Post-photographic Seeing Machines and Contemporary Concepts of Witnessing
The practices of producing, perceiving, and disseminating photography are digital and networked; data streams, ubiquity and virtuality, constructs, code, and manipulation have taken the place of discursive building blocks such as creation, originality and materiality, trace, transparency, and truth. The image itself is now little more than the precipitate of a pre-existing network of data that remains independent of the image. The consequences of this for our understanding of the form, medium, and authorship of images are yet to be determined.
But this frustration of the recording process – our guarantor for reality – is just one possibility, not an unavoidable corollary of digital imagery. Photographic media have retained a paradigmatic function in the digital age. Indeed, some areas of image production suggest that we need to go even further: Harun Farocki, Paul Virilio, and Trevor Paglen have spoken of images made for machines, by machines, and never even intended for human eyes. Such images no longer have anything to do with the concept of authorship or with anthropocentric notions of the image as the endpoint of works produced by and for people using media. To a certain extent the same can be said of images generated by webcams: a deluge of virtual images that start life with neither audience, place, or material substrate. Artistic approaches to these initially virtual images range from the appropriation of found footage to the realisation of pictorial potentialities. After the death of the author, and of the indexical paradigm in photographic theory, these approaches promise high yields for theories of authorship, evidentiality, and documentation.
Located as they are between indexicality and realism, such documentary practices need to be reconceived as a new type of image, where the construction of conventional artistic gestures and the continued existence of the photographic paradigm require further elaboration. Artistic approaches to Google Streetview, webcams, and related media will be the focus of this investigation.