The App in apparatus

Mobile phone cameras are examples of “digital imag(in)ing apparatuses”. They combine the various components, material and immaterial, hardware and software in a particular apparatus. The phone apparatus also optionally connects with network components as the phone connects to WiFi or 3G networks. It can also connect with (form alliances with) the social web by ‘sharing’ or uploading the image files the apparatus creates.

The jpeg protocol is a key actant within this network, serving to compress and encode the data coming from the CCD and render it admissible and accessible. This is common to all such apparatuses but the emerging ‘app economy’ adds not only new alliance issues but also new imaging and ontological questions.

Photography apps, whether for taking, manipulating or archiving and sharing images, set up and work across new alliances. The digital imag(in)ing apparatus is brought into alignment with an ecosystem of small and large scale programmers, companies, businesses and business strategies as well as connecting in new ways with Apple or Google businesses as they seek to develop, own and control the app economy.

The app as an instantiation of particular alliances constitutes particular sets of relations and processes. As well as locating imaging within the alliances common to any protocol-driven imaging process, its event is particular to mobile imagining practices, mobile WiFi and 3G networks and relations.

The app also configures the software event in particular ways. By combining encoding with particular forms of post processing (through filters and what in Photoshop are called ‘actions’ e.g. creation of a border), the app moves beyond simply writing data to the card according to particular protocol standards and software-defined standards of what is colour balance, gamma etc. The software that constitutes the app applies particular algorithms to the data (presented as filters or in the case of Apps like Hipstamatic, ‘films’ and ‘lenses’) that encode particular effects into the data as it is written as a jpeg/JFIF image file.

For some there are ethical issues in play here. When a New York Times photographer used an App while on assignment, debate raged as to whether the software effects – applied between pressing the button and ‘seeing the image’ i.e. within the digital imag(in)ing pipeline – constituted the same sort of ethical problematic that post-processing or ‘manipulating in Photoshop offers. For some the issue is the same, a perceived loss of some more fundamental indexical connection that ‘pure’ digital imaging (even with a phone) can carry. The work of software in aestheticising the image and the imagining is a step beyond photography and particularly photo-journalism. A similar set of questions could be raised about the role of App software in terms of authorship. When an imaging artists chooses and uses particular Photoshop filters arguably she is making creative choices. When software does it, is that an abdication of authorial intent?

The App depends on protocol. Without the common standard and interoperability of jpeg, the App could of course encode and render light-as-data-as-image-as-manipulated image, but it would be unvisble and unsharable.