Thoughts towards objects and the photographic assemblage

The RAW file demands ‘processing’ in a form of digital darkroom before the information as data can be visible as an image. Without that protocol/software processing the RAW data is unvisible. Even to open a RAW file in an image editing or image-organising application is to render the RAW data as image, unprocessed, approximate, default but still rendered visible. It is that rendered canvas that the RAW photographer uses to make her processing decisions that the software and protocols allow – white balance, gamma points, even sharpness levels. That software processing is part of digital photography, every bit as much as printing the negative in a traditional chemical darkroom was, perhaps more so in that a chemical negative could still be ‘seen’ as it was held up to the light. It was always, already an image. A RAW negative is not. It cannot be ‘seen’ without processing… by humans at least. It is of course possible for machine vision to ‘see’ that data and integrate it into a database, a surveillance system etc. Here software can access the RAW data without rendering it as an image. Once it has been processed, it can be saved as a visible image file (even as a jpeg) or output via a computer printer to a print.

Ansel Adams famously referred to his negatives as musical scores and each printing as a performance. Henri Cartier-Bresson on the other hand had no interest in printing or the print. He happily passed his score to another, content with having written it, with the writing. The position of the negative and the print as objects, or in the digital space, the RAW file, the rendered image, the saved image file and the print is another aspect of digital photography where an object-oriented philosophy can add value.

The RAW file, the pre-processed image, the processed photograph and a print are all objects. They all have a unity and presence beyond their relations to each other or the software, protocols, humans, hardware, markets and laws which are also in play in the photographic assemblage. A relational account of these actants would see their power as derived from the alliance within within which they work and which constitutes them as objects. Here it is the relation between the print, the gallery, the art market and the archived image-file that constitutes a digital photograph as powerful and ontologically significant. An object framework that focuses on objects as occasions, would stress how the rendering of the RAW data as pre-processed and then post-processed images on screen are moments of becoming.

To work with a non-relational, object-oriented philosophy is not to deny connection or process. Rather it is to see it as a matter of objects, not of something broader, wider or outside. The reason that Harman develops his account of objects connecting within the core of other objects is because objects clearly do connect or relate, the question  is how can that happen when objects are more than their relations, when they withdraw form view and relations, when it is impossible for an object to fully encounter another. Harman’s use of Husserl’s ‘intentional objects’ and his account of how object x encounters the image of object y (its intentional object) within a new object, z, enables us to explore the photographic assemblage in its actuality rather than as the outcome of something else.

Here the RAW file I shoot, the temporary processed image file in the computer’s RAM or cached memory that I refuse to save as an image file, the print, the archival inks, the PhD thesis within which it is bound as well as the countless protocols, software and hardware, human and unhuman actants are objects in a specific scopic apparatus and photographic assemblage. The connections between these objects, the connections the render that assemblage powerful and significant whether in terms of the the particular historical moment for the art market or academia, for culture, aesthetics or governmentality and biopower, happens within objects: the “PhD practice-research work” or the “photo”. This is not a semantic point. By working with the PhD object rather than the academic relational field enable us to account for the weird agency of objects and address the complexities of assemblages in their specificity, from the bottom up.

An object-oriented approach allows us to explore the implications of the fact that the object that existed between the RAW data and the print had a temporary existence and connected with those objects within the core of the Photoshop temporary file object. This temporary, virtual perhaps, object is significant because it is the site of software processing, protocol-work. It shows the limits of the RAW standard and by implication the edges of jpeg’s visibility. It makes apparent the workings of the scopic apparatus. These issues are lost if one strays from looking at objects as objects alone. If instead an object is a site of relations or becoming, then that temporary object is an instantiation of something else, a broader software actant perhaps. The assemblage under investigation becomes the foundation rather than the outcome of objects.