Photos of tube TVs being shut off

 Files Gimgs 19 2010632A1
Berlin-based photographer Stephan Tillmans photographed a number of CRT televisions right as they are switched off. I remember the faux wood-paneled console TV in our living room growing up that I used to turn on and off repeatedly to see the groovy patterns before the image became a tiny dot that felt like it too ages to vanish completely. These lovely photographs, titled "Luminant Point Arrays," give me that same strange, anticipation-fueled feeling of being caught in an oddly-extended interstitial moment of media immersion. Although I wouldn't have put it quite that way when I was 7. From the artist statement:
 Files Gimgs 19 2010661E1 The television picture breaks down and creates a structure of light. The pictures refuse external reference and broach the issue of the difference between abstraction and concretion in photography. The breakdown of the television picture discribes the breakdown of the reference. The product is self-referential photography.
"Luminant Point Arrays" (Thanks, Mathias Crawford!)


  1. I recently worked on an LCD display, and considered
    having it shrink to a line then a point when powered off.

    The older guys at work got it, the younger ones not so much.

    I still have a CRT at home for vid,
    recently worked on surgical HD 1080p video (got YCbCr?
    Got 4:2:0 suckass chroma?),
    and am looking at a job where 4Kx3K x 12bit per channel
    vid is used. Hilarious.

    Curse of the cheapass engineer.

  2. I waited for the dot to disappear as well. I was more enthralled with the obnoxiously loud, and tactically positive, “click” of the knob as I tore through the channels.

    1. Because “Here, I made this” isn’t typically accepted as well by curators who need to show thick reams of paper to the board to prove that they’ve been doing more than just visiting various smaller galleries with their budget.

  3. Y’all realize that with a real electron beam you can
    demonstrate the Laws of Nature, ie Lorentz?

    With a flat screen all you can do is change colors if you
    press your finger against it.


    Trinitron to you.

  4. >>The pictures refuse external reference and broach the issue of the difference between abstraction and concretion in photography. The breakdown of the television picture discribes the breakdown of the reference. The product is self-referential photography.<< Oh crap I just read the rest of the text. What an airhead arteest. (Unless this is in fact a physicist making fun of certain contentless critical social disciplines :-) Is refusing external reference like an opaque pointer?

  5. The ‘artist’ should have hired a retired video engineer to provide a couple paragraphs of description of what’s really going on in there.

    You know, something about how the deflection circuits lose their B+ more quickly than the HV circuits, causing the deflection angle to diminish before the electron beam loses all its brightness. There’s some exponential decay data in there too, if you look hard enough.

  6. (Was referring to the artist’s comment, not the art. I too enjoyed the delights of downpowering self-hypnosis at an early age, and am grateful to have these suggestive visionaria captured in mid-shift by someone who obviously knows what he’s doing.)

    1. Man, I liked the deflection circuits losing their B+ more quickly than the HV circuits BEFORE they were cool.

  7. When I was a kid, I would obsessively turn my dad’s old “dumb” CRT terminal (for the Heathkit H8 computer) on and off. This was mostly because the patterns on the CRT screen resembled the receding outline of a spaceship flying away (imagine a bright horizontal lozenge of white light, tapering at each end, and with three equidistant bright dots that looked like lens-flared images of fusion torch engine exhausts. As the image shrinks, it fades, until only a faint afterglow is visible.)

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t until many years later that I realized my habit of flipping the switch on and off was the reason why the fuses kept blowing on the CRT. Oops.

    On an unrelated note, and in response to futnuh, I believe the reason why artist statements are so awful is that as a group, people who are devoted to the visual arts are unable to set aside much time or energy for development of their verbal communication skills.

    Other professions are similarly stereotyped as inarticulate, and I think it’s often for the same reason. Thoracic surgeons, combat fighter pilots, musicians, superstar athletes, and architects could be lumped together as people who have been compelled by talent or circumstance to focus all their concentration and effort on gaining proficiency in a non-verbal avocation.

    On the one hand, the stereotype is unfair and based on a gross generalization. On the other hand, stereotypes reflect cultural biases that keep getting reinforced by our selective memories. We will remember that this artist couldn’t put a sentence together, even if we had just read ten other artist statements that were perfectly lucid in comparison.

