; glad you are out there protecting people from photographers.

  • Nothing we haven't seen from Hollyweird. Good work, but doesn't thrill me or speak to me. Not sure what the slit camera actually did in his work that another, more common imaging device could not do. Subterfuge it would seem from the article.
  • In fact, I was a lot newer than I am now the first time I was involved with a slit camera, in this case a 35mm with its horizontally running window shade shutter glue in about the 1/500th second position, halfway across the frame. Focused on the mirror on the finish line post at the greyhound track somewhat north of Rapid City, SD.

    The film was pulled by a variable speed motor such that the dogs, as they crossed the mirror, weren't too badly lengthened or shortened, along with a digital clock that output to

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