The Fluid Image

thread count

I’ve been speaking on the changing role of images in my previous blog entries and today I want to deepen this discussion.

It’s no secret that photography and what we perceive as photographic images has undergone some huge changes over the past years. The rise of the World Wide Web, the emergence of digital photography, the constant improvement of mobile cameras, and the tendency to broadcast every instant of our lives on social media – all these factors changed photography.

There is this huge and growing stream of billions of images moving through the web (in 2017, it is expected that a staggering amount of 1,3 TRILLION images are produced throughout the year, a 3.561.643.835.616,44 images per day). Millions of people create their personal identities online and photos are a central part of that. They are not supposed to show reality, they are supposed to create reality. Additionally we see ourselves confronted with more and more computer generated imagery as depicted in movies or computer games. Images are just omnipresent and although we know that they lost their claim to depict reality long ago, I still wonder: can we process that on an emotional level? Not long ago studies showed that Instagram has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. Social media can “set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem”, their research showed. Images create feelings, they influence the way we evaluate persons and situations, they even decide the outcome of presidential elections. For example, many observers said that an image helped Gerhard Schröder and his party to win the elections in 2002.

Images might guide us on our way to make sense of the world around us, but might also mislead us. I truly believe that we need to develop a new way of “seeing” which is inherently related to being media-theorists of some kind, to being aware of the traces of data we read. We also need to rethink the terminology of “photographic image” or a “photograph”, as more and more of the photographic images we’re looking at on a daily basis aren’t “painted with light” anymore, but created within computing machines. The resulting images are sometimes beautiful, often boring and it becomes more and more hard to distinguish whether they’re staged, the things depicted on the image have actually taken place or whether they’re completely computer-generated. We have come to a place where we need to completely restart our way of reading images, the context they sit in, as well as the intentions these images were created for.

With Der Greif we are creating works dealing with these topics on different levels. Der Greif is basically an art project looking at photographic images from a meta-layer, analysing contemporary image production, distribution and consumption. We de- and recontextualize images. We change the meaning of a photograph by changing the context it appears in.

The following projects are all examples of how we create frameworks for images to circulate within, and how we connect virtual, physical and print spaces that these images are shown in.

In Thread Count, we took the jubilee print-issue #10 of Der Greif as the starting point. A selection of 24 photographers shown in the issue was asked to invite a photographer of their choice to submit a photograph that ‘reacts’ to theirs. This started a chain of invited photographers whose work responded to the previous image shown, and so forth. This chain reaction prompts photographers to interact with one another and for the audience to be able to visualize this dynamic ‘network’ of image threads developing.

For CO-OP during Unseen Amsterdam in September this year, Der Greif brought this thread of images into the physical space, making it fully accessible for the audience to interact with. Visitors were allowed to take their favorite images with them, which created some kind of a “reverse like-effect”, as the most popular images disappeared first. This entire process was monitored on the project website, so images also disappeared online.

(Un)filtered Scenarios was an experiment inquiring the selection process through the dynamics of net-based distribution. Breaking with the idea of single-person authorship, the project used a chain letter email that invited individuals to participate in the selection of images for an online exhibition by choosing one image from an open call. The email was sent to four initial participants, continuing its path as the invitees were asked to forward the email to two further participants once they made their choice.

The chosen images are displayed in an online exhibition. The selection process was anonymized, but participants were asked to fill out a form including standard social categories like gender, age or occupation. They were also asked to leave a personal note on why they chose the image. In an offline exhibition Fotomuseum Winterthur visualized the data and displayed the personal, possibly structural narratives that unfolded around the process of distributed image selection.

In A Process, our first exhibition-project in 2014, over a two-month time frame we transferred our different steps of artistic work—curation, de- and re-contextualization of submitted works —into real space. Using 279 small prints of submitted images as a starting point, we then moved these images from the initial presentation on a wall onto tables, where we started to re-combine them. The tables became the evidence of the finding and re-contextualization process as pictures and texts were set into different combinations.

A Process questions photography in its digital form as distinct medium, its handling with the use of the Internet as well as photography’s haptic stimuli and common perception of authorship. The project uses the World Wide Web’s participatory structure to connect participants, visitors and editors across national boundaries – made possible due to an online transmission of the entire exhibition.

More info on our projects with ‘Der Greif’ can be found here.

What are your thoughts on these topics? Do you agree that we need to develop new approaches to evaluate the images that we see? Or did you make other experiences? I am excited to hear your thoughts and to start a discussion around these topics, if you like.