reduce images to their essential code

In my mind ASCII art is one of those quintessential offerings to modern culture given to us by the advent of the computer age. Curiously, though, art created using typefaces goes back to the late 1800s when images were made using typewriters. But even if ASCII art could be argued to be derived from this earlier form of mechanical art, it is still uniquely its own thing, born from a time when text ruled the internet and images could only be shown through the elaborate combination of letters on a screen.

Here is an example of a photograph converted to ASCII art:

ASCII Portrait

I’ve been asking myself why I’m drawn to ASCII art, especially ASCII art of photographs and I think it stems from a thread of thought I’ve been exploring lately about how art can be created under constraints. It’s the idea of making something out of very nearly nothing or a very limited set of something. ASCII art creates images through the play of the presense and absense of letters, numbers and special characters. You have a very limited palette and that palette is being reappropiated for a use it was never designed to fulfill. And, yet it works and at times works beautifully.

ASCII Portrait ASCII Portrait ASCII Portrait

These images here were not created by hand. Instead, I loaded my images into a Javascript program that reads the image data and converts them into an equivalent ASCII image. Certain images work better than others. High contrast and low detail images convert better than low contrast, busy images.