Every blade has a kerf. Run a saw through a plank: the space lost to sawdust, the void created, is the kerf. Since Freeman is working with pixels — square units of color that cannot be cut — his digital blade has an eccentric kerf, slicing a ragged path along the edge of a census tract. And since the size of a tract is determined by its population, there are extreme differences in scale. The 147,805 square miles of Alaska’s Yukon-Koyukuk County are covered by four census tracts, while the 33.77 square miles of New York County are covered by 288. When those images show up in my timeline, a single square brown dot of Alaskan earth might represent 50 acres, while a gray dot of Manhattan is only 5 square feet. Digital sawdust floats down to Freeman’s feet, the piles deeper for rural America, though the result is the same no matter where he cuts: something real is lost.
I asked Freeman about the kerf of his blade, about how closely his pictures match the tracts defined by the Census Bureau. “I can’t show you a census tract,” he replied, “because a census tract is. … I don’t know what a census tract is.”