Sebastian Schmieg

The Photographers’ Gallery presents two new commissions by Berlin-based artist Sebastian Schmieg. Search by Image, Live (Lena/Fabio) is exhibited on the Media Wall while Decision Space is featured on the Gallery website. Both projects continue Schmieg’s interest in exploring the networked systems that process our images today.

Art Exhibition previously on at The Photographers' Gallery in Greater London, United Kingdom.
From Friday 07 October 2016 to Sunday 15 January 2017

Sebastian Schmieg image

Published by anonymous on Thursday 29 September 2016.
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Machine learning and machine vision are two highly complex areas within computational culture that are driving changes in all aspects of society and industry, from medical science and the military to prosthetics and academia. The subjectivities, structural biases, political views, nationality, gender and race of the people who create, participate and contribute to this system inevitably affect the reading of the information we receive.

In Search by Image, Live (Lena/Fabio) Schmieg examines evolving visual narratives which originated from photographs of the Internet’s most common female and male archetypes – playmate Lena Söderberg and male model Fabio Lanzoni. Söderberg and Lanzoni reached internet fame when their pictures were adopted as key reference images to test compression algorithms in digital image processing and transmission. Lena first began to circulate in networked environments in 1973 when a lab manager at the University of Southern California was searching for a high quality image to scan for a conference paper and came across a colleague’s recent issue of Playboy. In 2012 scientists Deanne Needell and Rachel Ward decided to use Fabio as a feminist counterpoint to Lena.

Schmieg has created an application that recursively downloads from Google’s reverse image search pictures similar to Lena and Fabio. As the chain of images continues to build-up an intangible montage is formed which, like chinese whispers, becomes more and more detached from the original.

While Search by Image, Live (Lena/Fabio) examines an existing dataset for its narrative qualities, Decision Space ( takes a closer look at how such datasets are created: developed on the TPG website, the project invites visitors to assign all the images available on the website to one of four categories defined by Schmieg: Future, Past, Problem and Solution. Through the assignment process visitors are teaching the system how to read and understand images within this existing set of parameters.

In a second step, after feeding all images and classifications into a machine learning system, Schmieg will synthesise a series of new visuals that is based on the accumulated labour of all visitors and photographers involved. Each new image will represent abstract visions of Future, Past, Problem and Solution to varying degrees, drawing on the colours, shapes and concepts of the original pictures found on the website. Through this work Schmieg raises questions around current discussions concerning photography, big-data, tracking, and the hidden manual labour behind algorithmic systems.