Clear to see… or imag(in)e

Just because the jpeg protocol withdraws from sight, that its role is to build alliances within software and between software and imag(in)ing practices as well as between media and web business and strategies, doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood, imag(in)ed perhaps, as an object. Object-oriented philosophy allows us to account for the ontology of that object but it is also possible to approach it from a media-archaeological positions as a scopic (imag(in)ing) apparatus.

Such an approach would locate the protocol’s work of data compression and creation in terms of a long material and discursive history of scopic apparatuses for creating, rendering and viewing/consuming images and imaginings. Here jpeg is looked at alongside the camera obscura, the window, medical and astronomical devices and those pencils of nature apparatuses from the Leica to the iPhone. Each has operated and related to each other in terms of constructing and instantiating scopic regimes and practices. Each, as an apparatus-object-actant, has been enfolded in powerful alliances and translations. Some have become black boxes others have not.

Jpeg can be seen as every bit as much a scopic apparatus as a perspective frame or an iPhone both held at arms length, framing an image, constructing an imaginary and working as an object with other objects, be that Renaissance perspective, philosophy and religion or the marketing of an ‘App Store’ – both of course sites of struggle, the former in relations of church and state, the latter in terms of Microsoft’s challenge to Apple’s copyright claims. No object nor scopic apparatus is ever outside alliances framed in terms of struggle.

Somewhere in the code of Windows 7 there is an instantiation of the jpeg protocol. Windows 7’s “snipping tool” allows a user to grab a section of the screen and save it as a jpeg-encoded image file. This is imaging, a form of photography even. Regardless of whether the screen that is ‘grabbed’ (an interesting metaphor itself) includes images (copyrighted or not) or text or indeed just a plain colour renedered by the operation system, jpeg images. It creates an image. And by doing so, it imagines. Just as Alberti’s window or an optical coherent tomographic (OCT) imaging apparatus create an image  (whether that is preserved or not), so the jpeg protocol takes information and constructs  an image.

You cannot hold jpeg (as you would a camera). You cannot even separate it from the other software actants with which it works (as you can separate the camera obscura from the light sensitive materials that could fix the image). It will always withdraw and remain parasitic on its alliances but without it, there would be fewer images and imag(in)ings.

Even if one were not to see jpeg as an object (in the OOP sense) but rather as a language or even a practice, its status, position and power as a scopic, imag(in)ing apparatus expanding and also contracting what is, can be and should be imag(in)ed is clear to see… or maybe that’s imag(in)e.