Digital Images

Eyeball001“We might best regard digital images, then, neither as ritual objects (as religious paintings have served) nor as objects of mass consumption (as photographs and printed images are in Walter Benjamin’s celebrated analysis), but as fragments of information that circulate in high-speed networks now ringing the globe and that can be received, transformed, and recombined like DNA to produce new intellectual structures having their own dynamics and value” – William J. Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992) 52.

Recombinant images…hmmm.  In a basic sense, people worry about ownership and copyright in ways that are anachronistic given the digital world.  The image commons is a liberating phenomenon, as are the ways in which we can easily transfer images to various devices and archive them in safer ways. 

The more troubling aspect of image manipulation and new modes of visualizing information is the way that the “real” has been altered.  It is impossible to tell – from the image alone – whether the makers of the image aspire to its “truth-telling” capabilities (image as evidence) or its documentary potential (as in photo-journalism).  How best to utilize representation to further democratic principles?  How to use it ethically and responsibly?  Or is this a mute point?  Is our lot in this era more a matter of approaching images with a criticality and skepticism?  After all, propaganda is not in itself a new phenomenon, but is as ancient as human mark-making.  We just have new methods for its production and circulation.  But so too do we have new methods of exposing, undermining, and subverting it.


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