The First Four Images

My thesis research concerns how can human-like qualities may help robots and humans relate to each other, and how machines and humans might collaborate on image-making.

A major part of my approach to these questions is Practice-Based Research. This means that I am investigating my research questions in part by making things. This differs from the approach I am more familiar with wherein we follow a process of logical inquiry that does not necessarily rely on a creative process.

My instinct is to begin this research with a rationally comprehensive approach, building a complete map of the territory. Or perhaps I would take a more pragmatic incremental approach, letting the journey unfold in real-time based on what I uncover along the way. If I were to use these more familiar approaches, I would likely have some answers in mind before beginning to make the visual pieces for the thesis exhibition.

With practice-based research, I am alternating writing with creating. With the initial writing to date, I have laid some of the ground by formulating my questions, understanding the current work being done in the area, and identifying the specific areas I want to explore further.

At this point, I am moving on to creating images. I am hoping that images like these will be the main part of the thesis exhibition. They are images that tell a distant future machine-based society’s creation myths. Humanity has vanished from their world, so the machines do not have records of how they came to be. The may have fanciful ideas, or ideas that are garbled versions of a plausible history we would recognize.

I decided to produce four “finished” images by Oct 31. This is an arbitrary deadline, and I may not have enough time to polish them to the point where they become truly finished pieces. Nevertheless, my intention is to conduct the image-making from start to finish for four images this month.

Originally I thought that I would mostly do creative writing at this stage to develop the ideas and stories I want to offer as the creation myths of a distant future machine society. I would then translate or capture these stories through an image making process using photographic compositing and gilding, along with some machine learning approaches to embellish the details of the images.

Instead, I am trying an approach that favours visual thinking. The limited amount of text I am writing at this stage serves mostly to describe images I will create.

Both Walter Isaacson’s and Martin Kemp’s biographies of Leonardo da Vinci explored his visual approach to thinking in detail. Leonardo’s famous notebooks are packed with sketches interspersed with text. Both biographers advocated Leonardo’s mixture of visual observation, image creation and text found in Leonardo’s notebooks as a way of studying the world and creating new works.

Elsewhere, while researching photo compositing for this project, I encountered a helpful approach advocated by Aaron Nace (here – 15:00min). When planning an image, he decides on some of the themes he wants to try, and then he scribbles free-form doodles on a blank page, and then speaks aloud the kinds of compositions that the scribbles seem to suggest.

I tried this approach, combining places I know, photos I’ve shot previously, scribbling/sketching, imagining imagery and gathering mood board and reference imagery. I tried to document the thought process with text as it happened. Unfortunately this means that the text below is essentially stream-of-consciousness. However, I feel that capturing it as it happens is an antidote against overly tidy explanations-after-the-fact of how the creative evolution of an idea unfolded.

I produced about ten concepts over several sessions, and selected four from these for further development. I selected the ones that seemed to have the most angles, lending them to multiple interpretations. I also selected them to encompass a range of subjects, which seems appropriate for this phase of experimentation. I’m calling for now Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Because these concepts were selected for diversity, they suggested a variety of causes for humanity’s disappearance that simultaneously caused the rise of the machine civilization

These stories (earth/air/fire/water) collectively tell a machine origin myth while describing the end of humanity:

Earth: Mining/oil/resource depletion

Air: Militarism and erosion of civil liberties

Fire: Societal collapse due to a food crisis

Water: Climate change


How it came to be:

-I knew I had this photograph of the sun rising out of Lake Ontario that looked like a primordial time.

-Thought of the Lady of the Lake from the myth of King Arthur

-The term “rock awash” that appears on charts and how such rocks appear in waves. Robot parts awash emerging from the lake.

-Is it a junk pile?

-Is it renewable electricity generation

-It represents how little we know about what happens beneath the ocean

Image: Sunrise/sunset over a relatively still lake. Ripples radiating out from a disturbance. Disturbance is a tangled structure of junk emerging from the water. Helicopter parts bulldozed over the side of ships at the end of the Vietnam war. Avro Arrow model on the lakebed. Oil rig parts.

Echoes of Lady of the Lake 

The sea is kraken that wakes, due to climate change, once we surpass a warming threshold. It stops protecting us.

Robots wonder if their life came from the ocean. In a sense it did, via whales and us.

Robots wonder if they rose because of climate change. In a sense they did, because we were unable to subsist on electricity directly and relied on a stable environment and food production. 

Could the robot arm be adorning this image while it is already hung?


The sky is empty but the ground is full.

Humanity imagines celestial beings in the sky. Would machines imagine the earth is more creative?

Thinking about Burtynski’s anthropocene images – strip mines, tailings ponds, deep excavations

Archaeological dig imagery

Tomb robbers and unsealing Pharoh’s tombs


Digger unearthing a golden tablet in a strip mine. Circuit tracings and hieroglyphs by ML.

Lights at top of pit pinpointing the finding like a late-night construction site, or archaeological dig

Circuit tracings leaking into the soil like spilled fuel


Fireball embellished by AI – fractal detail of eddies and turbulence. Colours of gold/copper/etching/mokumegame.

The fireball has an internal structure revealed by sgraffito – an intricate gold tracery of information. Heiroglyphs, circuits, patterns, codes

Below, like the images of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Dim humid landscape of 65 million years ago. Dinosaurs munching plants look up as a fireball lights up the sky.

Was bacterial life seeded by meteors in the past? Do they bring in compounds essential for life?
Could a meteor bring temperatures, materials or climate changes that are essential for the development of self replicating machine life in the future?

Meteor lighting up the sky. Dull-looking humanoids munching on plants look upward. Explanatory texts tells us that resulting electrical, volcanic and wind and tidal activity was perfect primordial eden for machine life, but caused the plant munchers to die out


How it began:

Sketch reminiscent of medieval altarpieces. A central figure or possibly a central symbol – a basic 3D shape like the design of Cray computers or other primitive solid

Imagery from space station and 2001: A Space Odyssey,

Resulting image description

Military drone crash landed, standing on end in the shape of a crucifix, with ape-like humans gathering around, smart bomb leaking luminous fluid into the soil

Lighting like Madonna of the Rocks – grotto like, with air and light silhouetting machine figures. Gold veins in the rocks.