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How to Glitch an Image with a Text Editor

Beneath the surface of any digital image is a pile of language, an indecipherable garble of text, symbols, and numbers. This is a trait of all things digital: they are always rendered visible through an act of translation… something is being deciphered before being displayed.

How to see this hidden writing? Simple. Convert the .jpg to a text file...

Upon opening the below image of Michaelangelo’s David as a text document you are met with streams of:

ˇÿˇ‡JFIFˇ€C

!"$"$ˇ€Cˇ¿Ë5"ˇƒ

ˇƒµ}!1AQa"q2Åë°#B±¡R—$3brÇ

%&'()*456789:CDEFGHIJSTUVWXYZcdefghijstuvwxyzÉÑÖÜáàâäíìîïñóòôö¢£§•¶ß®©™≤≥¥µ∂∑∏π∫¬√ƒ≈∆«»… “”‘’÷◊ÿŸ⁄·‚„‰ÂÊÁËÈÍÒÚÛÙıˆ˜¯˘˙ˇƒ

ˇƒµw!1AQaq"2ÅBë°±¡ #3Rbr—

$4·%Ò&'()*56789:CDEFGHIJSTUVWXYZcdefghijstuvwxyzÇÉÑÖÜáàâäíìîïñóòôö¢£§•¶ß®©™≤≥¥µ∂∑∏π∫¬√ƒ≈∆«»… “”‘’÷◊ÿŸ⁄‚„‰ÂÊÁËÈÍÚÛÙıˆ˜¯˘˙ˇ⁄?‰3Õ<êÀÕ4û‘£ëÅ\Gbπ”ãfë˙`Sy«J(Èä1HM8(

‡Öúu†s“ò

So what happens when you dip your fingers into that text… ? Well, I added the words “Look Back” to three random places in the first half of the doc, re-saved it as a .jpg and this is what I got:

Going back into the text I copy-pasted a chunk of the existing code directly after itself a few times in a row and this is what happened:

Next, I copy-pasted the entire text of the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century in five different places in the document:

And finally, I went wild. I wrote random messages to friends, I copy-pasted, I added sonnets by Shakespeare and the HTML from a random website… :

What remains is still an image. But now it’s an image filled with secret text, text that interferes with how your machine reads the digital contents of the image and renders it on your display. In this way, we can see that to cause a glitch isn’t the same thing as to make an error or a mistake. A glitch can also be the result of an intentional, articulate message. A message that doesn’t reveal itself as an image, but that lives just under the surface. 

So, maybe it’s a glitched, broken image you’re looking at. Or maybe it’s the world’s most exquisite literature, saved as a .jpg. 

Happy glitching!

by Ben Van Buren of Yonkers International Press. Wishing you great success with all your electronic publishing gymnastics. Have fun! 

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