Glitching – Images!!

Greetings fellow self-quarantiners! (If that’s a word….)

If I’ve learned anything from this practicum, it’s that I know less than I thought I did about how computers work, which was very little to begin with.

My task for this practicum was to glitch some image files. After reading Trevor’s blog post: https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2012/11/glitching-files-for-understanding-avoiding-screen-essentialism-in-three-easy-steps/, I thought this would be a really simple process. The linked articles and video in the blog got me really excited to create some Glitch Art and see what messing with the code of an image can do.

I’d like to discuss the blog post and linked articles before going into my adventure of glitching.

An overarching theme across the articles is that understanding the tools and underlaying structures of function within your computer’s operating system enables you to know what is going on inside of the computer. What does the program do and intentionally not do? On a basic level, how you save a file – the format – controls how you view and interact with the data in the file. The structure of the file controls these interactions and the presentation of information.

Certain kinds of data are meant to be viewed in certain ways. For example, an image is meant to be view in .jpg format. That’s what lets people see an image in it’s truest and most interpretable form. Take, for example, this image of a cute house I found on Google.

When this jpg is opened with notepad, the data (or code) is turned into a bunch of letters and symbols that make up what in .jpg format translates into an image. Unlike audio files and programs, the coding is essentially gibberish and means virtually nothing to the naked eye. The idea behind glitching the file in .txt form is that by modifying the data you get a different result!

Andrew Amato has a more thorough discussion of how programs can help repair broken or unusable files in their post found here: http://wiki.opf-labs.org/display/SPR/Solving+TIFF+malformation+using+exiftool

This conversation is certainly relevant when it comes to working with already corrupt files, but is more applicable to someone with a greater understanding of how to read coding than I.

This brings in @samplereality’s article, Criminal Code: The Procedural Logic of Crime in Videogames.

This article goes more in depth on what code is and how we can use it to interact with data and files. Essentially, code is the language that operates on a literal plane – it operates in the machine, but is prone to human ‘interaction’, if you will. @samplereality goes into the realm of videogames and how the player’s perceived success in the game relies on their discovery of the underlaying algorithm.

Players, or people in general, have the option to 1- surrender to the simulation 2- reject the simulation 3- understand and explore 4- deconstruct the simulation where the user sees the pieces and how they fit together. This brings us back to the beginning of this post and the notion of understanding what a program does and does NOT do. @samplereality brings up the excellent point of the history and erasure that may lie within the code of a program or data, which only exemplifies why it is important as historians (and users of 21st century technology) to understand how our data works!

Going back into the Glitching assignment… I’ve shown you steps one and two above.

Step One – Start with a .jpg, basically an image saved in this format

Step Two – Convert that .jpg to .txt. This was a little tricky for me! Thanks, Google, for showing me how to view file name extensions!

Step Three – Delete some gibberish. This step is simple! I tried deleting just a line or two, and then more to see if there was a noticeable difference.

Step Four – Convert the file back to .jpg. This step was simple once I knew how to correctly convert the files. Ideally, your file would be modified and produce a result like this one on Trevor’s original post.

My computer, however, simply tells me that the file is corrupt and cannot be opened.

Does anyone have advice on how to get around this? I’d really like to see the magic of “The Art of Glitch” for myself! The video inspired me to create a glitch piece with an image of the Supreme Court that made some sort of statement, but alas the file won’t open…

3 Replies to “Glitching – Images!!”

  1. Ani,

    Thank you for the great tutorial!! It’s honestly kind of crazy how easy it is to completely mess up an image, I can definitely see how you could accidentally do something like this.

    I followed your tutorial and luckily my glitched image didn’t say it was corrupt and it was able to open! I saved the image as a .txt file like you did and went in and I deleted a bunch from the document, I scrolled down a little and would delete a chunk of the text, and scroll down some more and repeat. Then I did what you did, I forced Windows to show me the file extensions and I changed the .txt file that I edited to a .jpg and it opened automatically with the Photos app that comes with Windows (not sure how it would open with a Mac for those of you that have Apple computers, but I know Ani and I have Windows).

    Unfortunately WordPress won’t let me post photos otherwise I would show everyone my glitched image.

    Also, for everyone else reading this, Ani and I have been discussing the images while I’ve been typing this comment and we think that maybe her image won’t open because she deleted a crucial part of the text when it was in .txt format that caused it not to open? Is that possible? We’re confused and need answers!!!

  2. Thanks for rolling with this challenging assignment. It’s always interesting for me to see how different systems do and don’t let you do these kinds of things.

    Significantly, you’ve demonstrated the core objective of this. You can mess with how files render by changing their extension and breaking them.

    That noted, the problems you ran into also illustrate one of the challenges with all aspects of computing. Operating systems allow and disallow various actions and things work differently in different systems.

    1. Operating systems are WILD! I even tried opening the altered .jpg in photos and adobe, but didn’t have success in either of them. I’m sure Kirshenbaum would have something to say about it. I feel like this has something to do with formal materiality, but certainly struggle to articulate it. Sarah S certainly did a great breakdown of the game and demonstrating how to make sense of a forensic walk through. These two practicums combined with your blog post and Mechanisms makes me interested in the effects of coding, but I don’t think it has convinced me to learn how to code. 😉 I think I’m just really interested in language and the perception of meaning and the effect that has on the world around us!

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