Still Searching…

The conditions governing the digital world have led to a radical diversification not only in photography but also in the theory that underpins it and the history that is written about it. Photographic media and forms are incorporated into complex tech technological, capitalist and ideological networks; the experts who are conducting scholarly research into the role of photographic images thus come from very different disciplines. The expansion of the discourse surrounding these images is also reflected in Still Searching…, the blog on photographic theory that was initiated by Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2012 and which subjects all aspects of photography and its role in visual culture to interdisciplinary scrutiny. The bloggers invited to the online format operate at the forefront of research and enhance our awareness of current issues that are relevant to photography.

Blog series: Digital Infrastructures of Race and Gender

Safiya Umoja Noble | 06.12.2017 – 31.01.2018
Digital Infrastructures of Race and Gender

Till the end of January, Safiya U. Noble explores the intersectional ways race and gender are embedded in digital infrastructures. Noble suggests that logics and structures of race are a matter of network and platform design, which encode values that cannot be divorced from the digital. To open, she investigates the erosion of humanities and social science courses from the education of engineers, and suggests that the erasure of sociality impacts conceptions of technology’s promise. Later in the series, she explores other dimensions of the social stack and how race and gender are embedded in contemporary conceptions of the digital.

Engineering Beyond Bias: It’s Time To Call the Experts

Wednesday, 06.12.2017
<p>This month, data scientist Cathy O’Neil caused a twitter storm when she alleged that academics are “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to critiquing artificial intelligence and algorithms and their impact in society. Within 24 hours, academics from the United States and Europe began to weigh in with evidence to the contrary, citing studies, conferences, scholars, and academic departments that have given more than three decades to the study of such.</p>
Blog series: Processing

Sean Cubitt | 05.03.2017 – 24.02.2024
Processing

The photographic image introduced a radical new proposition about representation. Drawing, painting and printmaking required prolonged contemplation of subjects. The long exposures of early photography seemed to parallel that durational encounter. But the appearance of the snapshot changed that. The photogram was an isolated moment singled out that provided a new aesthetic and a new ethical quandary about the instant seized abruptly from the flow of time. The moving image may be seen as an attempt to heal this trauma in the flux of time, but one that created new modes of temporal alienation. Digital imaging, still and moving, alters the conditions of the photogram, bringing it closer to the processing of scientific instruments. In his blog series, thinking ahead of a proposed new avenue of research into the aesthetic politics of truth, Sean Cubitt draws on thinkers from Flusser to Badiou to consider the changing nature and function of time from the decisive moment to data visualisation.

Problems of Happy Images

Monday, 30.01.2017
<p>I ended my <a href="https://www.fotomuseum.ch/de/explore/still-searching/articles/29961_image_after_2_from_truth_to_ethics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last post</a> with the ethical and political demand for happiness for all. Yes, it is a radical demand. Our world is not a very happy place; and each of us has been schooled, by religion, politics, and what we like to call reality, that we have to put up with pain in the hope of something better coming along when we get to heaven or pay off our debts. Both prospects, in reality, are equally distant. Which means that we have schooled ourselves to accept unhappiness as the nature of life. Casting that off is a huge psychological task, let alone the immense political revolution that would have to happen to realise happiness for everyone.</p>

The Mass Image

Thursday, 09.02.2017
<p>I wrote in <a href="https://www.fotomuseum.ch/de/explore/still-searching/articles/29982_problems_of_happy_images" target="_blank" rel="noopener">my previous post</a> that individual images use the unavoidable division between being and appearance to create negative images of the world, and thereby to create glimpses of happiness as the opposite of the world we inhabit. That seems to be as true of individual prints or photographs as it is of unique paintings and drawings. But can the same be said of images in the mass?</p>

The Image Withheld

Wednesday, 15.02.2017
<p>All that distinguishes a photo as image and a photo as component of the mass image is the simple act of attention. Among all the billion images uploaded, stashed or discarded, only a tiny few secure even a few moments of active contemplation.</p>
Blog series: The Status of the Image in Digital Culture

Ingrid Hoelzl, Rémi Marie | 01.03. – 30.04.2016
The Status of the Image in Digital Culture

The current blog series are co-written by image theorists Ingrid Hoelzl and Rémi Marie. Until the end of April, they will reflect on the status of the image in digital culture. They will examine the shift from the humanist to the posthumanist programme of the image, in line with the shift from the geometric paradigm of the image (based on the linear perspective) to the algorithmic paradigm (introduced with digitalization). Hoelzl and Marie will discuss the central idea of their book Softimage (2015), the image as a software, and reflect on the status of the image in the age of autonomous machines – the postimage.

Softimage and Hardimage

Monday, 04.04.2016
<p>PS to our previous blog, <a href="http://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/explore/still-searching/articles/27022_on_the_invisible_image_and_algorithm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“On the Invisible (Image and Algorithm)”</a>.  As a friend suggested, we should have imagined Paglen’s photo of a secret military base in the so-called top-secret lab run by Sergey Brin “in an undisclosed Bay Area location”: here is the place for thinking about secrecy. In fact, Google seems intentionally to be creating an atmosphere of mystery around “a pair of otherwise ordinary two-story red-brick buildings about a half-mile from Google’s main campus” <span class="frzfn fn"><span class="marker">1</span><span class="text">Brad Stone, “Inside Google’s Secret Lab, Google X’s Silicon Valley Nerd Heaven – America’s Last Great Corporate Research Lab”, <em>Bloomberg.com/news</em>, 29 May 2013, <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-22/inside-googles-secret-lab">http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-22/inside-googles-secret-lab</a></span></span>. It is impossible to find much information on Google (sic!) apart from two journal articles. In the one published in <em>The New York Times</em> in 2011 we can read: “It’s a place where your refrigerator could be connected to the Internet, so it could order groceries when they ran low. Your dinner plate could post to a social network what you’re eating. Your robot could go to the office while you stay home in your pajamas. And you could, perhaps, take an elevator to outer space.” <span class="frzfn"><span class="marker">2</span><span class="text">Claire Cain Miller and Nick Biltonnov, “Google’s Lab of Wildest Dreams”, <em>The New York Times</em>, 13 November 2011.</span></span></p>