    Also, its fun to make fun of artists.

    1. combat fighter pilots

      Reminds me of the old joke: How do you keep a fighter pilot from talking? Tie his hands behind his back.

  8. I’ve always loved this sort of stuff ever since I read “The Responsive Chord” by Tony Schwartz where he describes how a TV image is like sound for our eyes because the scanning process builds each field pixel by pixel, line by line, from top to bottom of the screen and then repeats the process all the way back up to make the second field and those two fields make a single frame out of thirty frames per second from which the persistence of vision (which we know so well in the twenty four frames per second world of film creates) from frame to frame, the illusion of movement.

    But when you take a photograph of a cathode ray screen with a fast enough shutter speed you can catch this process in action, showing only a portion of an image. The faster the shutter speed the less finished image is available to be seen – until all you capture is one single pixel – and that’s all you are ever really seeing when you stare at a TV screen.

    That rapid visual dance of scanned pixels is why a TV is so mesmerizing, even when it’s just a still image or a blank screen – it’s moving light. And our brains are heavily involved in not just creating the illusion of movement but also the illusion of image.

    McLuhan referenced this too but it was Schwartz who really broke it all down and made the firm comparisons between how our brains process a TV image compared to how we process sounds to understand language.


  9. I used to like putting a mylar balloon on the screen as I turned it off to “focus” all the static to one “BZAP” shock. Great fun to leave booby-trapped. “hey why’s that balloon stuck to the TV?”

  10. As a designer, I find that 10% of my work is the actual design and the rest is coming up with plausible explanations for the design. It’s probably the same with fine artists.

    1. Absolutely. Probably more so. I hung out with a bunch of artists completing Fine Arts courses back in the day, and given the incredible scope of contemporary art it is hardly surprising that being able to defend the work and articulate its meaning is one of the most important skills demanded by the course.

      Notwhithstanding the fact that such explanations are almost uniformly a load of bullshit.

  11. If you had a Commodore PET, you could use the Killer poke to cause such images to roll along the screen continuously. You could then take your time photographing them.

  12. Further proof of the superiority of all things analog.

    When I was studying photography, we used to parody so-called “artist statements”. I’ve always found then frighteningly similar to mission statements in the business world.

    And before I get publicly stoned at the edge of the village for the analog comment, I’m only half-way serious.

  13. “The pictures refuse external reference and broach the issue of the difference…”

    No sir, YOU refuse external reference to the pictures and broach said issue. I hate these kind of statements, because they seem to imply that the artwork has some sort of inherent meaning that’s hard-wired to it. Bullshit, I say. Does that make me a postmodernist? I don’t care.

    Sometimes we enjoy things purely for their aesthetic value. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that those aestheticisms don’t have depth, either spiritually or intellectually. Maybe its time to re-evaluate how we evaluate.

  14. “The pictures refuse external reference and broach the issue of the difference between abstraction and concretion in photography.”

    I like the pictures, but I think the basic technology at work here is far more interesting than any amount of hand-waving explanation about the special meaning of electron beams.

  15. The pictures refuse external reference and broach the issue of the difference between abstraction and concretion in photography. The breakdown of the television picture discribes the breakdown of the reference. The product is self-referential photography.

    Artists are not bad at communication, many are very articulate people. Why are their statements always so terrible?

    Is it just some forced attempt to put on airs of sophistication by using awkward complex vocabulary?

  16. I don’t think you could take a photo of a single pixel. Phosphor glows for enough time that the portion of the screen drawn before the pixel in question would still be visible.

  17. They used to use something similar to do video effects, called a Scanimate:

    You’ll recognise a lot of the effects, I’m sure. By tweaking the oscillators that drove the scan coils of a TV tube, you could get the same kind of strange breakup patterns, perspective zooms and all other such weirdness ;-)

  18. Trying to describe a visual language (art) in words is bound to suffer errors in translation, plus the perceived pretentious nature of the statement is one outcome of a desire to promote concisiveness when an artist is required to describe/justify their work and its associated concept to other artists during peer review.

    Put another way, it is indeed akin to bullshitting but in this case I assume (hope) that the artist believes in what they’re trying to say!

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