The Future Of The Image


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This lecture explores some of problems of locating and discussing images in contemporary culture. It explores the way that 'New Media' is largely at the service of 'old' visual regimes; while opening up critical discussions on Image theory.

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  • In studying digital film, Lev Manovich suggest that “Instead of thinking about the evolution of modern media technology as a linear march towards more precise or more authentic representation[s] of reality, we may want to think of a number of distinct aesthetics – particular techniques of representing reality – that keep re-emerging throughout the modern media history [...] computer and netwrok based technologies, not only lead to the creation of new aesthetic techniques but also activate certain aesthetic impulses already present in the past.” p. 175.
  • Looking at this still from the computer generated animation Wall.E, we might be tempted to consider it to be ‘new’ in lots of respects. But, there’s something striking, I think, about this particular image. On the left hand side, as Wall.E is hurtled through space, we can see a collection of coloured circles. From taking our own pictures, or from watching ‘normal’ fillms, we recognise these little island of light as camera glare. Yet we know perfectly well that the world we are being shown here never sat in front of a camera, at no point did the bright light from a distant sun catch the lenses of a camera. Though this might seem like a trivial point, it triggers off a series of questions about this type of digital media. If the camera glare is fabricated, in other words not really part of the way a computer ‘sees’, what other factors have shaped this film. And here, it seems you could start to draw quite a long list; the making of this film was dictated by a lot of different factors. And here I’m going to sneakily rephrase this a bit and say, that the images that make up Wall.E were representable (i.e a possibility for all those involved in making it) because they fit a certain number of premises. Firstly they contain elements that make the story appealing to an audience. This includes details like a love story, a content appropriate for children, a certain amount of action. But it also includes things we might take for granted (and here’s where the camera glare comes back in). The images have to be readable. Therefore in many ways they conform to certain other conventions. Because a computer doesn’t see it could represent things in a completely alien fashion, but instead this film is made from a single fixed point (like a camera). And here we should acknowledge that a camera wasn’t the first place where this kind of looking was developed. Perspective painting was a dramatic change in how images constructed space. First documented in 1435 by Leon Battista Alberti, demonstrated a couple of decades earlier by his friend Filippo Brunelleschi, perspective positions a viewer in front of a space that corresponds to grid like structure. It supposes that space is uniform and objective. This is a particular way of looking that doesn’t necessarily correspond to a truer reality: modern science doesn’t apply this model and you might say that perspective implies a universal viewer, which given differences in physical attributes between people, varying cultural backgrounds and the various contexts in which an image might be shown starts to seem a bit dubious (like the camera glare here).Alberti’s book is quite interesting because it details everything a painter should do, from drawing an outline, to recognising surfaces to creating a composition. So here to... though I don’t want to get tedious ... we might say that these images have been dictated by lots pictorial that might be seen to develop with painting (though not all in Albeti’s time). Here the seen is lit in a certain way to create a sense of depth, you might call in chiaroscuro where the foreground is set into relief with the dark background.The audience will expect to get a good view of Wall.E so that they can follow the emotional flow of the story – with close-ups in places to emphasise a thought or feeling – with all the important action being highlighted so as not to miss it, and of course taking place in front of this imaginary camera. We could go on: it must be accepted that a robot can have human characteristics and be worthy of carrying the story (necessary especially for the love affair), the audience must accept science fiction as a viable source of entertainment after having learnt to suspend their disbelief and be entertained. Manovich (whose essay will be on Moodle) traces back this type of cinema to Georges Melies who created that wonerfulLa Voyage Dans La Lune...
  • Now, my list might seem quite obvious in places – it is. But the fact is that it could be extended for a long, long way. And the question that is raised then is, well, what is new about digital media? Like Lev Manovich, I’m not trying to suggest that there’s nothing new about a film like Wall.E. Just that, well, there’s a hell of a lot that’s old about it! I’m not saying it’s really that it’s really much like Melies films either (that would be pretty silly), but just that Wall.E requires certain values to have been accepted that also made Melies type of film representable (a legitimate possibility, to show to an audience), lots of other values to have been accepted that might have changed since Melies time, and lots of other values too. With my long descriptive approach here, you are already probably starting to anticipate why this kind of approach to images, that requires such a concerted effort to map and trace the things that allows certain things to be seen, or heard or smelt in images to be legitimate might connect to our group potential.
