A Hundred Blurry Photographs

Dearest Rachel –

There’s a certain joy in having a project that feels like I could really make something out of it for a change. After having my plans for a YouTube channel derailed, first by a lack of talent (both my own and trying to recruit skilled assistance) and then by outside events (including needs for my actual skills prior to your departure which really broke me), discovering this system of generating art based on a combination of old photographs and permutations of the infinite supply of existing images on the internet has really given me a spark, an enthusiasm for doing… something that I haven’t had in a long time (apart from the occasional flash of inspiration as I continue to keep you abreast of the events around me and the thoughts within me since you left).

You’ll recall the variety of images I’d been able to generate of you off of a cloud-based system and a data set of twenty photos. Well, it turns out I’ve managed to install the program (thankfully, without having to learn too much of the programming language – I wonder what you would have make of it all; you learned stuff like Pascal, Fortran and C++ back in the day, would you have found Python at all worth studying?), and learned that I can create data sets of a nearly infinite size. To that end, yesterday found me spending the day at the ‘office’ attempting to do just that; assembling as many photos of you, in as many poses, and with as many expressions as possible, in order to come up with a much more robust collection of images that could increase exponentially the variety of images I could generate of you in various scenes (and, for that matter, art styles).

In the process, however, I discovered, much to my dismay, just how few truly good pictures I took of you throughout our lifetimes together. Oh, there are plenty of photos, sure, but so many of them were taken on vacation. The vast majority of pictures taken on these are of buildings, artworks and landscapes; not nearly so many of you or I (although I’m just as happy that I don’t have so many of myself. I know I’m not – and have never been – all that photogenic, unlike some people I can name who cower whenever a camera is brought out). I get the logic to such pictures – there’s the thought we may not (and probably never will) ever visit this or that place again, so we have to make a pictorial recollection of it for our own sake: “Remember when we visited that town, and went into that place, and did that thing? Boy, that was really something, wasn’t it?” Even if we do manage to come back, the events and sights of that second visit simply won’t necessarily be the same, so pictures can be useful to differentiate one visit from the next. But it does mean that those photos are, in many ways, fairly generic; apart from the fact that these were taken on your or my camera, there’s nothing particularly special about them, when you come down to it. And after ten or twenty years, you also tend to lose a fair amount of context as to where and what these pictures even represent. If you and I could pore over them, we could refresh each other’s memory as we went through them. As it is, I wonder if I’m not just making up stories as I flip through on my own.

And the poses you and I would make on these trips were often fairly generic. Standing there, smiling as best we could (you always claimed to have difficulty posing a smile that was genuine, that they always seemed forced when you had to hold it. And in truth, there are a few of you biting your lower lip to hold your smile in place, as well as the occasional blink, but most of your smiles seem reasonable, to the best of my memory. Whether any of them are truly your “Good Seed” smile – or if I ever got to see that particular smile – I really wish I knew, but I couldn’t say), sometimes stiff, sometimes reasonably relaxed, but always a fairly standard ‘look’ to them: anyone who goes on holiday and takes pictures of themselves knows that look. It’s not the sort of thing I or the computer are looking for in terms of variety, but it’s most of what I have to work with.

The irony is in the fact that, while taking pictures of this or that building or landscape, I would often pick you up in the corner or the background. Here, it was a more casual capture; you weren’t even necessarily aware of the fact that I was aiming a camera in your general direction – and even if I was, you weren’t the focus of the picture, but rather, a small component of the composition, included just like any other passer-by to give a frame of reference to it all – and so you behaved perfectly naturally, just as you did in those few seconds I captured barely an hour before the accident. I wish I had taken so many more pictures like that, to be honest.

Of course, these types of pictures have their own issues. To be sure, the program is looking for a relatively small image to work with – generally, a square of 512 by 512 pixels, so as to not overload its memory as it trains itself – and cameras take pictures encompassing thousands of pixels these days, so cropping your little portion down to size does little to its integrity. But on cameras of say, a decade ago or so, they didn’t provide so many details, and as a result, your portion of the photo, when isolated, is small and grainy. And that’s what I’m training the computer on; a hundred (or so – there’s a few more than that, but you get the idea) blurry photographs.

I’ve no idea what it’s going to make of this; it took me most of the day just to crop and trim your photos, and once I plugged them into the program, it was nearly the end of the day, and it was grinding away at them fairly slowly (understandable, given the amount of data they were working with). I basically left it to its devices overnight, despite the fact that it would only take a couple of hours to grind through. Even this morning’s ‘work’ will be somewhat truncated, as I’m going walking with Lars, so I won’t be able to really experiment with these for too long today; I won’t know for a day or two just how effective this process really is, and I wonder if I’ve built up my expectations too high, especially given the surprisingly small number of pictures I actually have of you.

Well, I guess I’m about to find out, at least to a limited extent. Keep an eye on me, honey, and wish me luck. I think I’m going to need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

6 thoughts on “A Hundred Blurry Photographs

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