Visual Science of Art Conference 2019

Written by Jacob Cheeseman

As someone who considers himself a scientist first, and an artist second, I came to the Visual Science of Art Conference (VSAC) 2019 with keen interest. The meeting aims to enhance our scientific understanding of how visual artists depict the world, and to further communication between fields that, while traditionally divided within academia, share a passion for seeing.
This year we were gathered in Leuven, Belgium, a city that could well have the perfect balance of culture and functionality. And the opening reception was held at the Stadhuis, an absolutely gorgeous example of 15th-century gothic architecture. Our group was welcomed in this grand hall by no less than the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, whose presence signified how this alliance of art and science has strengthened both communities.

Stadhuis van Leuven

The content of the meeting spanned a range of diverse topics, including the visual perception of material properties, empirical aesthetics, and historical studies of rendering techniques. There was also no shortage of visual art—the work of Maaike Schoorel being a notable example. Working from reference photographs of real scenes, she paints a kind of phantasmic representation of the original image, accentuating only the critical lines and shading that suggest the underlying forms. The effect is to break any photographic constraints on interpretation, and to allow each viewer to project their own imagery onto the canvas.

Maaike Schoorel, Oranje Boterbloemen (Orange Buttercups), oil on canvas, 2011

The work I presented at the conference also deals with visual ambiguity, specifically the kind that depends on how we estimate distances in photographs. In everyday circumstances, our ability to identify surface material properties is effortless and automatic, but occasionally this ability can be challenged, especially when the visual pattern impedes a reliable estimation of distance. This can be seen in aerial photographs of planted fields, which can appear strikingly similar to woven fabric or textile. The pattern of light does not specify which interpretation is correct, and so our interpretations reveal what distances we have learned to associate with such images.

Jacob R. Cheeseman, Hunting for Ambiguity, photograph, 2018

In Jan Koenderink’s latest book, The Way of The Eye, he frames visual perception as a process of continually questioning our interpretations of images. Our first impression of what we are looking at is usually quite convincing, but if we relax our focus, other impressions enter into view. Surrealist painters like Dali seem to possess a supernatural talent for imagining multiple interpretations simultaneously, but how to compose photographs with this property strikes me as a slightly different, and perhaps more difficult task. When I asked Dr. Koenderink how one could compose such images, he suggested that it was a matter of attentional training.

To this end, I once spent a sunny afternoon in Giessen wandering around with my camera, hunting for ambiguous scenes. Although my perception of each scene was stable, by meditating on the question, “What else could this be?”, I began to see hints of possibility. By the end of that day I had hundreds of images, but not a clue whether any of them had captured what I had seen, or whether others would agree with my interpretations. One of my basic goals at VSAC was therefore to discuss this way of seeing with visual artists who play with ambiguity.

My line of questioning went something like this: “How does one compose images with multiple interpretations? While creating visual art, are you trying to reduce disparity between a mental image and a perceived image? Does one interpretation serve as the foundation for subsequent layers?” The answers I received to these questions were also rather ambiguous, which could mean that these are not the right questions, or that I am not ready for the answers. Maybe by the time this discussion resumes at next year’s meeting, I will be.

International Colour Vision Society Meeting 2019

Written by Ruben Pastilha

The International Colour Vision Society (ICVS) is an international group of physiologists, psychologists, physicists, geneticists, optometrists, ophthalmologists and visual scientists who have a research interest in the many aspects of colour vision and colour vision deficiencies.

Ruben Pastilha presenting his paper at the ICVS 2019

This years meeting was held in Riga, Latvia and I have been fortunate enough to win the runner-up Talk Prize.

I presented my paper on The Temporal Dynamics of Daylight: Speed Limits on Perception. Relatively little is known about human sensitivity to changes in illumination spectra over time. We have been interested in the temporal dynamics and speed limits of illumination change perception, in particular, for daylight changes. People are aware that outdoor illumination varies in chromaticity throughout the day, yet we don’t seem to directly perceive these changes while they occur. Using psychophysical testing with daylight metamers in an immersive illumination setting we found that, for 21 participants, the minimum detectable speed of chromaticity change is on average about 20 times larger than the fastest changes usually occurring in natural daylight. In addition, we found that changes in illumination chromaticity towards a neutral reference are hardest to detect, for non-neutral adaptation lights. This supports the notion that the brain encodes a neutral-daylight illumination prior.

