by varvara @ 8:24 am 2 February 2012

In how many different ways can you sort a collection? From how many different perspectives can you view an assembly of things?

A collection is a group of things related to each other in some identifiable way. The relationship might be through a topic, a place, a person, a type of object etc. Even though there is a specific motivation for gathering on the first place, what makes a collection dynamic is that one can reorganize the same data in alternative ways and make different sense of it. In my data visualization project I would like to explore some of those alternative ways, in the context of a butterfly collection.

The motivation about this project came from the ‘Pink project’ by Portia Munson. The pink project comprised a series still life installations created out of the artist’s collection of discarded objects, all of which are varying shades of pink and are objects used by females. The discarded items assume new meaning when seen out of the perspective of the common color and the connotation with gender as well as through the way they are organized in space.

Portia Munson, Pink Project, 1994


The data set I am using for the project, comes from a collection of images of butterflies provided by an iPhone app made by Hunter Research and Technology. The collection is composed by 240 images. Each butterfly is shown in plan on a white background; the images I extracted are 260×340 pixels in size. The only data accompanying the images is the name of each butterfly.

Butterfly Collection, by Hunter Research and Technology
My objective here is to figure different ways to sort the collection of butterflies. To do that I am experimenting with applying some image processing algorithms as a way to extract data. Some first thoughts are trying to extract information regarding the size, the outline and the color of the butterfly. The outline can give me information regarding the size of the perimeter of each butterfly as well as information regarding the curvature. Identifying the blobs on the butterfly wings provides a way to sort them according to the number of pigments on their wings. Experimenting with the color can give me information regarding the mean color of each butterfly, the color variation etc. Extracting data via image processing for each butterfly will allow me to form a data base of numeric values according to which I can sort the collection in different ways.
I would also like to find a way to visualize the whole collection and enable the user to pick the mode of sorting as well as to be able to select two butterflies and get all the intermediate images according to the ordering.
Below are some first attempts in Matlab using the ‘regionprops’ and ‘bwBoundaries’ methods to extract the outline and the blobs on the wings surface.

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