Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Latent Image

My essay on The Latent Image has just been published by the online International Journal of the Image, my keynote for the inaugural conferenc on the image at UCLA. The journal and the publishing platform are worthy of support; I'm grateful that they allowed me to make this essay available open source: here's the abstract

How can we describe a moving image, composed of thousands of successive images, as “an” image? I want to explore the possibility that the coherence of the image is premised on latency. A latent image is one which is captured in photographic film prior to development. It is by nature invisible. Similarly invisible latent states structure lenses, aperture ratios, compositing, grading and edits. Looking at the codec wars currently breaking out in preparation for HTML5, this talk investigates the relationships between the aesthetics and political economy of the image in the 21st century.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Afterlife of Cinema

The "Death of Cinema" (DoC)is a theme addressed by several prominent film aestheticians (Rodowick, Mulvey, Balides and in a rather different tenor Doane among them). It's fundamental premise is that analog cinematography had a privileged relation ('indexicality') to the real which is no longer true of digital media

In a paper at the White Rose seminar hosted by York University, I argued a) the technical detail of the argument is deeply flawed b) there is no unified fied of practice, no essence, to "the" digital. The second half of the paper, which I didn't have time to deliver, starts off like this. I hope to write up the full argument: any comments very welcome

DoC is a humanism. Enshrining what analog cinema captures as 'reality', it sacralises the reality constructed in cinema as 'real' reality. So what is the real, really? To the extent that it can be captured in the relation of indexicality, it is a gesture on the part of symbolic activity – linguistic, mathematical or imagistic – to single out what is excluded from the symbolic domain. It is in this case what symbolization produces as its other. Just as the subject is "an effect of language" (and other symbol systems), so reality is an effect of alienation, that produces the object of the subject-object relation. It is a flaw in the flow of images and numbers. We might ask, for example, which contains more reality: a photographic landscape or a map? We set all sorts of nets and traps: reality is what evades them, the impossible object of our desire for knowledge, possession and the order of knowledge and command.

. . . . The 'reality' of cinematic depictions is not merely an illusion (the reality effect), not just the guarantor of the subject as subject to and of Reality as a given (and so of the ideological apparatus of cinema) but what proves to the imaginary collective subject of Humanity that it is not the author of the reality which depiction creates for it. In this process, however, there is a displacement: authority cannot reside in Humanity, because subjectivity is posed as an effect of Reality (and so not, for example, as effect of language or political economy). Authorship, and with it authority, must therefore be displaced: onto a relation between nature and the technologies that mediate it. This denial of human authorship actively excludes the human, as subject or as polity, society or culture. Thus the construct Reality can finally function as the object to which, individual or collective, the subject is subject. For Negri, in this displacement is revealed the fundamentally human quality of the world (Art and Multitude 36), because this interaction of nature and technology is the human itself. It is this illusion that the DoC thesis exists to defend and, if possible, restore to its throne.

Medium Extremely Specific

Midway through the 20th century, in the age of MacLuhan and Greenberg, modern media industries like film and the press seemed stable, technically and institutionally. Theories of medium-specificity, based on the stability of film run on sprockets or of painting as a practice involving pigment on canvas, made sense then. Rosalind Krauss's attack on this conjuncture, and her proposal of a 'postmedium condition', is understandable: the era when print, paint and film were utterly separate is over. The kind of binary oppositions between analog and digital that are voiced in film studies are a naive reworking of the Greenberg-MacLuhan theses. Krauss would be right - if she did not ignore the critical feature of new media formations, especially in artistic practices: that media are remade in more and more specific constellations, in order to be used in unique ensembles. If on the one hand there is a tendency towards software standardisation, on the other there is radical divergence in technique, and radical innovation in technologies and their assemblage into new apparatuses. These developments must drive us to pay far more detailed attention to the materiality of artworks now than in the recent past, when what a work was made of scarcely signified, since most works were made of the same things as all the others.