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The compound lens project

Image: Patrick Pound with Rowan McNaught The compound lens project 2014-15 © Patrick Pound and Rowan McNaught

In his practice, artist and collector Patrick Pound explores the idea that all the images in the world, digital or physical, now make up a vast, unhinged album – a floating archive of things, spaces and experiences.

New Zealand-born and Melbourne-based, Pound makes installations and web-based displays out of his collections, which constitute a vast archive of found photographs, photographic paraphernalia and ephemera. He collects and organises these photographs and objects according to unexpected categories, including wind, air, space, round things, interruptions, photographs of people holding photographs, photographs including photographer’s shadows, and images of amateur models whose bodies bear the impression of socks and waist bands. For Pound, collecting is a mode of artistic practice and the identification and formation of categories reveals ways of understanding human behaviour and the construction of abstract concepts. His classifications are myriad and overlapping; Pound says he is ‘interested in the extremes of listing and sorting out the world in words and in pictures’ and speaks of the world as puzzle that might be solved by collecting, organising and assembling all of its pieces.

Pound has collaborated on web-based projects with artist, editor and designer Rowan McNaught, whose largely online practice explores the cultural and material qualities of the internet. The two artists worked together on The compound lens project 2014-15 for The photograph and Australia at the Art Gallery of NSW. The work is an online sorting machine that is projected onto a wall of the exhibition and can be accessed by visitors online.

McNaught’s web-based system is applied to Pound’s vast archive of found photographs, selecting and projecting images that relate to the concept of the circular lens. From planets to vignettes, and from lens flares to oval portraits, the rolling archive of images invites the viewer to look through photographs at photography.

The projections display some of the processes by which images are interpreted and related by technology. Veils of dots, lines and squiggles appear as the system searches within boundless online databases for ‘similar’ images and then tries to draw them in real time. The exact nature of the relationship is not revealed, creating a poetic form out of the analytic lens of computer vision.

Pound and McNaught’s project is, in a sense, a digitally updated form of the album traditionally used to sort, categorise and view photographs. Despite its scale and complexity, however, it confirms the impossibility of comprehensively classifying all the world’s photographs.

Go to compound-lens.com on a desktop computer to recreate the projected work anywhere, or access it on a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device to see the real-time undercurrent of poetic analysis the work is carrying out.

When the site is accessed on a mobile device, the images themselves are no longer visible. All that remains is the computer system’s responsive drawing and a piece of text that is automatically generated by the system as it ‘reads’ the photographs in its archive.

Visitors to the Gallery can also see more of Pound’s work in The readers 2011–15, on display in the research library. A collection of found photographs, this installation provides a mosaic portrait of the act of reading.

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April 13 2015, 2pm
by Georgina Cole
Assistant editor and writer, 'The photograph and Australia'