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Artificial life, André Bazin and Disney nature

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This article investigates artificial life image-making in relation to and as constituent of the moving image, specifically artificial life visualized in three-dimensional computer-generated space (3D space). Of particular interest in this examination is the view or ‘window’, from the virtual camera, into the artificial life computational model or ‘world’ (which is better described by Flusser’s expression technical image), and how it organizes a dense field of expectations. Analogous to looking through a telescope or microscope, the view into the artificial life world is monocular and often fixed in the world; in this regime we look ‘at’ computer models, which are often referred to as agents, ‘creatures’, ‘organisms’ or ‘cyberbeasts’. This tactic of looking through the instrumentality of science, the arts of reality, is parallel to looking through André Bazin’s ‘long take’ in cinema and documentary film-making in which we look ‘at’ an unmediated view of reality; in other words, in looking ‘at’ an image of artificial life we look ‘through’ a non-intrinsic regime of seeing. This investigation into the interpretative regime provides only a partial account of the intercultural traffic between artificial life and the moving image. I further this discussion by arguing that artificial life screen-based works are a contemporary extension and reworking of the nature film in that they provide accounts of the ‘natural’ world that are familiar and similar to those of their filmic and cinematic predecessors. I contend that artificial life visualizations and the stories that often accompany the images are the latest manifestation of this photographic and filmic tradition. To illustrate my point I discuss the scientific project Daisyworld, the associated narrative that frames the research, and the researchers’ attempt to mathematically model an ‘imaginary planet [with] a very simple biosphere’. This sets the scene to explore artificial life in relation to Disney wilderness and nature films.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 08 December 2012

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  • Philosophy of Photography is a new peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of photography. It is not committed to any one notion of photography nor, indeed, to any particular philosophical approach. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for debate on theoretical issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that may be said to constitute photography as a multifaceted form. In a contemporary context remarkable for its diversity and rate of change, the conjunction of the terms 'philosophy' and 'photography' in the journal's title is intended to act as a provocation to serious reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent photographic discourses might engage with and inform each other.
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