Punters: autoportraits of fairground thrill

I produced a collection of images capturing the emotions of riders at the fairground as they experienced a moment of ultimate thrill. I built a body mounted auto-portrait machine that detects the emotion of thrill through real-time sampling and analysis of physiological reactions. As a rider experiences euphoria, the machine fires its camera mechanism, automatically taking a portrait of the punter. The camera contained just one photoprahic negative for each rider. The resulting images were hand printed.

I aimed to expand the boundaries of current emotion-sensing practice by developing an algorithm with scientists from MIT’s Media Lab Europe to detect the emotion of thrill from sampled GSR bio-signals. I developed a machine ultimately controlled by human emotion. I used the machine to create a unique collection of photographs reflecting the fairground as experienced by the rider. The results are intended to be primarily artistic, the images emotive.

I built my machine in 2003, touring with George Irvin’s fairground in 2004, with images being exhibited at M+R gallery, London in 2005. This project, along with ideas developed in Chromo11: engineering the thrill (most notably the The Walker Thrill Factor – a method and formula for quantifying any thrill experience), formed the basis for Thrill Laboratory. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was to be my first appearance as the Thrill Engineer, in my trademark red boiler suit.

Punters was supported by a Wellcome Trust Sciart award for “visual arts projects which involved an artist and a scientist in collaboration to research, develop and produce work which explored contemporary biological and medical science”. The technology was produced in collaboration with Dr James Condron from the MindGames group at MIT’s Media Lab Europe..