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Pixel Clouds

The Pixel Cloud drawings are 3 dimensional graphs of each unique pixel color in a digital photograph. Using statistical software, I export the red, green and blue values of every pixel in a photograph to a data file. This dataset is reduced to a set of unique color occurrences, and these pixels are plotted in 3D space along 256-step red, green and blue axes. Dotted gray lines define the plot boundaries. I rotate the Pixel Cloud about its three axes to find the most compelling view. The work’s title describes the content of the source photograph and the number of unique pixel colors.

The source photographs for the Pixel Clouds are images of food. The color of the food on our plates or in our glasses deeply influences our experience of flavor. The notion that we first “eat with our eyes” is a common theme in food-based experimental psychology, commonly labeled “gastrophysics.” Researchers have famously served wine tasters a white wine dyed red, and the manipulated color significantly altered the taster’s experience of flavor; a significant majority identified the dyed white wine as a red (reference). Other experiments suggest that our current foodie culture and the barrage of ‘food porn’ photography found in the media may fuel the obesity crisis (reference).

The color of food sets our expectations and drives our appetites. Humans tend to avoid blue foods due to the color’s association with spoiled and/or poisonous sources. We typically perceive green foods as healthy. The color red is often cited as an appetite stimulant, thus the preponderance of red restaurant logos (reference).

The relationship between color and flavor is complex and nuanced. Beet red sets our expectations for deep, earthy flavor, while strawberry red signals sweetness. When the pictorial information has been removed, only the color signal remains. The Pixel Clouds reside in this nuanced space.

Stuart Allen, 2021
Data science by Dr. Jennifer Rudgers