Artistic data. An oxymoron?
Do you have to be a mathematician or a statistician to think that data can have artistic value? Or a geographer?
What artistic expression is possible if you blend a beautiful aerial photograph with elevation data? Is it art or is it cartography? When does cartography become art?
I think it depends largely on the intention. A map can portray information without having artistic appeal. Conversely art can contain information. Would you display it for navigation or because it is visually compelling? Is it less appealing if you sneak in some data or use data to form the image?
The image above was created using a high resolution aerial photograph combined with elevation data. The aerial photograph was taken from an airplane from about 20,000 feet (6100 meters) and has more detail than most images taken from imaging satellites which orbit hundreds of miles above the Earth.
The elevation data store values for altitude above sea level. In this case the data are a grid of cells stored in computer files. Each square cell represents an area of 10 meters (32.8 feet) on a side. The grid cells are like pixels in a digital photograph, that is, each one stores information, but in this case it is elevation information instead of color.
The photo and the elevation data are combined using a computer geographic information system (GIS). The elevation data are used to calculate a terrain surface. Then the photo is ‘draped’ over that surface so it appears to be 3-dimensional, like a relief map. Using the GIS software the surface can be tilted and rotated for viewing.
This perspective view of Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes vicinity near Bend, Oregon, USA, is from the north looking south. The overall surface is tilted up so that it is downhill from south to north.
The elevation data were also used to calculate elevation contour lines, like on a topographic map. In this case the custom contours have an interval of 200 feet (61 meters). They add information about the terrain.
Some of the Cascade Lakes are distinctly green, probably from algae bloom. The aerial photograph is a combination (mosaic) of several individual photos. They were taken on June 26, 2009.
The intention of this image is to show the beauty of the area surrounding the Mt. Bachelor volcano and the lakes. This is a popular recreation area. The trails through the forest on the mountain are developed ski runs. I think that if you enjoy exploring this stunning area a view like this is augmented with the additional information. The image has the value of a map because the distortions of aerial photographs have been removed and the features are in their correct positions. It has the beauty of a photograph. And the elevation data allow you to interpret the terrain.
In this case I think that the data have contributed to the beauty and created an artistic composition. Not everyone will agree. But, as they say, “the beauty of data is in the eye of the beholder.”
I can create custom relief-enhanced aerial photographs like this for most areas of the USA. Please contact me if you have an interest in a custom view of your area. You can find out more by following the Maps link above. I hope you enjoyed this virtual view of Mt. Bachelor.