  • Now before I move on, I thought it worth anticipating certain criticisms. You might say that Wall.E was a very conservative choice on my part. You might suggest that the kind of reading I subjected it to wouldn’t work if I picked something harder, like a fractal. A fractal – that is a complex abstract form generated by a mathematical formula – you might argue, could only be generated by a computer. Unlike Wall.E, you might say, it does suggest something new about digital media and technologies. And here I might concede that there’s some truth in what you say – because you could actually zoom in of any of these cirles, and you’d find that they contain a similar pattern to this, with lots of little holes that again you could zoom into and find again another pattern. This amount of ‘detail’ could not be rendered any other way than by a computer, they’re just too advanced. But I would still try to encourage you to apply that descriptive technique to this image, because even though it seems to naturally speaks to us about what is ‘essential’ about digital media, it still seems to be about lots of other things too. And when we start thinking about these things, this essential quality might not seem, well, as essential.
  • Now here, if this were a lecture about fractals, I might have to do a lot of research. The connections I made to Wall.E wouldn’t be as easy for me make here, where I expect mathematical examples could be more relevant. But still I could anticipate that a particular practice of seeing the relevance of making a mathematical formula into a visual image pre-existed computers. And in fact complex fractals were made into images, according to James Elkins (2003, p.166) discussing a famous one called the Mandelbrot, as early as 1908. Fortunately however, given these specific images I’m given a easier job. As some of you might have realised given the bright colours being used here - and particuarly for those of you looking at the titles of these images, the last one called Psytrip (this Life is Beautiful) – there’s more coming into play here than just the the realisation of a formula. There are visual codes that are making these into beautiful patterns to be consumed where we might imagine that outside the difficult programming a certain art is coming into play to enhance the hues and contrasts, to make them seems more like ephemeral natural forms (where indeed you can find fractals) and more specifically...
  • Hippie Spiritualism. The site displaying these images starts with the statement:“As a tool for inner growth and transformation, abstract digital art is a profound medium which penetrates deeply into the archetypical and primordial layers within us, initiating subtle shifts in the soul and psyche, and assisting us on the journey to our true, divine selves.      This collection of digital art pieces is intended to expedite our integration of cosmic vibrations, harmonious unities, and higher-dimensional energies, so that we can effortlessly transform into new and greater holistic beings.” (Haas 2009)Fractals might serve a mathematical function then, that seems to be realised by computers. But there wider dissemination of them as images requires a certain values to be in place. I’m not saying that anyone who likes these images shares the extreme views presented by these characters at, but perhaps our way of reading them comes from a prior knowledge or psychedelic art, images of nature that show complex crystal formations or even pattern more generally. There is, if you like, a certain number of things in place that encourage a particular type of reading these images that might make them desirable or complementary to certain beliefs we might have.Though a very different expectancy of what you can get from images is in play here, like Wall.E a host of conventions seem to be laid down that certain images have to present certain characteristics under certain conditions. (This spiritualism just not being as pervasive or ‘normal’ as hollywood cinema).
  • Another way to answer the question, “Isn’t a fractal a new kind of image unique to digital media?”, might have been with another question. “Is it, in fact, an image anyway?” Which surely leads to this question [slide]. As visual practitioners, this might seem like a strange question. Of course you know what an image is, you use images everyday, you probably use the term ‘image’ on a regular basis. It’s something you take for granted. In fact, you might not have to be a visual practitioner even to feel you know what an image is, after all we’re told that we’re surrounded by images, that contemporary society is overloaded with them.Standard definitions [reveal] vary slightly. [Read] It would be pretty hard to fit a fractal to that first one. But let’s forget about the whole fractal thing for a little bit.
  • The difficulty of a relationship – we’ll return to this.
