The panoptic view on moving images
ESA Control Rooms
At least since the blueprints of Jeremy Bentham it is known that the view (and it’s direction) is a representation of hierarchies as well. One who sees much rules much. In sociology this coherence had been widely explored, e.g., by Michel Foucault, yet the panoptic representation of moving images as an progressing process has far reaching and less investigated media-related effects.

The difference between the Screen Realities and other more comprehensive reality models such as the conceptions of realities by system theorist Niklas Luhmann is that Screen Realities are limited through technical restrictions. Lenses, image sensors, bandwith, screen resolutions – Screen Realities are a priori a restricted and limited reality. On top of these technical limitations there is the selectivity and contingency of the human operator. He‘s choosing the perspective, white balance, colour mode, depth of field, focus and in the end the edit and or the cut. (Some might call managing these settings art already.)

With the increasing amount of moving image data in these modern days, with CCTV cameras (a perverted variation of Operational Images) all over the cities e.g., the human influence on the moving image decreases. Into the shoes of the human operator steps a modern technical facility. Not only a device, but an arrangement, an architecture of devices: The control room. It‘s a necessity to manage the flood of moving images that‘s growing proportionally. 24/7 streaming replaces tapes and harddrives. And the control room replaces the editing room. Control rooms are being erected almost everywhere. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for example is nothing else than a vast control room. The only purpose of the control room is the impossible: The control of reality. A wish that comes from the fear of losing public order and power at last.

In order to research modern digital control rooms I went on a field trip to the European Space Agency (ESA) in Darmstadt, Germany. Their European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) has one of the largest control rooms of Europe if not the world. My interest was not only in the process of controlling but also in the screens and the related technologies. The key questions involved the several ways users are interacting with multiple screens and what architectural and design concepts are appropriate to visualize vast amounts of abstract data.[1]

The trip to the European Space Agency was somewhat disenchanting. I learned that they hardly ever work with moving images, but with software generated representations of reality only. The enormous ammount of columns of figures and numbers representiong positions and speed was impressing but disappointing for my research. (Consequently you could think about extending the Screen Realities with another reality: The Software Reality, which would be close to the Operational Images and simulation.) On my desperate quest for moving images one of the technicians told me the story of the new docking system on board of the new ATV module, a space transport vehicle. It docks completely automatically with laser technology. No video technology was meant to be used until the Russians intervened and insisted on an extra camera plus crosslines on the ISS. They simply wanted to see the whole docking process. Nobody at ESA had thought of that before.

Also my timing was rather bad. The day before I arrived in Darmstadt they had an unscheduled start mission control test. The day after I left two space vehicles, an Iridium-US-satellite and an abandoned russian vessel crashed some thousand miles above the Pacific – teaching me quite tangibly the contingency and incalculability of crashes.

More pictures on Flickr. The entire research on a separate page.

This is the online portfolio for motion and design projects and related research of Nico Roicke. I'm a graduate of MA Communication Design, pathway Digital Media, at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Also I'm part of the motion design studios Sir ja sir and Buchstabenschubser.

Beside motion graphics (or motion design, if you prefer) I'm the co-founder of the fanzine and weblog Jackpot Baby! - New digital pop culture (all texts unfortunately in German language) and I write for Berlin's finest Webblog Spreeblick - Pop, Politics, Products & Positions (German again). Go and catch up some of my latest tweets on Twitter (English and German, it's really hard to tell) or take a glance at some of my Flickr pics and Vimeo vids.