Back from holiday

Tomorrow’s the first of September and by my reckoning that’s one year until I’m supposed to have done IT. With that in mind and in the dimming afterglow of a month in France, a new plan:

Firstly, a change in title. “The Olympic Arcades Project” has served well but now: “JPEG: a quadruple object” seems nearer the mark bearing in mind the new structure. So what of 2012 I hear the funders cry. Well here is the draft of the “2012 Appendix”:

“At one level the 2012 Olympics ran through the whole project. My photographs that started the project were around the physical space of the Games as it was being constructed in the East End of London. At another level however it is important to say that this project was not about the Olympics, photography of the Olympics or even “imag(in)ing the Olympics”. My concern was not 2012 but protocol and objects.

My research questions were both large and small scale. I was interested in the relationships between the JPEG object and other scopic objects. Of course these have implications for how the 2012 Olympics are represented and seen, but I was not looking to map those representations and effects. Nor did I examine the role of different sorts of photographer/imager – the official and unofficial, the accredited and the unaccredited, the journalist and the activist. Rather I looked to explore JPEG at a particular moment: the period leading up to the 2012 Games.

I chose 2012 as the arena to conduct my practice-research experminets for a number of reasons: it was temporally and spatially located; it embraced different forms of imager and imaging practices; and like protocol itself, it was embedded and enfolded in complex connections. 2012 was a specific historical moment. In terms of the lead-up or the “Big Build” as it is called, the Games itself or the so-called “legacy”, 2012 was temporally located. The images and imaging practices around those events carried a time-stamp. It was possible to set limits within my research based on particular periods or historical moments. Similarly the Fence and the spaces of the site (specifically the East London site) provided a discrete set of images and photographic practices to work with – photographs, photo-works and photography within a particular local and geographic space. To have picked another historical moment (such as a General Election) would have been to open up to potentially global sets of images and practices.

Importantly, that specific geographical location of the 2012 site also allowed me to explore the workings of protocol-photography which went beyond “citizen journalism”. As I explored my photography’s relation to to that of the ‘swarm’ I wanted to work with images and imaging practices that were not necessarily consciously “photographs” or “journalism” (whether official or citizen). I wanted to explore the incidental, the domestic and local photography from imagers who would not position themselves as journalists or perhaps even photographers. I wanted to trace the operations of protocol within the rags ‘n refuse of the distributed scopic regime. By using 2012 I could define a specific geographical space and, using geolocative metadata, find images and photographic practices that were literally around 2012 but were not consciously part of the reporting or representing of the Olympic Games.

My final reason for using 2012 as a focus was driven by the project’s overarching object-oriented approach. Following the framework I used, 2012 could be seen as the sort of object within whose molten core my objects connected.

If one can see JPEG and Facebook’s algorithm connect in the heart of a data mine image object, so that data mine object can be addressed as connecting with a 2012-policing object within the molten core of a 2012 scopic surveillance object. This object too connects, with that of a Coca-Cola marketing object, the Press Association’s position as official News Agency object etc. This is not a case of hierarchically nested objects. All must be treated as at the same level if one is to address the nature and operations of objects and governmentality as an object-oriented assemblage.

A focus on 2012 therefore allowed me to explore another scale of objects in their specificity.

I approached photographing 2012 through the specific, actual, located objects in the liminal spaces around the Fence. Following Miller and Bennett’s (and indeed Walter Benjamin’s) argument that the rags ‘n refuse can offer a way into understanding history and society that can avoid semiotic discussions of representation or depth ontologies that  remove us from the actual and specific, I collected (another Benjamin echo) the objects around the Fence that bore the traces of historical processes, globalisation and governmentality.”

So now the project in a Tweet is:

An exploration of JPEG as object implicated in new regimes of scopic governmentality, using Harman’s concept of the “quadruple object”. (135 characters)

As such, the new ‘thesis’ outline:

  • Intro
  • Preface: The Digital Imaging Pipeline
  • Lit Review chapter – approaches to the software object built around notions of relationality, processuality and potentiality
  • JPEG object in theory chapter – outlining a Harman-inspired account of JPEG as a ‘quadruple object’
  • JPEG object in practice chapter – account of how my practice highlights that ‘quadruple nature’
  • The Govermental JPEG object – account of JPEG (object)’s connection to issues of governmentality etc (material from PLATFORM and PlatPol papers).
  • Appendices: Imaging apparatuses (accounts of experiments) and 2012. I have decided to concentrate on two apparatuses rather than three.

And the practice? Here’s how it looks:

“My photography is digital. It is also about digital. I look to image and imagine the digital.