  • Well, according to Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwan in their great book called Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design it is. In fact it’s more than just an example of an image, for them its model for how we should try to understand images. The child, who made this image (one of many images they made featuring circles) , was sitting on his dad’s knee. He said “Do you want to watch me? I’ll make a car... Got two wheels... And two wheels here”. Other drawings having more wheels also included steering wheels. The wheelness of a car was obviously interesting to the child. The three-year-old, perhaps having a limited vocabulary of shapes, or marks, techniques was able to draw upon their ability to make circles.Kress and Leeuwen write:“Interest guides the selection of what is seen as the criterial aspect of the object, and this criterial aspect is then regraded as adequately or sifficiently representative of the object in the given context. In other words, it is never the ‘whole object’ but only ever it criterial aspects that are represented.” (1998, p. 6)So in other words they’re trying to find, I think, a better way of accounting for the complex relationship people have to image making: the psychological factors, the emotional factors, the motivation, the interest that is involved in making images. And when I say a better way, I mean basically a better way than a Semiotic way. Semiotics can be useful, but it tends to assume that people use existing signs (which you’ll remember are the connection of the material signifier and the thing there supposed to signify). What this approach implies is that things are quite a lot more flexible than that, people – being complex and beautiful things – bring a lot to the process of making. For Kress and Leeuwen, this is a way of trying to get a better understanding of how sign making is achieved in social settings, this child trying to use the things available to make there image.And this seems to fit quite nicely with the approach we’ve taken so far to images. While considering Wall.E I tried to get us thinking about all the factors underlying the images we’d see. The makers of Wall.E having considerably more resources at hand that a 3 year old child were obviously able to make something incredibly sophisticated. But nevertheless we could see that the images of the film weren’t arbitrary or the natural result of digital technology, but were guided by “criterial aspects”, by decisions made by the whole bunch of people making and paying for the movie and guided by a range of conventions (in how we look at stuff and think about stuff) that make that kind of experience possible in the first place.This example does however make our question seem quite a bit more complicated than we might have first imagined. The word imagine by the way come from the old french Imaginer which means to “form a mental image of”.
  • And before I move on, I thought it was worth picking up just one more point Kress and Leeuwan make. [read] So, in other words, for us, if it wasn’t already apparent that we were going to have difficult time trying to separate out what different technologies, media or practices do, then it is now. Kress and Leeuwan, insisting that people are complex and so image making is complex have just added a whole bucket load of tangles to our quest to answer the simple question “What is an Image”. It seems unlikely, given that lots of different ‘modes of representation’ are always in play that we’ll even be able to identify a type of image that belongs to any one thing: a kind pure of ‘image’ particular to illustration, painting, photography. This is an important point, and I’ll try to offer more examples and explanations a bit later.
  • For now, let’s try and see what we got.From our definitions. I’ve also added concept, because the 3 year old we looked at was as interested in an idea of wheels as the ‘external form’ of a car.2) Well...Though one definition did tie images to sculpture, and painting etc. (something I’m sure pissed all you image makers off), there doesn’t seem much to suggest that Images have to be visual. And I’ve added here that images might be a bit more complex than that still. And I was thinking here of that first example, Wall.E. I presented a silent still frame from a film. In the movie it would have all kinds of sounds, if you see it in the cinema the spectacle of that big screen, it would flash by in a second. If wheelness is part of a way of responding a car, the dynamic of spinning wheels, then surely to sounds could be said to be part of an image too as they imitate something we might subjectively connect to a fictional robot (and again I’m thinking about this idea of ‘different modes of representation not being held discretely’)Phew, I’m kind of sorry I asked. Maybe it was better taking images for granted? Nah! If we had an easy answer, then I’d worried! This seems to account for the richness of images making and we’re still able to bring our critical skills to decoding an image. Only now we don’t have to break it into signifier and signified, but into bigger, richer chunks. Different regimes affecting image production and reception, affecting the way films can be made.But there’s still something missing here. Relationships. What kind of relationships can images have to stuff. Does an image contain information about the thing it bears a likeness to? Can an image actually embody an idea? Or do images actually distract us from ‘real things’, real problems and concerns? Could we live without images? If not, why not? And here’s one off the cuff: If we live in a society, like we do, where their millions of people and places you never see, do we need images to give us a collective identity? And when I use a term like “collective identity”, isn’t that a kind of image too, that makes us think of the ‘Nation’ as some kind of big whole?
  • And here, it seems important for us to look at some of the famous ways this question has been answered.
