Flatbed scanners are certainly efficient devices for the digital archiving, copying and emailing of personal, legal and business documents. But did you know that scanners in the hands of artists have resulted in a new art form called scanography?
Scanography (not to be confused with medical scanning) is the logical successor to the Xerox art movement that began in the late 1960s. The difference is that a photocopy is doomed to the life of the paper that it is printed on – unless it is recopied and subjected to successive degradations of quality – but a digital scan can live without degradation in digital perpetuity. Furthermore, a digital scan conveniently lends itself to digital manipulation and incorporation into other digital files.
Many flatbed scanner artists began simply by placing actual 3D objects onto the scanner bed: a leaf, a flower, a shrimp, some beads, nuts and bolts, or a cookie. Scanners have a short depth of field, about half an inch. In contrast to photography, composition requires a shift in point of view because the picture is actually the back of the objects arranged on the scanner bed. Relatively 2D objects, such as leaves, achieve a white background if the artist places a piece of white paper over them prior to scanning. Larger objects preclude the possibility of closing the lid and open-lidded scans often produce a black background. Shining lights into a scan with an open lid produces various results that artists can manipulate for effect. A scan with an open lid outdoors will often reflect the color of the sky.
Because scanners were not originally intended to scan liquids, jewels or sea shells, some preparation is in order to protect the equipment. A plastic barrier can protect the bed against liquids and scratches. There are limits to how much weight the bed can support. If the bed is soiled during an art scan, it must be carefully cleaned to avoid unwanted marks on the next document scan.
There are highly gifted fine artists who are pushing the limits of scanner technology to achieve astonishingly beautiful images. One artist in particular has gone so far as to cobble a scanner to an old 4 x 5-inch format camera. He has hot rodded the scanner considerably by removing the lamp, pinhole lens assembly and Contact Image Sensor housing and attaching a lens board directly to the scanner. Because the scanner software diagnostics interpret the hardware modifications as damage, the artist has replaced the proprietary software with open-source scanner drivers that provide greater technical and artistic control of the scanner functions. Scanning experiments with moving objects achieve particularly bizarre, beautiful and unanticipated visual effects.
It is not necessary to be a fine artist to take advantage of the scanner creative potential. Digital scrapbooks are made possible by scanners. The cherished gift of a rose can be scanned in its fresh condition and stored forever instead of being pressed between the pages of an encyclopedia to whither and fade away. A scan of a small child’s hands can become the basis of a home-made card for grandma.
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