Imaging not image; hacking not hack; programming not programme

When people hear that I am working on a ‘practice-research’ PhD the first question is usually what the ‘subject’ is and the second what my ‘practice’ is. It is clear from the literature around practice-research, often built around the case study (Barrett and Bolt 2010) that the “creative work”, the object is integral to practice-research’s USP, claim to legitimacy and the subjectivity of the practice-researcher.

Even those practice-research practices that include a focus on process – the development of a dance, the curating of a show, the training before an activist action still lead to a product. The process may be integral to the work and indeed to the practice-research but there is s still an ‘object’ at the end. For Judith Aston the process of developing a “multilayered associated narrative” is a key space for learning but running through that research is the expectation that Aston and her anthropologist colleague Professor Wendy James would produce a piece of work. She says: “my intention is to produce nested layers of interlinked multimedia pieces, which individually communicate discrete ideas and arguments and collectively combine to reinforce the themes discussed in the book” (2008: 47).

Anne Burke says her work exploring the Aran Islands “was concerned with two key questions: the role of photography in the assertion of ethnographic authority; and the potential of the photograph as a means of interrogating that same authority” (2008: 127). Here again the process (photography)  was enfolded in the practice but the resultant photograph-works were integral to the practice-research.

Even those practice-research projects explicitly working through a process of “experimentation” or “enquiry” tend to have a “product” as a key part of the process. Terry Flaxton’s enquiry into the experience of HD imagery features the creation of works: “I proceeded to devise six new works that explored the issues as I was beginning to see them” (2009: 128). Whether raw material for the study or, following Smith and Dean’s iterative model (2009), enfolded into the process, the work-object is at the heart of practice-research.

But not for me.

My exploration of protocol and the operations of jpeg within the “digital imag(in)ing pipeline”, avoids the product. My work is about imaging, not images. It is about a process – object relations and alliances.

As I have developed the experiments, moving away from creating particular images to creating mashups to interfaces to practices, I have found that the further I get from creating a “work” the more protocol’s operations become visible, the more the black box begins to crack. It is not only that early experiments creating augmentations and screengrabs from the stream produced images that could be mistaken for ‘jpeg’ or positioned the work within the sort of semiotic framework that Miller and Bennett warn against. It is also that the digital imag(in)ing pipeline, the operations of jpeg and other software protocols, withdraws from view. The trace is foregrounded. If, as I argue, failure makes for more powerful practice-research, then success-full image-objects mean less

The latest experiments seek to avoid a finished or even preliminary “work”. The practice is the process. Just as jpeg is a practice, an encoding and decoding within the digital imag(in)ing pipeline, my experiments in taking, processing and sharing  are my practice.

Garry Winogrand “left over 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, 6,500 rolls of processed film, 3,000 rolls of contact sheets that evidently hadn’t been looked at – a total of 12,000 rolls, or 432,000 photos Winogrand took but never saw” (Resnick n.d.). Vivian Maier ( too left countless rolls of film, photographic objects or works unmade. Winogrand and Maier were photographers. They wanted to produce image-work-objects. But the process was clearly as important. The wandering of the streets and the shooting was arguably as much their practice as the final image.

Maybe my practice is photography or imaging or digital processing or hacking or programming. Maybe it is some hybrid. What is becoming clear is that ‘chasing protocol’ demands a continuous tense: practice imaging not image; hacking not hack; programming not programme.

  • Aston, J., 2008, Voices from the Blue Nile: Using digital media to create a multilayered associative narrative, Journal of Media Practice, 9(1), pp. 43-51.
  • Barrett, E. & Bolt, B. (eds.), 2010, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, I. B. Taurus, London; New York.
  • Burke, A., 2008, Intersections On The Aran Islands: Integrating Photographic Practice And Historical Enquiry, Journal of Media Practice, 9(2), pp. 127-38.
  • Flaxton, T., 2009, Time And Resolution: Experiments In High-Definition Image Making, Journal of Media Practice, 10(2&3), pp. 123-47.
  • Resnick, M., n.d., Coffee and Workprints: A Workshop With Garry Winogrand, Black & White World. Retrieved February 3, 2011,  from
  • Smith, H. & Dean, R.T. 2009, Introduction: Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice – Towards the Iterative Cyclic Web, in Smith & Dean (eds), Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice In The Creative Arts, Edinburgh Univ Pr, Edinburgh, pp. 1-40.