  • NYU Law professor.Physical, material layer: In the Case of the Internet then, the actual wires that might link computers.Code: This is a kind of ‘logical’ level. The computer I have needs a certain operating system to allow me to access the internet or run software.Content: Movies, Images, Music.Speakers Corner in Hyde Park London is where people who want to speak publically gather together on Sundays. Hyde Park, the physical level, is ‘free’ in the sense that it is held in common – you don’t have to pay for the right to use it. The code level for this example would be the language you used to communicate, the logic if you like that you need to get across your message. This is also ‘free’. The content level is also, generally ‘free’, in that you make a speech based on your own ideas.Madison Square Gardens in Manhattam, is also a place where you could give speeches, or play games. But here, in order to use the huge auditorium here, you have to pay. Otherwise, at Code and Content level, it’s like our first example.Telephone: Pay for use of the line, the physical element. Your also paying for the use of a system that can connect your call to a certain person and allow you to speak to them. Companies own the Physical and Code layer. Hopefully, what you say however, is free.Cable TV (2002) everything is owned by a company. They choose what programs to play (the content), they choose what kinds of information can and can’t be carried and translated by the box you need to use to get it. And they own the physical wires and technology need for the whole system to work.
  • On this last point: because they are connected to certain formations of materials, a distribution of the sensible.
  • The Future Of The Image

    1. 1. The future of the image<br />Incestuous Images and Impossible Representations<br />
    2. 2.
    3. 3. Themes to be developed<br />Appropriation and Collective Creativity<br />Originality and Individuality<br />Virtual Worlds<br />Everyday Realities<br />
    4. 4. Part 1: Images<br />“...the best way to see what is new is to first get a clear idea about what is old.” (Manovich 2007, p.175)<br />
    5. 5. Pixar Animation Studios (2008) Wall.E<br />
    6. 6. Georges Melies (1902) La Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon)<br />
    7. 7. Andrew Ostin (2006) Psytrip<br />
    8. 8. D-b-c (unknown date) Life is Beautiful<br />
    9. 9. Jack Haas<br />
    10. 10. What is an image anyway?<br />“a representation of the external form of a person or thing in sculpture, painting etc.”<br />(Oxford Dictionary of English)<br />“artificial representation that looks like a person or thing”<br />(Online Etymology Dictionary)<br />
    11. 11. Where are images?<br />“The Picture is a material object, a thing you can burn or break. An image is what appears in a picture, and what survives its destruction – in memory, in narrative, and in copies and traces in other media.”<br />(Mitchell 2008, p.16)<br />
    12. 12. What is an image anyway?<br />From Latin stem Imitari, “to copy, imitate”<br />In the early 14th Century it started to be also used to describe a reflection in a mirror.<br />Used in English in the late 14thCentury to describe a mental image.<br />Only commonly used to mean public image since the late 1950s.<br />(Ibid)<br />
    13. 13. Is this an image?<br />Drawing of a three-year-old child (Kress and Leeuwen 1998[1996])<br />
    14. 14. “... The different modes of representation are not held discretely, separately, as autonomous domains in the brain, or as autonomous communicational resources in a culture, nor are they deployed discretely, either in representation or in communication; rather, they intermesh and interact at all times.”<br />(Kress and Leeuwan 1998 [1996], p. 40)<br />
    15. 15. What are images anyway?<br />Images bare the ‘likeness’ of a person or thing [or idea?].<br />This ‘likeness’ isn’t necessarily ‘exact’ and may only emphasise some aspects important to the maker, nevertheless being a ‘likeness’ to them.<br />Images might not necessarily be visual. (Perhaps an image is always a mash up of things... Just a kind-of imageness)<br />
    16. 16. Relating to images... A really, really, brief history...<br />
    17. 17. Plato’s Cave<br />
    18. 18. Aristotle<br />
    19. 19. Biblical prohibition...<br />
    20. 20. Special cases...<br />
    21. 21. Rise of the Artist...<br />
    22. 22. Modern ideas of the image...<br />
    23. 23. Jackson Pollock (1952) Blue Poles number 11. (212.9 cm * 488.9 cm)<br />
    24. 24. “ ‘Image’ ... Refers to two different things. There is the simple relationship that produces the likeness of the original: not necessarily its faithful copy, but simply what suffices to stand in for it. And there is the interplay of operations that produce what we call art: or precisely an alteration of resemblance.”<br />(Ranciere 2007, p. 6)<br />“This is the sense in which art is made up of images, regardless of whether it is figurative, or whether we recognise the form of identifiable characters and spectacles in it.”<br />(Ranciere 2007, p.7)<br />
    25. 25.