I have worked with a number of ways of exploring the digital, the distributed and 2012[1]. The particular photographic work that forms the basis for my exploration of object-oriented approaches to photography and protocol and the two scopic apparatuses I come on to discuss, is based on a concern for the encoding of light as data. My images look to deal with the journey of photons through software and hardware into data.

In my attempt to explore light as data (and so JPEG), I look to move beyond a representational practice – whether of 2012 or even of the digital. I am not looking to capture or communicate something about 2012 or even about JPEG but rather engage with encoding as a way of exploring the encoding object.

Because my interest was in exploring how JPEG imaging related to the contemporary scopic regime of distributed images and imaginings (of 2012), the social swarm of representations, I did not want to simply add to that infinite archive of images by adding my own ‘photographs’ – different views where signification is at the fore and ‘the photograph’ takes precedence over ‘the photography’. Had I built my object-oriented explorations around my images of vibrant matter or augmented views (as discussed in Appendix I), JPEG’s encoding of light as data would have withdrawn even further. I looked for a way to bracket this layer of photographic representation.

I used a digital camera which, like all digital imaging devices includes a CCD sensor, in-camera hardware and software that captures the light passing through the lens and encodes it as data on a memory card. As I shall discuss, this apparatus can use different protocols, even simultaneously. I replaced the lens with a pinhole and looked to photograph the light around the 2012, the transient, shifting material physics that crossed the security Fence at will; that could not be branded or spun; that was before the Bid was won and will be there long after the Legacy has been signed off; and that formed an object in all the distributed imaginings.

The pinhole served to remove the focusing device and the short shutter speed that render light as meaning-full, as focused significations, as representation. Of course a pinhole is still an optical device, a form of lens rendering an image and the slow shutter speed could have been achieved with neutral density filters. I had particular reasons for choosing to use a pinhole: I wanted my ‘images of light’ to be photographic. These were not to be scientific light samples, measures or collections of light intensities collected by a disembodied CCD. I could have built a scientific apparatus from camera components or simply opened the shutter and let light flood the sensor in my camera but I wanted to remain with ‘the photographic’. I wanted to use a camera and take photographs, just like the everyone else imagining 2012 with their Nikons, Canons, and iPhones. Having worked with pinhole cameras on other projects I also wanted to use the ghostly, sensual and withdrawn quality of pinhole aesthetics – which connect with my Husserlian/Heideggarian framework. While my work is certainly conceptual, I also wanted it to be aesthetic (as a way of addressing the issues of ‘allure’ that Harman discusses in relation to ‘fusion’). This of course ran the danger of introducing representation and the semiotic, ghostly images and shadows waiting to be ‘interpreted’. This too was deliberate. I wanted to make photographs (ready to join and perhaps critique the stream and the swarm). Consequently I needed to engage with representation. I sought to do that obliquely, referencing the semiotic and representational yet foregrounding the light-as-object.

My choice of a pinhole camera as the basis for my RAW/JPEG scopic apparatus also references the history of scopic devices and technologies. Technologies like JPEG are enfolded with other objects – real and imaginary, historical and contemporary. By working with an ancient/modern, art/science, analogue/digital object technology I could keep that enfolding present – if only to me as the imager.

In concrete terms I took my digital pinhole camera (and its attendant assemblage of hardware, software, human and unhuman objects) around the liminal spaces around the 2012 site during the final year leading up to the opening of the Games. I could have chosen a particular structure for when and where I ‘took photographs’, wrote with light. I could have traced a psychogeographic trail or a database of particular decisive moments for imaging. I rejected this approach because once again I wanted to remain within and yet somehow outside the photographic. As a photographer – like the millions of other imagers in the swarm – I wanted to choose the light to capture, sense or encode. Even (perhaps, particularly) in a world of distributed imaging, the imager has the choice to press the button (and let the Web do the rest). Rather than abdicate that power/responsibility, I decided when and where to open the shutter and encode light as data.”

So, after a summer not cycling up the Les Cammazes ‘mountain’ as often as I should and instead sitting at a keyboard, I think I finally know what I’m doing. Or at least I can see what I can hand in and possibly defend. Comments, tips, roadside encouragement etc. welcome as always.

So, the next year…

Well, I’ve reluctantly given up teaching for the year (although if anyone knows of any F/T gigs coming up…) so #birkbeckmedia is on hold. So it’s just 9-5 writing. Some bits will end up here as rag ’n refuse (just to show myself that I am being productive). Some aphorisms, soundbites and haikus may end up on Twitter. Oh and there may well be the sound of my soprano sax wafting over the 2012 site…