From the Kino-Eye to the Postimage

Tuesday, 26.04.2016
<p>In this last post, we want to explore the relation between vision, image and machine. With film, or already with photography, a new age has started: that of machine vision, of machines that see (for us). The logical consequence is that at some point, these machines will no longer need us to function (we’ve already come a long way from hand-cranked cameras to webcams) or to look at their images (think of automated CCTV surveillance or assembly robots). They may still see for us, but will do so without our involvement, as with self-driving cars for instance. What is at stake then in the age of machine vision is not only the status and concept of the image (what does “seeing” mean for a robot equipped with various sensors, among them visual ones?), it is also the status and concept of the human as the producer and consumer of images.</p>
Blog series: Images without Viewers

Jodi Dean | 05.01. – 29.02.2016
Images without Viewers

2016 kicks off with a new blog series by political theorist Jodi Dean, “Images without viewers“. Until the end of February, Dean will reflect on the repetition and circulation of images in communicative capitalism. In today’s digitally networked communication practices, photographs and images are incorporated and blended together with speech and writing, a process designated by Dean as “secondary visuality” (akin to Walter Ong’s “secondary orality”). How do mass personalized media involve “secondary visuality,” and what are the political repercussions? What does it mean when images are less for view than they are for circulation?

Images without Viewers

Wednesday, 06.01.2016
<p>My seventeen-year-old daughter, Sadie, and her friends use Snapchat, sharing snaps upwards of forty times a day. Sadie tells me that their conversations are “just pics with short captions.” The pic is typically a selfie of a stupid or ugly face (“look at my fucking forehead!”). Receivers respond with another ugly face and a funny retort (“YOU LOOK LIKE A KLINGON”). Sadie and her friends also post “stories,” stitched together photos and videos from their daily lives. Sadie says her stories are mostly “about my sick life” (“sick” apparently means good, fun, cool, or desirable in some inchoate sense).</p>

Images without Viewers: Emoji

Monday, 18.01.2016
<p>A smiley face streaming tears of joy was the <a href="http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/11/word-of-the-year-2015-emoji/">Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 word of the year</a>. That an emoji is not a word didn’t matter. Or, better, it is what actually did matter. “Face with tears of joy” was chosen to mark the fact that images are taking the place of linguistic expression of feelings and ideas. They are blending into, merging with, and displacing words and sentences in digitized personal communication. Visuals accompany and absorb text just as physical gestures augment oral communication. Multiple, repeatable, and generic images are less “of” than they are “for”– for circulation in the rich media networks of communicative capitalism.</p>

Images without Viewers: Selfie Communism

Monday, 01.02.2016
<p>Selfies are a communist form of expression.</p><p>The critical reflex is to dismiss selfies as yet another indication of a pervasive culture of narcissism. I disagree. The narcissism critique approaches the selfie as if it were analyzing a single photograph. It views the person in that photograph as the photograph’s subject. Selfies, though, should be understood as a common form, a form that, insofar as it is inseparable from the practice of sharing selfies, has a collective subject. The subject is the many participating in the common practice, the many imitating each other. The figure in the photo is incidental.</p>

Images without Viewers: Imitation, Repetition, Circulation

Wednesday, 10.02.2016
<p>My posts have been exploring secondary visuality as a key attribute of communicative capitalism. Secondary visuality names the primacy of the image in technologically mediated mass personal communication. Rather than the privilege of top-down communication (broadcast media, advertising) or a means of expression confined to artists and professionals, visual communication is part of everyday communication in digital networks.</p>

Images in Common

Tuesday, 23.02.2016
<p>In communicative capitalism, we communicate with words and images – what I’ve been referring to as “secondary visuality.” Communicative utterances that might have once been speech acts – like talking on the phone or sending a letter to the editor – now mix words and images: a text with emojis, an animated gif inserted into a comment thread, a meme. New kinds of visual conversations make stories out of photos and short videos (Snapchat). As interactions that flow across our screens, multiple images envelop us in a montage of humor, horror, the mundane, and the bizarre. Words and images are equivalent. One does not replace or subordinate the other. They intermix, mash, and mingle such that neither alone can be said to be the repository of truth.</p>
Blog series: François Brunet

François Brunet | 15.01. – 28.02.2014
François Brunet

Starting on January 15, 2014, the historian of images and American culture, François Brunet, will tackle the following questions in his blog series: Why are portraits relatively neglected in the history of images, and how can we approach them today? Can we consider or treat photographs, in general, as historical documents, and what does this mean today, particularly in the face of mounting visual skepticism? And what do we make of the circulation of images in writing histories of images and history in general? How does one study, narrate, illustrate circulation?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

Tuesday, 14.01.2014
<div>This is my first real attempt at writing a blog, and I want to thank the Fotomuseum Winterthur for inviting me. I have to beg readers to bear with me while I adjust my academic style to something more conversational, hoping indeed to continue the lively conversation on “Still Searching”. I say continue, because even though I mostly want to concentrate on history — how do we, how should we, write histories of photography today, in 2014? — I would like to interact with previous bloggers here, especially Marvin Heiferman’s very suggestive comments and questions in the previous series.<br><br></div>