Final Countdown



Following the ideas stated in the previous section, we also designate the pheromone maps as cognitive maps. From now on, the possibilities are endless. We shall stick to the aesthetical outcome of the swarm being applied to gray-scale images and call it Pherographia: drawing by pheromones.

(At this point, it is possible to make some metaphorical links between the model and the silver salts of the traditional photographic process. Ants reinforce the “lines” by depositing more pheromone — like the chemical developer enhances the exposed silver —, while evaporation eliminates that pheromone that is no longer useful in the process of self-organization —like the fixer removes unexposed silver. Grain, in a film, appears as the result of the aggregation of silver salts when developing time is increased; the lines in this camera obscura for ants are enhanced by the constant reinforcement of pheromone over desired regions — as grain emerges from “reinforcement” of silver clusters, created by a longer developing time.)

Pherographia is a rather naïve approach to drawing. There are no shadows or highlights, only lines delimiting the main areas of the image (although some detail emerges in some regions). The ants’ drawings sometimes resemble other edge detection methods, but we still feel, when looking at the images, to be facing a children’s sketch or some neo-Palaelolithic kind of representation of reality. In that sense, Pherographia departs from Photographia. Solarization, a photographic process popularized by such artists as Man Ray (1890–1976) and László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), comes to mind when looking at pherographic images. Due to the discontinuities imposed by pheromone trails, pherographic representations of images that hold rich tonal gradations may also resemble cloisonnism (if one mentally fills the blank regions with colors). Perhaps the most notable artist that engaged in such style was the post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), who was influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. As stated by Roy R. Behrens*:

There is a persuasive resemblance between gestalt principles and the Japanese-inspired aesthetics.

Gestalt principles also show some resemblances with Swarm Intelligence studies. Both aim at understanding how local perceptions become organized into wholes, and this it is precisely what happens in the ant system discussed in this paper: the restricted perception of individual ants gives rises to a global perception of the environment. A braid appears to arise that embraces all these concepts.


*R. R. Behrens, “Art, Design and Gestalt Theory”, Leonardo Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 299-303 (1998).

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Carlos Miguel Fernandes

2 responses to “Final Countdown

  1. Pingback: Inside [Art and Science] « Carlos M. Fernandes – Photography

  2. Pingback: Inside [Art and Science] « Carlos M. Fernandes – Research

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