Tag Archives: glitch art

Tropical glitch

(Another day, another blog post about glitch art. I’m beginning to sense a theme here.)

Earlier tonight I was sorting through some old photos I keep in my desk and rediscovered a small stack of highly unusual images: pictures of the jungles of Madagascar, though you wouldn’t know where they were taken at a glance. They’re blurry, oddly-colored, and poorly-composed, but it’s not the fault of the photographer: these pictures were taken by a motion-activated trail camera used to document wildlife passing through the forest.

I have these photographs because I used to do undergrad research with the team of wildlife scientists who set up these camera traps. They were looking for endangered animals native to the region, and to do that they had to sort through thousands upon thousands of trail cam pictures, manually identifying any creatures they saw and collecting that information in a spreadsheet. My job was entering that data, and I’d sit for hours at a time flipping through stacks of photographs, looking for the telltale signs of glowing eyes or the tip of a tail that meant an animal had passed that way.

The problem with leaving cameras in the jungle is that the jungle really doesn’t like cameras. If you take any electronic device out in hot, wet weather and strap it to a tree and abandon it for a month, chances are some things are probably going to go wrong, as evidenced in these photos. While many pictures turned out just fine, some did not. These particular images would usually have been trashed, but they looked so unique that I decided to hang onto them instead.


Here’s a double-exposed photo. The spokes that wind the film forwards and backwards in the roll must have gotten jammed somehow, leading to two shots of the same treeline. It’s also clear that this photo itself was a mistake — found at the beginning of the roll, it was probably a misfire from when the researchers were setting the camera up and must have accidentally pressed the button while the lens pointed skyward.

The red patches you see here are from a light leak. Somehow the housing of this camera was damaged, allowing a little light to get in and burn the unexposed film. It’s possible this camera took a bad fall from a researcher’s backpack, or was hit by a falling branch, but either way the red patches made many of the details hard to resolve.

Ah, yes, and my favorite kind of error — you see those colorful patches that look like little fireworks? Do you know what that is? Mold. It’s mold, growing directly on the film inside the camera. The rainforest is not a good place for electronics to begin with, and the damp, hot climate means that mold will grow on absolutely anything — including the gelatin in a roll of film — with great enthusiasm.

I love these photos. While they’re useless from a scientific point of view, they’re eerily beautiful, and they actively demonstrate just how hostile an environment the jungles of Madagascar can be. The cameras we used became waterlogged and misfired and were overtaken by fungus, and they were state of the art research equipment. A picture’s worth a thousand words, but a damaged picture that demonstrates the hazards of the environment in which it was taken could be, I think, worth even more.

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to a photograph than the subject it depicts — there was a machine present that brought the image into being. Glitches are a reminder of the presence of the machine, and then of the humans behind it. These errors showcase the nature of the medium and environment that produced them: they are, in their own peculiar way, an exercise in mindfulness. By displaying evidence of what went wrong in their creation, these broken images call direct attention to the devices that produced them and how those devices operate, making the process of their composition inescapably visible. 

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A cozy kind of glitch

I’ve been on a bit of a glitch art bender lately — ideas for my Unit #4 assignment, maybe? — and while I was out doing a little holiday shopping this weekend I mentioned to my friend that I’d love to see glitch aesthetic incorporated into clothing somehow — the brightly-colored abstract patterns that can result from databending would look awesome printed on a scarf or a shirt.

As it turns out, someone had a similar idea. Glitch Textiles doesn’t make clothing, but they do produce stunning blankets woven to look like they were produced by broken VCRs or digital cameras. I’m not sure I’ve ever coveted a bolt of fabric more.


At $200+ apiece, these blankets are way rich for my blood, but I can admire (and obsess about a little, okay) from afar. There’s something intriguing and terribly cool about taking an unassuming digital error and converting it to something deliberate, tangible, and useful in the real world. I love it.

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The art of breaking things.

I was sorry to miss last week’s discussions on word processing programs — as an avid fan of Wordpad, I would have loved to chime in. Wordpad’s got a couple of really neat qualities that I take advantage of whenever I’m struggling to draft a piece of original writing. I often have a hard time getting started on a story, and there’s something about the bare-bones simplicity of it that takes the pressure off and lets me jot down ideas without fixating on the red and green lines of Spellcheck or a toolbar filled with clutter I don’t actually need. I’ll freewrite huge chunks of the work I need to do and then just copy it into Word for editing, but the change in scenery, if you will, does a lot to clear my head.

There’s another reason I am incredibly fond of Wordpad, though, and it has nothing to do with writing. Wordpad is my program of choice for making glitch art — deliberately corrupting the raw data in an image to get interesting visual results.

My first introduction to glitch art was through Rob Sheridan, creative director for the band Nine Inch Nails. I’ve always been interested in using tools in unexpected contexts, and when I figured out I could experiment with this myself in some simple ways, I dove right in.

By opening a bitmap image in Wordpad (something that was never intended to happen) and adding or deleting just a few symbols here and there, the information contained within the image gets scrambled and the end result is a unique jumbling of colors and lines. It’s very easy to break an image so badly it won’t even display anymore, but with some careful tinkering, it’s possible to generate some eerie and occasionally very beautiful outputs.

You can go from this:


To this:


Pretty neat, huh? And all that by simply opening an image in the “wrong” program.

For a primer on databending and simple glitch art, check out this neat article, and then try it out for yourself if you like! Be sure to save your original image somewhere else though — it’s extremely difficult to undo the intentional damage you’re about to cause.

Have fun.


(Thanks to Emily Goodrich and Ben W.R. for their contributions to the gif above — last night turned into a databending party and I went ahead and made something from our collected results.)

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