Ruben presenting at ICVS 2019

World Haptics Conference 2019

Written by Muge Cavdan

World Haptics Conference 2019 (WHC) was the first major conference that I attend to in haptics. I was super excited to see all other works in my field. Since it is not only research but also applied field-oriented conference, I saw a lot of applications of the pure research.

First day of WHC 2019’s schedule is only included workshops. A total of 5 workshops held on current topics in haptics. I had a chance to attend “Softness Perception” which is directly related to my work. My supervisor Prof. Dr. Knut Drewing also had a talk entitled “Different Dimensions of Softness and Their Associated Exploratory Procedures” in this session.

Prof. Knut Drewing giving his talk about Different Dimensions of Softness and Their Associated Exploratory Procedures.

On the other days, talks, demonstrations, posters, & discussion sessions took place. There was a great environment in which you could have the opportunity to get involve in demonstrations and talk to people from different companies and universities during breaks or discussion sessions.

Demonstration session from 3rd day

All in all, throughout my Tokyo visit I got involved in a very different culture, met a lot of people from both industry and research, and most importantly learned how limitless what I can do in research. I would like to thank my supervisors Prof. Dr. Knut Drewing & Dr. Katja Doerschner for their support during my WHC 2019 paper submission and talk preparation.

The daily life of museum secondment – part 2

Written by Ellen De Korte

It is roughly one week until the Lates and the Bradford Science Festival. I am collecting final bits for my stall and testing things out. The big challenge of it all is finding ways to draw people in and keep them long enough in order to get them interested in my research. This is not only about designing my stall, but also how I will take visitors through my objects.

Cameras from the National Science and Media Museum’s handling collection were a major challenge, because they appeared to be more attractive to visitors than the other ordinary objects on my table. It is interesting to see people’s responses to the cameras. Visitors seemed to find cameras from around 1900 strange (and they are), because taking a picture with it is very different from how we take pictures nowadays. On the other hand, the more recent ones (1980’s) were more familiar to older visitors, so the cameras draw people in for two entirely opposing reasons.

Either way, this meant that I had to find a way to get the handling collections objects in, without entirely losing the visitors to them. As soon as visitors were allowed to handle the old cameras, it was hard to get them back on track. Therefore, I tried introducing the cameras later on as a surprise for visitors who lingered a bit longer, which seemed to work much better.

This is one of the many things I am learning on my way to the Lates and the Bradford Science Festival. I think I will learn a lot during the events themselves as well. For now, I will get ready for the big days and enjoy a visit to the museum’s partner in Manchester: the National Science and Industry Museum.

The daily life of museum secondment – part 1

Written by Ellen De Korte

It is two more weeks until the Bradford Science Festival. My collection of objects is now complete and the preparation of my text and study material is almost done. In the meantime, I have also become a STEM-ambassador. STEM is an acronym for the combined subjects of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. A STEM-ambassador is a volunteer who promotes those subjects in various ways. This can include demonstrations at schools, but it means you can also work with teachers in promoting STEM in schools.

As my research topic is part of psychology, it may seem a bit odd that I have become a STEM-ambassador. Yet, there is quite a bit of STEM involved in my job. For example, if I set up a typical experiment, I have to display the materials I want to show on a computer. Not only is the computer itself an obvious piece of STEM, but the images of materials involve quite a bit of mathematics. For a computer an image is a big table of numbers that represent image colours. Unfortunately, computer monitors do not always display the right colour if you give them a specific number. This means that I have to check the colours that my monitor displays with a special device. On top of that, I have to pay attention to the lighting of the materials I use, because this influences the look of materials as well. These little things involve physics and mathematics (light and the transformation of numbers in light to get colours) and this is not even the data collection and analysis yet (there is a lot of mathematics involved in the latter).

I will not bother you any further with the biology that is involved in my subject, because I have to understand the workings of the eye and the brain as well. Or how our research findings might be used for design of materials (engineering). All I hope, is that it has become clear that STEM is a big part of my job and our daily lives.