Belay: 16 January 2011

Rock climbers belay. As they head higher, they add an anchor point (a ‘save as’, a ‘snapshot’, a ‘back-up’) in the rockface. Should they fall, they only fall back as far as the belay point. As I head towards summer 2012 (my submission not the Games) hopefully making progress 5(00) at a time, I’m going to pause to belay for three reasons:

  • When people ask me what I’m doing/researching/writing, I’ll have an anchor to point them too
  • I’ll be able to look down on these points and see how the view has got clearer and hopefully more interesting
  • If I fall, well I’ll have something to catch me and a point to start again from.

Belay: 16 January 2011

I am looking at the relationship between the jpeg protocol that compresses digital image data and the new photographic and imaging practices of sharing, publishing, streaming, archiving and remixing online that can be seen as a distributed ‘scopic regime’. My aim is to explore how the powerful implications and issues raised by that regime – issues of intellectual property and copyright, ethics, materiality and affect – are related to the protocol code.

These research questions arise from practice-research, or more correctly the failures at the heart of that practice-research. Through a series of imaging experiments, I have been trying to ‘chase protocol’, to locate it rather than see its effects; to separate it from the image, the signification and the visualisation; to track its relations to corporate and state interests that use it in surveillance, marketing, archiving and social networking businesses . I have failed. I have found the trails of the issues it raises, the traces of its operation and relations but not it.

This has led me to explore a framework for understanding and accounting for that slippery nature, that materiality/immateriality, that reality/virtuality, that stasis and praxis. I am exploring whether object-oriented philosophy can provide an account of this protocol-object that not only explains its position but opens up the possibility for its political reconfiguration or counter-protocological struggle.

Object-oriented philosophy takes all objects seriously. From this perspective, protocol is an object doing things in the world, an object-actant. As with all other objects, whether material or immaterial, real or virtual, the protocol-object is folded into relations with other actants in the network (NB not just computer networks). Its power arises from the relations or alliances in which it is folded. Jpeg’s presence in Google and Facebook’s businesses, Microsoft and Apple’s operating systems and Adobe’s software as well as my iPad and my daughter’s phone and social networking relations means that jpeg has become so enfolded and so everyday and transparent that it can be considered as a ‘black box’, a power-full object so firmly established we take its ‘interior’ (those actant-relations) for granted.

An object-oriented approach allows us to approach and map jpeg without recourse to a foundationalist or essentialist position that would see it as the source of scopic effects or power relations. Rather it can be addressed as a scopic apparatus – a device for imaging – that has a specific position, a history and a future. This view, derived from media-archaeological accounts of apparatuses and technologies as historically located, material and enfolded, means we can look at how jpeg can be a field of struggle, how it can be enfolded into alternative imaging practices such as mashups.