Practice as Research Portfolio 3, Images of High Resolution Portraiture

TR Flaxton

Research output: Non-textual formArtefact


‘Images of High Resolution Portraiture’ was the third ‘Practice As Research Portfolio’ (PARP), produced as part of an AHRC Creative Research Fellowship awarded to cinematographer Terry Flaxton entitled ‘High Definition Imaging: An Investigation into the Actual, the Virtual and the Hyper Real’.

This PARP contains nine artefacts including the installation, ‘Portraits of the Working People of Somerset’ which was exhibited for 6 months at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2011 and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund after examples of previous portraiture works were shown to them. Other artefacts from this PARP have been exhibited as far afield as Italy, America, Switzerland and China to 15000+ people and investigated the relationship between moving-image resolution and audience engagement.

This research has prompted partnerships between Faculty of Engineering & Experimental Psychology at Bristol plus collaboration with BBC R&D to explore advanced properties of digital image-making in relation to immersion and has lead to EPSRC funding.

This was the first practitioner-lead investigation of High Definition Imagining worldwide. The aim of the research was to investigate how increases in image resolution is affecting the nature of art and entertainment from the point of view of both practitioners and audiences. The core research question to be investigated was:

‘In what ways will the advent of high resolution imaging change the work produced in the convergence of art and visual technologies and consequently, our experience of that work?’

To address this a series of 4 PARP’s was created comprised of this methodology:

i) one or more ‘artefacts’ were created to respond to some aspect of the research question, (in many cases an installation)
ii) these were exhibited to audiences, where engagement time was monitored to evaluate if they increased as resolution increases in succeeding exhibitions
iii) peer reviewed articles critically reflected on the process
iv) research was presented at conferences

It was proposed from the beginning that each new artefact would be a building block in the research as a whole, so each work was developed with an additive proposition. For instance this 3rd PARP looked at the traditional area of Portraiture with an emphasis on the exhibition of life-sized portraiture with screens regularly 20 feet wide by 10 feet high. There have been 9 projects and 237 portraiture subjects obtained on three different continents.

PARP 1 (‘High Definition Video and Experiences of Immediacy and the Environment’) which examined how images of our immediate environment when projected back on to the objects photographed at differing resolutions increased audience engagement, whereas the 2nd PARP looked at the external world revisiting iconic places to see how if resolution deepened engagement when reproduced in high resolutions and built upon the research undertaken in

PARP 4 (The Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies, and Techniques of Digital Cinematography) differs from the above as it is intended as a research resource of online verbatim interviews accompanied by online text based resources.

In this third PARP I tried to explore the complex issues of why the human face fascinates us so and why the human form within the environment excites interest. I decided to shoot life-size portraits at the highest possible resolution, and then project all the images life-size. This meant constructing a 20 foot x 10 foot screen for exhibition.

There were two instructions for the subjects who stood in front of the camera:

a) stand still for 1 minute to refer to Victorian Exposure times
b) hold something or stand in front of a location that spoke of their work or character.

What the viewer sees in exhibition is 20 foot wide shots with a person depicted standing still, life-size. Sometimes people do not realise that these are moving images and experience a small shock of excitation when the realise the live-ness of the person in front of them - which attracts the behaviour of approaching and gingerly examining the screen. The largest exhibition has show 6 portraiture projects across a 60 foot triptych of screens in 2010.

This work lies at the very edge of what is known in human depiction as ‘uncanny valley’. The liminal boundary where people accept the depiction as real.

I began with ‘Portraits of Glastonbury Tor’ and around 20 individual portraits, then went on to ‘Ritratti di Cannarregio’ in Venice, then ‘Portaits of University of Bristol’s Centenary’, New York, Beijing, Spitalfields, London and finally ‘Portraits of the Working People of Somerset’. There are now some 240 life sized high resolution portraits which have been shown at various exhibitions. I kept audience comment books from many of the exhibitions which demonstrate the effect on the audience. NB - if a direct link is not given below to an artefact or exhibition, most of my work can be found at:

The following Artefacts were initially created to explore aspects of the research question in relation to portraiture and the human gaze:

Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st, Somerset Rural Life Museum), 2008.
Ritratti di Cannaregio (Portraits of Cannaregio), High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Venice), 2008.

Portraits of the Somerset Carnivals, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Somerset), 2009.
‘Portraits of the Centenary, University of Bristol’, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol), 2009.

Portraits of Spitalfields, London, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, London), 2010.
Portraits of the Arrow Tower, Beijing, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, London), 2010.
Portraits of the Flat Iron Building, New York, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, London), 2010.
Self Portrait in the Digital Domain, Low to High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Salisbury), 2010.
Three Moving Image Works of Extended Portraiture, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, London), 2010.
Until I'm Gone, an examination of abstracted digital Self Portraiture, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Salisbury), 2010.

Portraits of the Working People of Somerset, High Resolution Digital Installation, Various (1st Exhibition, Somerset), 2012.

These were then exhibited at the following locations and comments books were kept to record audience response at seeing higher resolution images

Portraits of the Working People of Somerset, Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, 07/10/11-22/01/12, 2012.

Portraits of the Working People of Somerset, Bath Museum of Work, 08/07/11-27/09/11, 2011.

One Person Show of research works from AHRC Fellowship, Salisbury Arts Center, 01/10/10-31/10/08, 2010.
Time and Resolution: Experiments with High Resolution Imaging, P3 Gallery, London (University of Westminster), 07/12/10-21/12/10, 2010.
International Exhibitions (France, USA, Japan), Museum of Modern Art Strasbourg, Yokohama Creativity City Center, New York Center, Millennium Magazine, 2010.

