Digital Panicoutside the circle


2017 By Coralie Vogelaar
An image of various smaller frames showing thermal imagining of various
scenes of riots, people in PPE and crowds.
Images from Gazeplots, 2017

In order to compete for attention in today’s digital media environment, news images are increasingly optimised for engagement and sharing. This practice is driven by insights from data about where we look and what we prefer to click on.

Artist Coralie Vogelaar has analysed close to a million popular press photographs from the ten most-covered news events between 2012 and 2017 to determine which factors make a “successful” news image. In Gazeplots, Vogelaar used eye-tracking technology to compare how viewers responded to “successful” and “unsuccessful” photos of the same event. The heat maps seen here show where viewers’ gazes gravitated the most – namely, to photos with one or two main characters. “Both humans and machines,” Vogelaar concludes, “tend to prefer those images that resonate with images that are already stored in our brains or databases.” 

By algorithmically identifying the factors that make for popular news images, Gazelplots asks, what does it mean for there to be a “formula” for the online popularity of a current event? In a media environment where we consume so much information visually, how may this practice influence our perception of a crisis?

Coding: Muhammad Atif Ayaz, Emile den Tex
Eye-Tracking-Lab: Usability Lab at the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam
Supported By: Creative Industries Fund