computer graphics: a semi-technical introduction – kittler (2001)

Kittler Computer Graphics: A Semi Technical Introduction


  • “The generation of 2000 likely subscribes to the fallacy – backed by billions of dollars – that computer ad computer graphics are one and the same.”
  • “The technolohistorical roots of computer [graphics?] lie not in television, but in radar, a medium of war”
  • Random Access: “Now for the first time in the history of optical media, it is possible to address a single pixel in th 849th row and 720th column directly without having to run through everything before and after it.”
  • The essay will concern itself with synthesis of imagery, not analysis of the visual scenes in photographs — it ‘postpones’ the question of automatic image analysis for symposia on perception to take place not sooner than a decade from now.” Automatic image synthesis is the concern – as in how computers undertake “optical deception” (not optical perception).
  • Kittler locates in this capacity for deception that which “elevates the medium of the commuter above all optical media in Western history.”

  • “two-fold digitality” – spatial resolution and colour resolution, creates problems:

  1. Three colours are not enough – “it would require non colour canons to even begin to approach the visible spectrum” (nice use of military ‘canons’ to describe, presumably the many ways that colours are produced on CRTs, LCDs…)
  2. Description of spatial coordinates are subject to sample-rate limitations. A hint here of creative possibilities of same, “The sampling effect of Nyquist and Shannon does not just chop flowing curves or forms into building blocks, known among computer graphics specialists as Manhattan-block geometry since American city planners love right angles above all else. Sampling also produces continuous and thus striking forms where the program code never intended any at all.”
  3. Problem of processing complexity (?) as every pixel has an infinite number of possible neighbours … attempts at synthesis and analysis of images based on linear neighbours “tends to be so chaotic, that it is as if perception were regressing to pure sensation a la David Hume or Kaspar Hauser.”

Peano’s Theory of Natural numbers

Ross Ashby

John von Neumann

Heidegger: “in the appearing of things, never do we, either preliminarily or essentially, perceive an onrush of sensations.” (vis Chapels of Extreme Experience…)


Computer graphics –> optical physical media –> the eye

The complete virtualisation of optics, provides optical optic modes limited only in number and complexity by the amount of available RAM.

This brings up the idea and obsession of the ‘optimal’ algorithm for the image. This is not present in photography and film (?) as these “simply did what [they] had to do under the given physical conditions.”

“It is only in the name of impatience that all existing computer graphics are based on ‘idealisations’ — a term that functions here, unlike in philosophy, as a pejorative.” (i.e.: ‘idealisation’ not as an ‘ideal’ to strive for in philosophy but a ‘reduction of reality’ in engineering)

Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge

Bodies reduced to surfaces — Hausdorff dimension of 2.37 (neither 2 nor 3 dimensional)

Jurassic Park vs. Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors

  • Raytracing
    • Axel Roch – military predecession – tracking of enemy planes with radar
    • Alan Watt computer graphics expert
    • 1637 Descartes – light rays that trace refraction and reflections
      • Res cogitans
      • Res extensa
      • Decartes imagined the pathway of a single ray of light ‘as subject’ through a glass blown globe
      • Only possible to implement this kind of recursive, infinite regression of possible paths with the computer
      • “Whenever you encounter a computer image whose shining highlights are a close send to heavenly Jerusalem’ and whose start shadows are a close second to Hell’s, you are dealing with elementary ray tracing.”

  • Radiosity
    • “light energy calculation”
    • Dutch Interior after Vermeer
    • Based on rocket-reentry derived heat diffusion models (Fourier)
    • An algorithm born of necessity, not of “nature” of computer graphics or light
    • “What so called nature can accomplish in nanoseconds with its parallel calculation derives its alleged digital equivalent to overload” (ref programmability of matter)
    • “What you get is what you see. And what you’ve got is a computer chip”

“Locality or specularity is and will always be thhe opposite of globally or diffusion.”


Verterbrate eyes are cones and rods – “what-ness” and “that-ness”

Dennis Gabor – Heisenberg – raytracing and radiosity in Kajiya’s equation as in the spirit of modern physics

Phenomenology – “legein to phainomena,” – “to gather that which appears”

“Projectiles have relegated subject vs object, this simplest of all oppositions, to the grave.”

Dutch Interior after Vermeer 1987 ComputerGraphics

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