High Definition Technologies and Aesthetics, Watershed Media Center, 2009.
Imaginists - 2 small exhibitions of work from Venice, Gallery 204, Bristol - The Phoenix Arts Center Glastonbury, 2009.
Portraits of the Somerset Carnivals, Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, 10/09/09-05/10/09, 2009.
Portraits of the University of Bristols Centenary, University of Bristol Assembley of the Court, Wills Building, 2009.
Screening of Research work, Bergen Elektronisk Kunst Senter, Norway, 2009.

Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, 16/09/08-21/09/08, 2008.
Ritratti di Cannaregio (Portraits of Cannaregio) & Un Tempo Una Volta (Once Upon a Time), Scarabocchio Studio Grafico, Cannaregio, Ponte degli Ormensini, Venice, 12/09/08, 2008.

The effect of the creation and exhibition of the artefacts was discussed in the following book chapter:

‘HD Aesthetics and True Digital Cinematography’, Genealogies of Digital Light, 7000 words Editor Sean Cubitt (Routledge).

This fuelled further reflection that I then presented in the following Conference Papers:

‘High Definition Imaging: the Paradox of Creativity within the Academy’ Watershed Media Center, Journal of Media Practice Symposium. (published on conference website and at 2011
‘Notes on the Developing Aesthetics of Digital Technology and its effects on Transmedial Disciplines’, University of Bristol, Technologies of Transmediality, (published online at 2011
‘New Understandings of the Mimetic and Diegetic in the Creation of Art’, Xi’an Academy of Fine Art (published online at 2010
‘The Concept of Colour Space as seen from the Practitioners Standpoint’, Arnolfini, Bristol (published online at 2010

A triptych of 6 portraiture works was also shown in collaboration with University of Westminster at the end of 2010. Academics were approached to discuss issues around the methodology of practice as research and these are available online totalling 4 hours:

This then lead to an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship and one exchange developed with Prof Tom Troscianko (Experimental Psychology, Bristol) and Prof Dave Bull (Engineering, Bristol) which then resulted in further collaboration with BBC Research and Development, to test propositions of immersion as being quantum and not incremental. In November 2012 we created the first tests worldwide, of the combination of Higher Resolution, Higher Frame Rate and Higher Resolutions to investigate how to calibrate these factors to deliver the greatest level of immersion in the audience.

In December 2012 /January 2013 an immersion test centre will be built to examine the immersivity of these enhanced images. Throughout 2013 we are partnering with Aardman, Quantel, Dolby and Arriflex GMBH who recognise the impact this research will have on the way moving image capture and display develops. The EPSRC has also highlighted this area for calls for funding.

It is important however that this is not viewed as scientific research (though this research has been developed within Engineering and Experimental Psychology). The original research was concerned with the aesthetics of images that might be produced. This meant creating a series of artefacts where the results were encoded in each new artefact. This empirical knowledge does not detract from the art produced, but emphasises that the clarity of an image was a key immersion point.

This is not a complete but an open-ended process. Its ramifications feed through to other PARP’s plus other initiatives that I am now working on for future research. Though presented in a linear fashion, the research work is in fact a continuum of behavior which is intended to lead toward answering my core research question so the emerging and developing ideas for calibrating exposure of future work for higher immersion and impact were further discussed in the following Internet Publications:

'High Definition and High Resolution Motion Imaging', Blog 75,000 words,

'Understanding Digital Cinematography', Online resource around 75,000 words & I further refined my thinking and presented more emerging ideas in the following invited talks to Research Communities: 'Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age', Invited paper to research community ETH Zurich, 2010. 'High Definition Technologies and Aesthetics', Bergen Institute of Fine Art (Invited Paper to Research Community), 2009.

References to the research

1. At some of the exhibition locations mentioned there have been discussions between audience, institutional representatives and Flaxton (when in attendance) with academics from local institutions attending. In some of the locations Flaxton has given a talk to research communities (for instance of one of the two exhibitions in Milan, Flaxton gave a research talk at Milan University).

2. Research Grants: Knowledge Transfer Partnership between University of Bristol, Watershed and South West Screen (now Creative England) funded by the AHRC (AH/H038116/1). Total project cost £288.000. The project lasted for two years and finished in November 2012. Terry Flaxton (UoB) was the Lead Academic and Marc Cosgrove was the lead for the Watershed.

3. invited paper to research community to Bergen Elektronisk Kunst Senter plus Bergen Academy of Arts, Norway, 2009

4. invited paper to research community, November 2010 Die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich

5. Flaxton, TR. 'Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making', The Journal of Media Practice, 10.2 & 10.3, (pp. 123-147), 2009.

Sources to corroborate the impact:

Invited Talk to Milan University: Professor Sandra Lischi

Xi’an Exhibition and presentation, Art Clay:

Invited Research talk to Bergen Elektronisk Kunst Senter plus Bergen Academy of Arts, Norway, 2009, Trond Lossius Professor Jeremy Welsh

Invited Research talk to Die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich, Professor Juerg Gutknecht, Professor of Computer Science at ETH Zurich:
Translated title of the contributionPractice as Research Portfolio 3, Images of High Resolution Portraiture
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Medium: PARP with artefacts, exhibitions, journal articles,& Conference Papers (and additional Invited Talks to Research Communities)


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