Research Project: Automation

Excerpt from my essay:

Imagine technology as a train that constantly moves forward, as time does, according to our perception. Photography is a product of technology, in this example acting as a single coach, which is inherently synced with its direction, and shares many of its attributes.

In order to understand how photography has taken it’s current form and attempt to think of a possible future we have to trace its origin, and course in time. The principal concept of photography is situated in the camera obscura, where light enters a hole, travels through a darkened room, and projects onto a vertical plane. The second concept arising from the evolution of photography, replacing human actions, is Automation.

I described in the first post (Research Project: History of Photography) that throughout the evolution of the photographic apparatus there has been one element which is always present, and this is automation. Every effort of making a better camera , a lens, or recording medium led to more automated design. An example is the shutter, which replaced the hand of the photographer in front of the hole. The shutter beacame mechanical and automated. Coming to this conclusion was the result of reading several books, one of the called “Photographic Ar: Media and Disclosure” by Norman Peterson. In this book there is detailed analysis of photography as a medium and then discussion of the work of art. In the beginning there is a quote from the book Science and Technology written from Jonathon Benthall, which describes what photography meant when compared with its preceding medium, painting.

We have had difficulty in accommodating the procedures of photography within traditional aesthetic concepts. Photography Challenges our habitual of the control which artists are supposed, or were supposed, to have over their resources… In photography there is no plastic substance like paint or bronze which the artist manipulates and over which he is supposed to maintain a sort of total control… The artist’s hand is demoted from being a kind of organism in its own right and becomes a mere trigger or stabilizer.

It is this reason I think that photography was always considered as being an art and same time not being.

I traced in the book “Ubiquitous Photography” by Martin Hand many interesting points which I used in my essay. One of them was the fact that one medium is repositioning the previous, as I found in Amanda Griscom thesis. Although Martin Hand does not use Mcluhan’s theory, but Bruno Latour’s words from his essay ‘Where are the Missing Masses, Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts’.

The digital camera is the embodiment of over a century’s worth of photographic practice and knowledge, aesthetic conventions and expectations of specific genres. -Martin Hand

The camera enabled accumulation of experimental skills, the individualisation of the photographic process, and the generation of digital forms of expertise form the context for examining how non-human and human agency are redistributed in technological culture. -Bruno Latour

Here demonstrated by a more practical example:

Perhaps the most famous invention – the Kodak camera of 1888 – enabled a fundamental alteration of the relationships between photographer, camera and the subject, by removing any requirement to know how the camera or chemical process worked and, most importantly, any ability to produce images without training (Latour 1991)

All the above count in the same sense for digital photography which has incorporated all previous knowledge and technologies in a compact, highly automated design, which can and is, used by anyone.

It is this point that led me to assume that our the way we see the world is changing because of the increasing amount of cameras in our hands. We see the world more and more through screens, and according to Lev Manovich, the camera, the screen and 3D graphics are the computer’s equivalent to the sense of vision.

I have paying attention lately to talks and lectures from science fiction authors like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, and to an extend I agree that their futuristic prophecies are possible because they have a great knowledge of the past and present. A very interesting story made as collaboration of Sterling and Chris Nakashima (Windsor Executive Solutions) features the characters in a world that every interaction they have is somewhat mediated by the computer. Also the fact that I have been reading more about the cyberculture pushed me to accept the notion of mediation though computers. After all it’s not to hard to believe. Most of us are already having conversations online with people you have never met face-to-face before and you will probably never meet.

Also another very interesting source is James Bridle’s much discussed blog The New Aesthetic, which is a collection of moments that the digital/virtual has informed the physical, even some times spilling out of the screen. In this blog you can find objects or art inpired by the digital age and it’s inherent attributes, as the pixels, the perfect order, the straight lines and so on.

Excerpt from my essay:

The rise of the world wide web expanded the reach of computation, connecting anything that is digital, enabling us, the operators, to communicate in more ways than the pre-internet media allowed. Since the photograph has transcended to its new form, it is compatible with the network.

Marshall Mcluhan thought of the media as the extensions of man. He believed that “any extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.”

Science-fiction author Cory Doctorow describes cars, airplanes, and the buildings we inhabit, “as computers we put our bodies into.”

Undeniably computers are becoming extensions of our own bodies that mediate our thoughts and actions. It is estimated a billion smartphones were sold just in 2013. These devices are connected and see the world through cameras. We use them to keep our memories, tell stories, search the internet, communicate with those we care. With them at hand we can extract fragments from the physical space, while bring to life experiences off the virtual.

Though cameras; are attached to any and every physical object. We use cameras in buildings and transportation for security, satellites and telescopes for observations, but also surveillance; we use cameras for military purposes by attaching them on robots and drones.

We train computers to analyse images and act on our behalf. Increasingly we rely on vast amount of digital imagery to tell us the truth, or show us the way.

“The direct observation of visible phenomena gives way to a tele-observation in which the observer has no immediate contact with the observed reality.” (Paul Virilio)

By examining in depth the nature of the photographic apparatus, it has been clear to me that its evolution didn’t give us just more ways to create images, but expanded our biological capabilities. We have certainly gained greater understanding of our current environment but only through the artificial construct. Therefore, this does not only raise questions relevant to the future of photography, but also the future of humanity in a mediated environment.

List of References:

Peterson, N. (1980) Photographic Art: Media and Disclosure. Michigan: UMI Research Press

Newhall, B. (1982) The History of Photography : From 1839 to The Present. London: Secker & Warburg

Latour B. (1992) ‘Where are the Missing Masses, Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts’. Shaping Technology-Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnical Change Wiebe Bijker and John Law (editors), MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. pp. 225-259

Mitchell, W. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye : Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. Cambridge, MA. ; London: MIT Press

Manovich, L. (2001) The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press

Kember, S. (2003) ‘The Shadow Object’: Photography and Realism in The Photography Reader. ed. by Wells, L. ; London: Routledge

Lister, M. (2011) ‘Photography In The Age Of Electronic Imaging’ in The New Media and Technocultures Reader. ed. by Giddings, S., Lister, M. Abingdon ; New York: Routledge

Bridle, J. (2011) The New Aesthetic [6 May 2011] available from <> [12 February 2014]

Bridle, J. (2011) The New Aesthetic: Waving at the Machines [online] available from <>, video at <> [12 February 2014]

Hand, M. (2012) Ubiquitous Photography [Digital Media And Societies Series]. Cambridge: Polity Press

Sterling, B. (2012) An Essay on the New Aesthetic. [2 April 2012] available from <> [12 February 2014]


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