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One of the most literary projects I’ve seen with web-API generation is this one-off Flickr mosaic, “Tyger” on Flickr. Created by software artist Jim Bumgardner (“My best work on Flickr is produced by software, rather than cameras”), the work reprints the text of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” using letters drawn from the Flickr: One Letter pool, a collection of photos whose submission rules contain a higher mission:
Shots of single letters of the alphabetical variety. No words. No “interpreted letters”. No photoshop type.
This is a companion site to One Digit and Punctuation, with a goal of making a “Flickr Font” that you can use to build sentences (manually, or through code)
“Tyger” both draws on and contributes to the One Letter pool, acting as a demonstration of the promise of the Flickr Font and accompanied by an appeal for aid: “If you like this, help us out by adding more licensed letter photos to this image pool.”
The method of generation emphasizes the diversity and the limits of that pool in several ways.
The “Tyger” mosaic is in poster format, with letters arranged radially by luminescence such that it appears to glow from the center. It was created using Perl to tie the Flickr web API into ImageMagick, an open software suite for image processing - although the final output is a static image and the generation script used is not publicly available.
Stare at the large image for a while and you will start to notice the design choices interacting in interesting ways with the poetic language. For example, the edges of the composition are uniformly dim by design, and the rhyme scheme of “The Tyger” is AABB.
... bright ... night ... eye ... symmetry ... skies ... dies ... aspire ... fire ... art ... heart ... beat ... feet ....
Much could be said about spelling out the words “bright” and “night” on the dim edge, or the rendering of a poem on “fearful symmetry” in a chaotically asymmetrical font. But I have in mind a more algorithmic analysis. In English rhyme the rhyming words commonly share several final letters - indeed, with the exception of “eye / symmetry” and “beat / feet”, couplets in the first half of the poem end in identical letter triples.
This high density of repeated letters strains the aesthetic of randomization - the “magazine ransom-letter” effect - and that randomization is doubly strained by only using photos with dim luminescences along the image edge. The result is a heavy echoing of duplicate photos along the right edge of the image, a photographic texture that mimics in color and composition the progression of the rhyme scheme.
Without access to the process, it is impossible to say how much of the end product was the result randomization and how much was hand assembled, tweaked, or re-generated. Whether designed or happenstance, there are places in “Tyger” where strong visual mirroring corresponds with Blake’s powerful repetitions, as when “their tears” repeats 8 out of 10 letters from “their spears.”
A third explanation is that the limited number and variety of letters available in the pool in January 2005 was one of the strongest constaining factors, limiting chance or design (a particularly irksome example is warning sign ‘D’ used constantly throughout the text).
As a generation from limited choices that it sought to expand, “Tyger” is both self-perpetuating and self-destroying. In helping to promote and inspire the activities of the One Letter pool, it was presumably one factor in calling attention to the project and growing the letter base substantually - lessening one constraint, and thus making it unlikely that anything generated out of that pool will ever look quite the same.