About Fragments (2018-2020)

The first iteration of this piece was created for the Spring 2019 Generative Media Authorship course taught by Bill Seaman and John Supko. Subsequently, the current iteration was intended be installed at Duke’s Rubenstein Arts Center in the Spring of 2020, before the pandemic caused the University to shut down.

The info below was the text to accompany the installation:

Photographers have a history of using the process of image making to become familiar with their subject matter. Being a new resident of Durham as of 2016, (living in the Warehouse District) I struggled to get a sense of the city because of the intense pace of change in the built environment. Recalling the idea of coming to know the city through walking, as practiced by Eugene Atget and other Parisian artists at the turn of the 20 century, I set out to do the same in Durham beginning in the fall of 2018 and continuing through today.

Using a city map that indicates the sites of active demolition and development projects near the downtown core, I periodically go on long walks from my apartment and plan to pass by one or more of these sites. I photograph intuitively along the way, not limiting myself to these active sites but rather using them as waypoints along my walking journey. I often seek out scenes that reflect the transitioning or historic nature of the built space of central Durham, often indicated by the blues, oranges and yellows associated with construction sites and equipment, and the red and brown hues of brick that form the foundation of so much of the city.

The photographs from the walks accumulate into a database where images are compiled into generative collages using a series of Photoshop processes. The pieces are then reassembled into something approaching the complete original image before being disassembled and morphing into a new aggregate scene of the city. The gridded nature of the transitions is a nod to the prototypical urban grid, but the cut-up nature of the pieces themselves is entirely dependent on the generative processes used, and changes depending on what other photographs and images are blended together with. Each image is collaged with other images that were made on the same day, before fading into a new day. In this sense, any singular moment, however abstract on the screen can be said to offer evidence of a singular day in Durham.

The specific process of the animation was arrived at after many conversations with collaborator and engineer Michael Zhang. Through trial and error, as well as many discussions about the meaning of the piece, he guided us to a formula of constructing an image database that would allow for an intended visual effect to be possible. The life of this piece relies entirely on this collaboration.

Fragments ultimately offers the viewer bits of indexical, documentary evidence of the city surface, but only in the incomplete and changing ways in which I experience the city space. It is always changing, it is ephemeral. The photographs never complete the documentary process, at best they are the visual proxy for the memory of the particular walk I took, one that can never be exactly replicated. As more photographs from more walks are entered into the database, the piece will continue to evolve over time.

Finally, it must be stated that this piece represents a very specific, and a surface representation of the idea of gentrification. As a relatively new resident to the city, and one who struggled to make sense of it because of the pace of change, I could only imagine how it must feel to be a long time resident of the city. As a photographer, my practice has always centered on attempts to evoke a sense of place through the necessarily incomplete medium of the still image. This piece is the closest I could think of in terms of representing a sense of place that was elusive to me personally.

Peter Hoffman

Peter is a Durham, NC based photographer, artist and educator. He combines his roots in documentary photography with experimental approaches in image making. He is a 2019 graduate of the MFA Studio Art program at UNC Chapel Hill (where he took advantage of the interinstitutional agreement to take Duke classes). He is currently a lecturer at the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Michael Zhang

Michael is an undergraduate senior at Duke University studying Electrical and Computer Engineering and Philosophy. He has a passion for generative artworks and strives to pursue his aesthetic goals with the aid of technology. Michael has experience with Max/MSP, Java, Javascript, Python, and C.