    26. 26. Ranciere’s critique of Barthes’ Mythologies<br />
    27. 27. “Myth deprives the object of which it speaks of all History. In it History evaporates. It is a kind ideal servant... (Barthes 2000, p. 151)<br />“...we must seek: a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge.” (Ibid, p.159)<br />
    28. 28. Ranciere’s critique of Barthes’s Camera Lucida<br />
    29. 29. “The second element [Barthes is trying to grasp] will break (or punctuate) the Studium[a kind of general interest in the information a photograph contains]. This time it is not I who seek it out ... This element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation... The Puntum. <br />(Barthes 1993 [1982], Pp 26-7)<br />
    30. 30. “Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age old habit, in mere images of the truth. (Sontag 1979 [1977], p. 3)<br />“Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution ... Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it... Today everything exists to end in a photograph.”<br />(Ibid p.24)<br />
    31. 31. “An image will come at the resurrection.”<br />Jean Luc Godard<br />
    32. 32. Ranciere’s response:<br />For Ranciere many claims made about images continue to have religious tendencies. These claims include:<br />The (postmodernists) claim that there is no longer a reality, but only images.<br />The notion (like Barthes Punctum) that images (photos) bare the imprint of an actual thing.<br />That some things are inherently un-representable (like the ideas evoked by an abstract painting)<br />
    33. 33. Distribution of the Sensible<br />For Ranciere, it is the organisation of the things that we can see, touch, smell, taste (i.e. Things that we sense) that imposes on us the idea of what we can and cannot get from images (where it’s seen, who can produce it, what allows it to make sense). He calls this the distribution of the sensible. Ranciere’s own belief then is that images could have lots of functions, meanings, uses, but that they tend to be predisposed.<br />
    34. 34. Pixar Animation Studios (2008) Wall.E<br />
    35. 35. YochaiBenkler SYSTEM<br />
    36. 36. What is an image anyway?<br />Images aren’t specific to a certain medium.<br />Images are not only visual.<br />Abstract ‘art’ is not free of images.<br />Unrepresentable things are not naturally unrepresentable.<br />Images are not purely material.<br />Images are not purely immaterial either.<br />
    37. 37. Images could have many different meanings. However they are heavily connected to particular distribution of the sensible, an organisation of the things we can see , hear, touch etc. Like in the case of our reading of Wall.E, the kind of ‘regimes’ that govern the distribution of the sensible can relate to the way information is organised to tell a story, or in other cases it might be conventions dictating what type of elements are necessary to make something art. <br />This isn’t necessarily unchanging, but it tends to impose limitations on the way things can be understood. In this presentation I have proposed dealing with these issues by making a descriptive reading– something we can do collectively – to accumulate information about how and why images ‘have’ to be a certain way.<br />
    38. 38. Part 1: Images<br />“...the best way to see what is new is to first get a clear idea about what is old.” (Manovich 2007, p.175)<br />
    39. 39. The future of the image<br />Incestuous Images and Impossible Representations<br />
    40. 40. References and Readings<br />Alberti, L. B. (2004 [1972]) On Painting. Penguin, London.<br />Barthes, R (1993 [1981]) Camera Lucida. London, Vintage.<br />Barthes, R (2000 [1972]) Mythologies. London, Vantage.<br />Besancon, Alain (2000) The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm. Chicago Press, London.<br />Boldick, S and Richard Clay (2007) Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms. Hampshire, Ashgate Publishing.<br />Gombrich, E.H. (1999) The uses of Images: Studies of the Social Function of Art and Visual Communication. Phaidon Press Limited, London.<br />Kant, Immanuel (1952 [1790]) The Critique of Pure Judgement. Oxford, Oxford University Press.<br />Kress, G and Theo Van Leeuwan (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London, Routledge.<br />Murray, C (ed) (2003) Key Writers on Art. London, Routeledge.<br />Plato (2007) The Republic. London, Penguin.<br />Ranciere, J (2009) The Future of the Image. London, Verso.<br />Ranciere, J (2006) The Politics of Aesthetics. London, Continuum.<br />Sontag, S (1979 [ 1977]) On Photography. Penguin, London.<br />Want, C and AndrzejKlimoski (1999) Introducing Kant. Cambridge, Icon Books.<br />Also see Moodle for writings by Laurence Lessigand Lev Manovich.<br />