The project formerly known as ‘The Olympic Arcades’ is many things:
:: an exploration of object-oriented approaches to photography and imaging through practice-reserach
:: a series of imag(in)ing mash-up experiments and imag(in)ings.
:: an investigation into the operation of the jpeg imag(in)ing protocol.
:: an investigation of the interface between software studies and object-oriented philosophy.
:: an attempt to create an Exploit (Galloway and Thacker, 2007) within the space of distributed imaging.
:: …oh, and a ‘practice-research PhD’ taking its inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project by Paul Caplan of the Internationale at Birkbeck, University of London.
In a Tweet…
A practice-research PhD using photography of 2012 to explore the nature of jpeg as an object.
I am a jpeg photographer. JPEG is the protocol I and many others (humans and companies) use to make my images findable, searchable, shareable and viewable. JPEG is one of the objects at play in the new distributed scopic regime.
Why Quadruple Object
I am using Graham Harman’s framework for understanding objects in The Quadruple Object as a way of trying to unpick the weirdness that is JPEG and as a way of developing my own imaging.
By building my research around objects (the protocol, the in camera software and myself as the JPEG-photographer) I can explore the nature of jpeg and the way it works (or fails). Connecting practice and research objects enables me to explore the sort of object connections that I am interested in.
What is the practice?
What is the research question?
What is the nature of the JPEG object? How does it work and what does that mean for imaging and governmentality?
Is this ‘software studies’?
Sort of… While it certainly looks at a software object and its relation to other software its object-oriented approach refuses to ‘contextualise’ that object within broader fields of digitality, a key aim of software studies.
Is this ‘visual culture studies’?
Sort of… While it starts from photography and works with scopic apparatuses and the idea of a scopic regime, it refuses to address those operations in terms of discourses of representation, ideology or subjectivity.
Is this ‘media archaeology’?
Possibly, but in the sense of an archaeology of the present. My concern is with the jpeg object. As a weird, material object it can be approached through media archaeology but only if that archaeology remains rooted in the actuality of objects beyond their relations, qualities and accidents.
What’s wrong with Galloway?
Nothing. Great stuff. Raised protocol as something to explore. Connected it to power. But… by framing it as a matter of language, he locates it in terms of relationality and so fails to deal with its withdrawal and connections, issues that an object-oriented approach can focus on.
What’s wrong with Manovich?
Again, nothing. Identification of the specificity of the new media object. Calling for a study of software, fine. But… Manovich provides a formalist rather than an actualist account of that specificity. For him the new media object is distinguished by it difference, its relations to other digital and analogue media.
My understanding of my practice as a JPEG photographer is that I connect object together in-camera and later online. By considering photographic practice as object-oriented, I can not only explore new ways of imaging but also new ways of understanding how distributed, stream, swarm imaging works.
What about power?
An object-oriented approach allows for an object-centred account of power open to exploit. By focusing on non-relational objects connecting within objects, it becomes possible to open those object up to reconfiguration.
Jane Bennett sees objects in terms of vibrant matter. For her material objects (the sorts of things I photograph) – and for me immaterial objects (the sorts of things I photograph with) – have a form of vibrancy and agentic potential that not only tells the story of that object and its connections but also does things.
What is object-oriented philosophy?
An outcome of the speculative realist project. While there are differences between its main proponents: Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Tim Morton and Ian Bogost, they share an interest in developing a flat ontology of agent-objects.
What is object-oriented photography?
A practice-research project that as a photographic practice images and imagines [imag(in)es] a flat ontology of vibrant objects, the rags ‘n refuse present in reality. As a philosophy of photography it sees imaging and imagining [imag(in)ing] as the connecting of objects within objects.
Harman’s object-oriented philosophy is distinct in that he sees two sorts of objects, Real and Sensual. The former (following Heidegger) withdraws from experience), the latter (following Husserl) are present to us as long as we expand energy on them. Objects are more than their relations, qualities and accidents. Real objects connect with sensual images within objects. Harman’s approach allows me to draw an account of the real jpeg that withdraws as well as they way it is enfolded within other software, photographic, business and governmental practices.
What about Whitehead?
Whitehead’s focus on becoming and an ‘eternal realm’ moves the focus away from objects to a field of becoming or context. Such a step away from the actuality of objects means that those objects are addressed as, if not dependent on, at least as determined by a broader field of relations or powers.
What about Latour?
While Latour certainly focuses on objects and draws attention to their presence, power and actuality, he presents them as a matter of relations. Objects are power-full or power-less depending on their relations with other objects in the networks. As with Whitehead, this field of relationality (what Latour calls the plasma) diverts attention away from objects in the specioficity, an issue that is important when addressing ‘weird’ objects such as protocol.
What about Deleuze?
An object-oriented approach has two problems with Deleuze: firstly he can be read as ‘undermining’ objects in favour of a notion of process. Secondly his concept of the ‘virtual’ places a stress on potentiality which locates objects in terms of some future rather than a present actuality.
What about potentiality?
Objects are always actual. They hold nothing in reserve. Potential, such as it is is a matter of objects not of fields of relationality or becoming. Here I seek to bring together Harman’s rejection of the notion of ‘potentiality’ with Bryant’s willingness to explore potential in terms of generative mechanisms. While they appear to be at odds, they both remain focused on objects as the ground and actual focus of attention.
What about relations?
Objects exceed their relations. They are not defined by them nor dependent on them. This does not mean that objects do not relate. They do but within objects not within a wider sphere of relationality or context.
Is this technological determinist?
Well yes, I suppose it is… The issue is how we draw that determinism. An object-oriented approach to protocol says that jpeg does something. It ‘determines’ jpeg practices and plays a part in ‘determining’ jpeg-empowered social media, scopic and governmental relations and practices across media. That determination must be drawn however in terms of object-connections, potentially short-lived, always within objects and always open to exploit.
What was all that stuff about the Olympic Arcades?
Originally the projects was called ‘The Olympic Arcades project”. It was a nod in the direction of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project in terms of his attempt to write the history of the present via fragments, objects, the rag ‘n refuse that, although often overlooked, tell the story.
…and the Olympics?
The project is not really about the Olympics but uses a project I have been working on as the case study for my practice-research. I have been photographing the rags ‘n refuse (and light) in the liminal space around the Fence as a way of documenting the presence of 2012.
Developing an object-oriented photographic practice offers a particular form of documentary built around an ecologically sensitive account of vibrant materiality. Developing an object-oriented philosophy of protocol allows an account of the sort of ‘weird’ material objects and assemblages forming social media as well as opening those power-full objects to exploit.
Published photographic imag(in)ings:
Published mashup imag(in)ings:
See the experiments.
- London 2012: Distributed Imag(in)ings and Exploiting Protocol in PLATFORM: Journal of Media and Communication 2(2) (September): 6-21 (HTML version; PDF version) [© Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia licence]
- Practising Theory. Paper delievered at ASCA International Workshop, Amsterdam, March 2011. (PDF version 8MB. Sorry it’s got imag(in)ings embedded!)
- Software Tunnels Through the Rags ‘n Refuse. Paper delivered at Platform Politics, Cambridge 12-13 May 2011. Text, PDF and video here.
- Towards an Object-Oriented Photography. Paper given at the Perceptions of Practice conference, Nottingham Trent University 11.07.11
- Video ‘paper’ Object-Oriented Photography in O-Zone.