NO CAPTION NEEDED
ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

June 26th, 2007

Photosynth

Posted by Hariman in the visual public

For a glimpse of the future, click here to see an 8 minute video on digital composition software that can combine many thousands of photographs to create composite images. That’s a very rough description, of course. The slam dunk example is an image of Notre Dame made up of many snapshots and other images, each of which can be accessed through a zoom technology. As the designer points out, this is not just a slick piece of software but rather a medium for developing collective experience. I found it to be a beautiful example of how images record intersubjective reality. What is true of the Photosynth composite also applies to individual images and can be brought to the surface through interpretation: the image is a composite of collective experience, which is the result of many overlapping interactions though which we establish what is real. Marcel Henaff and Tracy Strong have made the point succinctly: “The Internet makes real the virtual, not the reverse” (Public Space and Democracy, p. 224.).

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  1. Randall Bush said,

    on June 26th, 2007 at 8:21 am

    What’s really interesting about this technology is that it provides essentially the opposite experience normally attributed to “participatory” electronic/internet media: instead of providing an outlet for diffuse statements and open-ended commentary (myspace, facebook, the blogosphere), its contribution is to gain visibility at the price of “being something greater than the sum of its parts,” as the speaker mentions. At the risk of the obvious irony, I think the absolutely erroneous assumption of blogging–and of course, its greatest temptation–is its ability to position you as a speaker with an audience at all times; this technology makes gorgeously clear that there is a significant price to be paid for visibility in the age of technological enlightenment. I think this is crucial because it puts to bed the democratic impulse fad attributed to the internet since its inception, if for no other reason than it implies that no one gains an audience any longer by just saying things online–or, perhaps, through visual media more generally. Instead, they have to be a part of something–they have to find a cross to bear, or risk having one thrust upon them. I wonder if this is a problem associated with technology, or if technology makes it more (painfully) obvious.

    But I wonder if it doesn’t also force us to change our understanding of collective experience that you referenced above. When I see that image, no matter what it is composed of, I first understand it as being a design medium, rather than a participative one. Like any other work (a book, for example), I recognize that it is made up of the efforts of various people, no matter what the byline tells me. Even more, I do not see the conditions for experience, I see the operative usage of various forms of experience. These are things that may not so much make up “collective experience” as they make up the distilling of a meaning through various interfaces (technological or otherwise). I think we need to distinguish that from a collective experience in the too-simple sense, because it leads us to believe that a) we can understand others’ _experience_ through this medium and b) that we can identify collective _reality_ in and through the composite image, rather than merely use it as a particularly compelling example.


  2. on July 2nd, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    [...] link in my previous post is thanks to a new blog: No Caption Needed. It is both a book and a blog by my colleague Bob Hariman at [...]

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