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Hacked Photoshop Tools Lead to Chaotically Manipulated Digital Art

Here's how Brooklyn-based artist Zach Nader turns movies and ads into gorgeous glitchy forms.

endless waves by Zach Nader. Images courtesy the artist

Brooklyn-based artist Zach Nader has long been interested in using software to cause “breakdowns” in everyday photographic imagery and distribution, particularly of the advertising variety. With his latest project, channel surf, debuting this Friday at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, Nader offers up inkjet prints and videos in which he misapplies, overuses, and overemphasizes image creation tools as a way to “break open everyday, ubiquitous images,” according to the artist.


As a preview to channel surf, Nader walked The Creators Project through his digital image deconstruction process. Though his tools are easily accessible, Nader's warped textures require deft knowledge of how to essentially hack software—that is, to make it do exactly what it wasn't designed for.

clap along by Zach Nader

For some time now, Nader has been “misusing and exaggerating” Adobe Photoshop's Content-Aware Fill tool to different ends across several projects, from the Midnight Moment video, which appeared on Times Square digital billboards as part of the the Moving Image Art Fair, to his glossy counterweight c-prints' ghostly and glitchy residues. With channel surf, Nader deploys a few other digital tricks while continuing his Content-Aware Fill experiments.

excerpt from the wave from Zach Nader on Vimeo.

For the inkjet print piece, Screams, Nader started with a fashion ad and used Content-Aware Fill on the image's RGB color channels. He did this for each individual RGB color channel, removing all the people and the products they were holding. He then applied a Perspective Warp multiple times to make minor perspective changes to the image.

“As the people vacate, channel by channel, they rupture the image,” Nader said of the piece. “The perspective shifts, further destabilizing and hollowing out these images while creating new visual information.”

For his Nodes series, Nader again used Content-Aware Fill on fashion ads. He then masked out moiré patterns, removing any depicted persons and products they may be holding.


channel surf by Zach Nader

“This places these images into a competition for visibility,” he said. “I end up with a chaotic scramble of the interference patterns indicating the transformative, violent moment these images are in, directly referencing the act of being an image on a screen, being replaced by another image on a screen, [and] on and on.”

For someone to see, Nader cropped portions of television ads and removed all the people. “I also significantly altered the speed throughout, increasing the tension created by the removal process in each individual frame,” he said. “This act of leaving has damaged, warped, and otherwise unhinged these images—they are tearing at themselves and each other.” Nader then edited the results into a video using Final Cut Pro X (FCPX).

For piece the wave, Nader slowed down an ocean wave from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012). Instead of using Content-Aware Fill, Nader combined Adobe After Effects and FCPX, which has an Optical Flow feature that allowed him to slow down the film's wave scene.

Zach Nader, counterweight/07, 27 x 37", c-print | 2012

“The splash of color and light that interjects throughout is a tightly cropped in version of a video from YouTube by a fan that was doing the wave at a baseball game,” Nader said. “The running figure is embedded with a displacement map in After Effects.”

“The distance between someone watching a game on a screen, playing on a field, and being in the crowd, or in the distance between a spectator in a movie theater to the camera to the object on-screen to the production and post-production crews is something that I think about frequently,” he added. “What happens when we try to close those distances? When all of those points begin to converge?”


Zach Nader, counterweight/12, 27 x 37", c-print | 2012

Nader also used FCPX's Optical Flow feature on a piece titled shift, which at times features three television commercial layers overlapped and excessively slowed.

“With shift, I began with clips from television commercials and focused on the digitized bodies within them,” Nader said. “Stacking these layers and decelerating them, I create significant distance between the original video frames and employ software to automatically draw in the difference. Decontextualizing these actors from their brands while placing them in conflict with each other, I push them to their breaking point. Employing software to suspend these idealized bodies and script new narratives for them frees them from their pasts.”

Zach Nader, counterweight/03, 27 x 37", c-print | 2012

Again, these prints and videos permit Nader to examine the fleeting moments before images digitally disintegrate and become unhinged from their sources and previous locations.

“One of the questions I ask myself in all of my projects is, 'Where does the value in an image exist?'” Nader said. “With the source material in this exhibition, the original value to their corporate makers is clear, but once they start to break down and shift, locating value and what that might be becomes quite clouded.”

This allows Nader to, as he explained, fashion openings out of which “new visualities” flow out of software programming and its limitations. Though Nader questions image value in channel surf, he also has a go at advertising by distorting its messaging, which is appropriate given how effective ads are at distorting consumers' minds.


Zach Nader's channel surf will be on display at Microscope Gallery from January 9th to February 16th.


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