A tale of two cameras and a broken apparatus

In effect there are two camera/apparatuses. The first is immaterial but not virtual. Although it cannot be held or mounted on a tripod, although it ‘withdraws from view’ that does not make it any less real an object or any less material. Its power to imag(in)e as well as its alliances with other actants in the network, make it real. Its enfolding with practices, structures and temporalities mean that it has a materiality, a location and presence.

This camera/apparatus is best thought of as itself enfolded. It is tempting to use the metaphor of an onion but to do so would perhaps be to invite conceptions of depth, essence and foundation. The camera is built around the ‘digital imag(in)ing pipeline” the process of light becoming data. The jpeg protocol sits between the sensor and the memory card, encoding the data as a jpeg/JFIF image file. In alliance with other in-camera software, jpeg ‘makes decisions’ about colour, white balance, what data to keep and what to lose and renders a common format file to the memory card. Here (in this immaterial camera) the imag(in)ing pipeline is enfolded in the Wi-Fi network relations that Adrian Mackenzie discusses (2010). The jpeg/JFIF file is automatically uploaded via WiFi to photo-sharing sites as well as a folder on a website. The image/imagining is enfolded in the social stream and potentially immediately replicated and distributed as it is copied, shared, downloaded and cached.

The second camera/apparatus is more clearly material. It consists of a digital camera, a WiFi memory card, a router and a ‘computer’. All of these components of the ‘camera/apparatus’ are open to their own media archaeology. Each object is enfolded in its own relations and alliances that position and empower it as a part of ‘wider’ networks – be that global capitalist electronic industries, telco marketing practices or patent, IP and copyright struggles. This second camera/apparatus enables the former camera/apparatus to work. The digital imag(in)ing pipeline is enabled through this material instantiation. Where this camera/apparatus becomes particularly interesting is in the final component, the ‘computer’.

The digital imag(in)ing pipeline apparatus renders a distributed network image/imagining on the Internet (whether ‘on’ Flickr or on a website). This can be engaged with through a window. The window is simultaneously a material device (a PC, a Tablet, a Phone) and an immaterial software apparatus: a browser, a photo management software interface, an archive file structure or a search engine. Each window locates that image/imagining within the distributed imaginary, a fragment. But there is not just a single window in this apparatus. Once that jpeg/JFIF is ‘out there’ there are as many window components as there are network devices – a worldwide swarm (Parikka 2010a) of material phones, tablets, laptops, computers and photo frames as well as immaterial search and archive interfaces, widgets and mashups. (Of course there is a similar distributed widening out of devices at the camera end, but that is different insofar as these can be seen as separate apparatuses, even if they too form a swarm).

There is one final camera/apparatus in operation. A broken imag(in)ing device. A failure. The only difference is that within the ‘digital imag(in)ing pipeline’ the light becomes data and then networked data but bypasses jpeg. The RAW data is written to the card and uploaded through WiFi to the distributed Web where it remains ‘unvisible’. The windows cannot see it. The browsers cannot render it. Although the RAW-encoded file remains enfolded in its own structural, commercial and political/economic alliances, these are different than those of the jpeg/JFIF file. They are less pervasive, perhaps less power-full.

The broken (RAW) camera highlights the operation of the working (jpeg/JFIF) apparatus, particularly when both cameras are enfolded in the same device, when pressing the button takes a picture with both.

  • Mackenzie, A., 2010, Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism In Network Cultures, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..
  • Parikka, J., 2010, Insect Media: An Archaeology Of Animals And Technology, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.