Today, Jim Bumgardner is the director of application development at Disney Interactive Labs. But almost 10 years ago, he stumbled across a puzzle that would confound him. When layering hundreds of Flickr photos, he found that, again and again, the images became a consistent, bronze blur. He named his montages Bronze Shields. They looked like pizza shells.
To this date, neither Bumgardner nor anyone else has proven why the images of the Internet, when layered and averaged together en masse, round down into a tarnished orange glow Bumgardner dubbed “emergent orange.” But Bumgardner, collecting ideas from researchers and peers across the web, has suggested four theories:
I. It’s The Algorithms
When you average hundreds of images or more into a single photo, you rely on software code to average colors at the pixel level. In other words, a blue dot will average with a red dot, and you’ll get purple dot. But it’s possible this software could be doing something misunderstood when interacting with digital images. There’s a problem with our algorithms.
II. It’s Human Perception
Maybe the images aren’t as orange as we think. Maybe we’ve stumbled on some sort of hack about how humans perceive color. And thereby, emergent orange images are really just a kind of optical illusion. Or maybe, if you want to dig even deeper into this conspiracy theory, we’re just prone to take images with certain color balances (like a blue sky and green grass) that will eventually, somehow, average out to orange.
III. It’s White Balance
Every camera has a setting called “white balance“–or what helps white objects appear perfectly white in any given lighting situation. It’s possible that most cameras balance a bit too warm, trending us toward an orange look rather than a blue look. (Indeed, if you’ve ever use auto white balance on a Canon dSLR, especially, you’ll know that the whitest scene will often appear as yellow as a Tropicana orange juice logo.)
IV. It’s A Mass Spectrometer
So, a mass spectrometer blasts chemicals with ions to identify them. Bumgardner suggests that averaging photos together is much like a mass spectrometer, in that it reveals a sort of average chemical composition of everything we photograph. In other words, we’re all made of bronze goop.
And of course, I have a snowballing set of theories of my own, which I can totally explain with four simple images:
V. There are a lot of white people on the Internet.
VI. I mean, a whole lot of peachy-skinned white people on the Internet.
VII. Plus there are a boatload of sunset photos, as every member of humanity wakes on a beach each morning where a sailboat just happens to be passing through the center of the rising sun, and they just happen to have their iPhone set up on a tripod to capture the moment.
VIII. And then you wrap all that in Instagram’s hefe filter.