The Photographic Image In Digital Culture

The Photographic Image in Digital Culture Edited by Martin Lister is a collection of different writings on the different aspects of photography in the digital world. This second edition is the most updated version, which I chose in order to keep my research as current as possible. I had identified specific chapters that would be the most relevant to my project with the aim of reading and reflecting on these first and exploring the others if I assessed them to be relevant afterwards. For this reason this blog post doesn’t feature all of the chapters of the book however I will aim to read all of the book either in the time of my Final Major Project or following it as research for my practice in the future.


The Digital Image In Photographic Culture – Algorithmic Photography and the Crisis of Representation

Daniel Rubinstein and Katrina Sluis

I chose this chapter for two reasons, the first being the notion of algorithmic photography and the introduction of computing in photography and the second being that it was co-authored by Katrina Sluis, an influential curator in the digital world who I had already previously researched. I read this chapter in the hope I would be able to gain some valuable information and be introduced to ideas in relation to computational image-making and how this has changed the act of representation, which is essentially the concept behind my Final Major Project.

Two conceptions of the image

  • Photographs are life that is frozen and flattened, a measure of time
  • Michael Foucalt – human is bound to the world through mechanisms of representation
  • Indispensability and capitalism encourages representation (selfie culture)
  • Film Memento means that pictorial representation can be nonlinear as well as linear, future-past and past-future
  • Photography and time, temporalities that can overlap, wipeout and cancel each other out
  • Photography breaks the boundaries of time and space, time doesn’t have to be linear and space is now temporal and transient
  • Photography’s relationship between representation and the computational image is more complex
  • When software and the image collide

Genealogies of representation

  • Martin Heidegger – representation is key characteristic in the modern age: the world becomes a picture and the human becomes a subject
  • Representation itself has been undergoing change, fluctuating between metaphor, scientific fact, photographic truth
  • Representation has dual function, it allows the human subject to contextualise themselves in the world but it also limits because it excludes some aspects
  • There is a scientific technology behind the production of the image but the visual representation lends itself better to the metaphorical practice
  • There is a dominant strand of photography theory that accepts realism as a prime quality of the medium (Andre Bazin)

The Porridge of the Index

  • Representation in purely mathematical form is an extreme form of idealism
  • The photograph can be a cultural/linguistic object but not this rigid information container at the same time
  • The frameworks for analogue photography, can’t be applied to digital, the digital entity is more suited to a linguistic form because, being algorithmic an image can be changed and outputted to text
  • There is some indexical value in the analogue photograph, it is still the outcome of algorithmic instructions carried out by the practitioner
  • Photographic film represents the latent image
  • Old binary model ‘object – image’ has to be replaced with ternary ‘object-knowable-image’ and this applies to both analogue and digital

Computational Photography and the Crisis of Representation

  • Causality was always central to the truth claims of photography
  • An image on a screen looks like a photograph, not because it is on but because it is programmed to look like one so the viewer can relate
  • The digital image can really only been seen as a process, made/dependant on the software and computational
  • In the digital there is a causal relationship between storage and display (Eivind Rossak)
  • Computation is the process behind this formation and deformation, it never achieves  state of finitude

The Overwhelming Arrival of the Algorithmic Image

  • It’s no longer clear ‘where’ the image actually is, it is a correlation of metadata and pixels
  • Infinite repetition and human desire is very connected, connection between pleasure and superabundance
  • Movement through networks deconstructs the notion of the photograph being a fixed cultural object
  • Fractal structure behind the network temporality that is nonlinear, fragmented and instantaneous time
  • Image being continuous, frameless, multiple and processal, it can’t be based on the system of semiotics that the fixed, static analogue photograph is based on

The Undecidability of the Networked Image

  • Current frenzy for image making and decline of visual knowledge is down to the proliferation of digital images, visual culture and the decline in the transparency of total information systems
  • De-stablisation of the author-audience paradigm, every participant within a network is simultaneously the viewer and performer of the image
  • It is not the subject that masters technology, technology governs the behaviour of the human
  • Image acts as a connector of signifiers, powerflows and situations
  • Networked image is undecidable because it’s not connected to a fixed event
  • Undecidability means the control is transferred from the image

The Excess of the Algorithmic

  • Whilst loosing the indexical value, the digital image didn’t lose it’s visuality
  • Computers didn’t abolish analogue photography, they changed representation altogether
  • In digital, the signifier is a bit and can’t be represented as anything else
  • Photography shouldn’t read too much into the hyperrealist systems like video displays

The Recursive Fragment

  • The visual content of the digital image is still a believable representation regardless of it’s position on the screen
  • The instantaneous nature of the digital image means it is self-referential, recursive and undecidable in an incomplete assemblance
  • Concept of multiplicity and ‘double articulation’ suggests the possibility of a different subjectivity
  • Representational logic appropriates the image for many different genres
  • However the digital image needs to be rethought in terms of how identity and subjectivity are formed and operate in a network structure
  • The conscious mind can only absorb a finite amount of information, there is an abundance of imagery because technology facilitates it
  • There can never be one definitive interpretation/meaning from the image
  • An image does not assume meaning from it’s indexicality or iconography but from the network of relations around it – the meaning is not stable

Algorithmic Imagination

  • Decartes posed representation when subjectivity was rational and autonomous
  • Network allows the image to be formal and formless, rational and nonrational, production and dissemination
  • The digital image can appear everywhere simultaneously, creates a climate of pluralism and abundance
  • Models of representation are being challenged, interpretation becomes more complex
  • The digital image is paradoxical in nature however being this way enables new technologies to advance


There are so many ideas in this chapter that are relevant to my Final Major Project and will inform the way I approach the creative process. I had previously been introduced to the idea of the digital image being continuous and nonlinear by reading Joan Fontcuberta’s Pandoras Camera who described the digital image existing in the latent and manifest statement almost simultaneously. Sluis and Rubenstein develop on this idea by introducing the premise that the nature behind the digital image has changed representation altogether. It can no longer being relied on as being a fixed, linear process of signifiers and the signified, but rather a continuous object which provides no fixed interpretation. The idea of an image having to change to operate in a networked environment is extremely interesting as well, to be exhibited in the wrong context, or without context is a risk that could seriously damage the intended interpretation. This is a danger that my own images for my Final Major Project could be exposed to, therefore I need to make sure that I exhibit them in a suitable environment using an appropriate method. One key idea that I picked up on this chapter was the idea that the photographic image is only a manifest state of the digital image, the digital image is programmed to look like a photographic to enable the viewer to relate to it in the same way. Therefore if I want the viewer to relate to my imagery in a different way, I should change the manifest statement of the photograph. In addition to this, Sluis and Rubenstein state that instead of the user governing technology, that technology takes control of the user, something which I have investigated previously in the research papers on online communication. In response to this research I want to take the ideas explored by Sluis and Rubenstein in this chapter and apply them to my Final Major Project, referring back to them throughout the creative process.


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