“Slitscan” is the name given to a photographic technique that uses a specific type of lens using a thin and tall rectangular aperture that is moved horizontally to create an exposure. Instead of exposing the whole film surface at once through an iris, these lenses capture the light over time and across the length of the negative, like a scanner or a rotary printing press. They have typically been used for capturing very wide horizontal perspectives in landscape photography or group photos, as well as to create optical visual effects. With the advent of digital video, this process can be expanded on to generate surprising visuals which exist somewhere between abstraction and representation in a place where they feel both familiar and strange at the same time.
Digital video can be thought of as a cube of data. Each image is a two dimensional plane of pixels with X and Y coordinates, and these image planes are stacked on top of each other like the floors of a skyscraper. In this cube, a frame in the original video is the ‘XY’ plane at height ‘t’. In our building analogy, this would be the floor plan at a specific floor. What we usually think of as a slitscan is the Yt plane for coordinate X, or to continue the skyscraper analogy, a cross sectional slice of the whole height of the building. Ultimately, this cube of data can be processed, dissected, or remixed in arbitrary ways to the point where the name “slitscan” no longer makes sense. Video datagraphy is a more appropriate description of the process: making images from video data.
When we navigate the physical world, we use a constantly changing and always singular perspective to build a mental model representing what is around us beyond what we can directly experience at that moment. Though these models persist through time in our consciousness, we can never experience them holistically. We are bound by the laws of physics and can not ACTUALLY wrap ourselves around them. As a substitute, we look for patterns that can give us some reference as to where we are on that continuum: a heart beat, light patterns, seasons, music, speech… Tracking these linear signals informs our conception of space beyond our current perspective and anchors us on the mysterious expanse of time,
Storytelling similarly spans time and space. It draws narrative arcs that connect specific events lost inside an infinity of places and moments, and provides a scaffolding on which our understanding of the world is conveyed. Even though stories conjure up a god-like perspective above the physical constraints of our human experience which we can never directly experience, they unfurl in a linear manner that gives us glimpses of that higher dimension, like shadows of a 4 dimensional hypercube projected onto the 3 dimensions we inhabit.
The physical principles of traditional photography are similar to the way vision works in that they are limited to a single momentary perspective in space and time. Video datagrams look strange because the way they expose the structures of time is not physically possible for us but they feel familiar because we have intuited from our experience of time what they end up revealing in a static coherent image.