Methodology: using protocol

Using protocol

The second set of experiments explored the processual nature of the protocol object by working with it directly. By imag(in)ing 2012 in and through jpeg, I looked to move my imag(in)ing into a social space and also understand the relationship between that protocol as process actant and that regime of imag(in)ing.

Once again this understanding must be seen as arising from the productive clash of practice and theory within research, the coming together of fragments of, in this case, programming and imaging with my framework of object-oriented and processual philosophies[ref]There are clearly issues around the term ‘object oriented programming’ that could appear relevant here. This particular form of writing programmes, based on sections of reusable code, has only a tangential, perhaps metaphorical relation to a philosophy built around discrete but interconnected objects.[/ref]. Following my model of practice hyphen research, my understanding of protocol’s nature, working and power through alliances emerged from that meeting, the fragmentary dialectical clash of imag(in)ing practices and imag(in)ing theory.

These experiments took two forms: my own digital network images and network mash-ups.

I used an Olympus DSLR and a Canon digital compact to continue my project imag(in)ing the rags ’n refuse, the vibrant matter around the 2012 space. As I shall discuss in the next section, these cameras allow the light reaching the CCD to be encoded as RAW data or through the jpeg protocol as Jpeg/JFIF data files. With these experiments I used the jpeg protocol to encode that light-as-data at different compression settings.

I also used an iPhone photography App Hipstamatic as a ‘camera’[ref]Interestingly this App writes its name into the camera field of the EXIF metadata of the jpeg image, positioning a piece of software as camera.[/ref]. This App caused some controversy among photographers and photographic writers when it was used by a professional photojournalist, Damon Winter, on assignment in Iraq. Hipstamatic uses software to filter the image data – encoded as jpeg by the phone software – rendering a series of retro effects. A user is allowed to choose a lens and film (sic) that create a particular effect. She can also shake the phone to choose random ‘equipment’. The controversy arose over whether Winter had somehow abdicated control to the software. To post process an image to look retro (either in Photoshop or in a chemical darkroom) was seen as one thing to allow software to do it was epistemologically and ethically another. I used the random shake feature of Hipstamatic to add a layer of chance to my imag(in)ing. Just as with Kodachrome, I never knew precisely what I would get[ref].Hipstamatic’s use of photographic language and imagery continues as one waits for the image to be rendered by the software. The App informs you that “prints are developing”.[/ref]

These three sets of digital imag(in)ing practices, as with the analog practices, were enfolded with my theory – not only in terms of the vibrant material objects I chose to photograph but also the sense of becoming and perishing that I knew was happening ‘in camera’ as I pressed the button and waited the split second (Olympus and Canon) or 20 seconds (Hipstamatic) it took for jpeg to do its work, for the protocol to become, render the image and then perish only to be re-instantiated with the next shot. This conception of protocol’s work emerged from the interplay of the practice and theory as I walked and img(in)ed.

I also used my iPhone as an imag(in)ing apparatus. Rather than use the camera App, I used the screen-grab functionality to ‘take a photo’ of the stream of images on Flickr and TwitPic. By searching for images that were either tagged by the user as related to 2012 or had geolocations around the Fence as tags set by their cameras, I could pull in streams of 2012 images taken near where I was walking (or possibly taken on the other side of the Fence) recently or many years ago. I also used my Mac at home as an imag(in)ing apparatus, setting up particular tag or geotag searches and screen-grabbing the result. I took these images (screen grabs of image flows), these imag(in)ings of the distributed scopic web as well as of ‘2012’ and fed them back into the network. I uploaded them to Flickr where they could appear again in my or anyone else’s searches or screengrabs[ref]Strictly speaking the screengrab images themselves were not rendered through jpeg. They were not jpeg/JFIF images. The screngrab software on the iPhone and the Mac captured the screen as a PNG file. The point here however is that the flow of images, the searches and the geolocative archive  was enabled by jpeg.[/ref].

I also used Augmented Reality (AR) Apps as imaging apparatuses to pull photos taken around the Fence (inside or outside) and overlay them on the live view[ref]AR overlays data on the camera view. This data can include information from Wikipedia, Google searches or any other data source that provides geoinformation including Flickr and other photo-sharing sites.[/ref]. I also pulled in details of nearby brands (including 2012 sponsors) who made the location of their nearest burger bar or coffee house available. This flow of data, paralleling the flow of images, was grabbed in the same way. These screen-grabs were once again fed back into social imag(in)ing space by being uploaded back onto Flickr.

The second strand to these “imag(in)ing using protocol” experiments was based on imag(in)ing in and through the network. But rather than looking to capture that network imag(in)ing (shades of the decisive moment again), looking to imag(in)e the process, to focus on the flow.

I built a window. I used Yahoo Pipes[ref]A web 2.0 service that uses APIs and open protocols as a way of building simple mash-ups without programming ([/ref] to build a ‘slideflow’ that pulled in Flickr images according to their EXIF metadata[ref]It is important to note that the metadata written into a jpeg/JFIF Image can be added by the camera software (including the jpeg protocol), the user at the time of taking or uploading, or by anyone else. Without forensic investigation of the history of the file and its data construction it is impossible to know the veracity, timing or status of the metadata my mashup was searching on. While this could be seen as a problem, it is also a productive issue insofar as it highlights the malleable and porcessual nature of the objects in question as well as the ways in which people use that metadata, tagging as apart of cultural and signifying practices.[/ref]. Similar to the imaging apps I had used on my phone, this created a view into distributed imagespace. The default setting for a Yahoo Pipes mashup is a slideshow (or slideflow as I described it). This very visual rendition of the code presents a film strip with a ‘window”. The viewer is positioned in a strange position seemingly passively watching a film but also actively peering (gazing perhaps) through a window into a seemingly limitless set of imag(in)ings. The viewer is also offered a maps perspective, an arial, God’s-eye view of imag(in)ings located in real space, rendered across a territory. Whether it is the familiar window or the equally familiar map, the viewer sees a complex and potentially overwhelming saturation of imag(in)ings through a metaphor that renders them controllable, familiar and located. Here jpeg is the problem and Yahoo Pipes’ software (a mixture of javascript and serverside sofware) the solution. The saturated rag ’n refuse of images that jpeg has enabled across social imagespace remains in play, an image archive mined by Google and Facebook as well as countless individuals. The mashups I created were at one level an interface to that space but at another they acted as imag(in)ing apparatuses, imag(in)ing that archive as views through a window or points on a map. It was this position of software as imag(in)ing apparatus that informed the third set of experiments where I explored the protocol itself as apparatus.

The practice-research experience of ‘using protocol’ technologies and apparatuses added an extra dimension to the issues and understanding that emerged from the “beyond protocol” set of experiments. By using protocol and the network image spaces it set in motion, I was able to see what happened when my now digital imag(in)ings clashed, formed alliances, or dialectical image relations with other imag(in)ings.  Here was a social imag(in)ing of 2012. This was a form of imag(in)ing that went to the heart of my sense of what photography was, my (self) image as a photographer and my response to Michael Freid’s title or maybe question “why photography matters as art as never before”{Fried 2008}. The issues of distributed authorship, fragmented visions and visualities, streams and flows of imag(in)ings within which I located my own work in these experiments emerged from the interplay of practically building the window/map mashups and theoretically encountering the status of my own images, practices and position as just one (jpeg-enabled) object among many.

This is not a simple ‘death of the author’, “loss of authority” issue of the breakdown in meaning or power. The clash of my practice and object-oriented, processual theory produced an understanding of that sense of loss in terms of the inevitable position of objects as always in networks, always in process, always becoming and perishing. The fact that my jpeg/JFIF Image was just one among many, that my photographic practice could not escape networked seeing, sharing and streaming was a consequence of the way objects (image objects, imager objects etc) always work. They can never exist in isolation or on an authorial pedestal.

By imag(in)ing through and with that position and by theorising through and with that sense of fragmentary enfolding, I could avoid a postmodern nihilism but rather look to a flat ontology and practice. One that would allow me to build a “digital imag(in)ing apparatus”.

I could have looked to explore this issue of “loss” or social imag(in)ing purely via theory. I could have called on frameworks from accounts of urban space to understand visualisation; from psychoanalysis to account for feelings of loss and trauma or the work in cyberculture and network  and information theory that I address in the Literature Chapter or the work in aesthetics I touch on in the Imag(in)ings chapter. Even leaving these theories aside, I could have just used my object-oriented, processual framework to account for working of jpeg and the practice of using it. I would argue that this would have provided a fresh way of approaching the issues. What such a purely (sic) theoretical approach could not have done is address how the practice of imag(in)ing when using protocol is enfolded with object relations and the emergence of a network imag(in)ing aesthetic. The way in which network imag(in)ing as a way of seeing and a way of pressing the button or using the mashup is processual and enfolded in object relations only becomes apparent as it happens, as it becomes. It cannot be seen, experience or addressed after the fact through the lens of theory alone. It is is in the fragmentary process, practice and experience of network imag(in)ing through protocol that we can account for jpeg’s nature and its workings.