Eloquent Images I

Bolter – "Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media," 20-36
In this brief article, the first in Hocks and Kendrick’s Eloquent Images,
Jay Bolter begins with a historical overview of the image-word problem. 
He traces a larger outline of new media by propping up a series of artificial
dichotomies: visual-verbal, theory-practice, critique-production,
ideological-formal (34); the project of new media is to collapse these terms. 
Bolter explains that unlike film and television, which few cultural critics
conceived of as full-scale replacements for print, the web and its hyper-blended
forms of discourse introduce a different kind of contest between old and new media
forms. Yet it would be a mistake to view new media forms and print as strict
teleological trajectories, each edging out the other, competing for a mediative
lead.  This matters differently if you’re the CEO of a Weyerhaeuser, I
suppose, and maybe there’s something to the race track metaphor (one car to
each, one driver, one big-dollar sponsor) that admits or allows for the capital
backing of media forms.  That’s not really Bolter’s point here. He
explains, "It is not that there is some inadequacy in printed media forms that
digital forms can remedy: New digital media obviously have no claim to inherent
superiority" (24). 

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Mitchell – Picture Theory (1994)

Some risk involved in beginning with a leap; Mitchell’s Picture Theory
splinters through the title’s pun–a theory of pictures and theory pictured or
picture-able.  In the introduction, Mitchell calls the problem of the 21st
C. a problem of the image.  This opens onto difficulties with the
relationship between word and image, mapping and organizing fields of
representation, and discord between reading proper and spectatorship (3). 
Fumble them as we inevitably will, these and other differences might seem less
gnarled if we "adopt Michel de Certau’s terminology and call the attempt to
describe [them] a ‘heterology of representation’" (5).

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Taylor and Saarinen – Imagologies (1994)

In Imagologies, Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen weave and warp through a series of new media (vintage 1994) fabrics. I call them fabrics because the book’s designer, Marjaana Virta, does: “Mediatext: A collection of fabrics…” (jacket). And if we can call Imagologies a “book”–rich ironies here for all their project does to frazzle the paradigms of print–the visual designs and variations are as striking as any of the stuff we might otherwise classify as content. Perhaps as much as any paper-bound book could hope to, Imagologies pushes and
sometimes exceeds the constraints of the bound page.

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Barthes – Rhetoric of the Image (1964)

In the advertising image, nice bright colors–a net-sack of Panzani pasta and
assorted spaghettimakers including vegetables, fresh and plenty.
Though non-linear, many of the signs accord with a variety of "euphoric values,"
says Barthes: domestic preparation, freshness, an unpacking, the casual
market-knowledge of slow foods of a pre-mechanical pace (no need for
preservation, refrigeration). Also, in the coordination of colors and types,
Barthes suggests second meaning–Italianicity or a gathering of things
Italian, much of this "based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes"
(34).  Each of these meanings match with distinctive kinds of knowledge.

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A This-side of Language

On trauma and image from RB, "The Photographic Message":

These few remarks sketch a kind of differential table of photographic
connotations, showing, if nothing else, that connotation extends a long way. 
Is this to say that a pure denotation, a this-side of language, is
impossible? If such a denotation exists, it is perhaps not at the level of
what ordinary language calls the insignificant, the neutral, the objective,
but, on the contrary, at the level of absolutely traumatic images.  The
trauma can be seized in a process of photographic signification but then
precisely they are indicated via a rhetorical code which distances, sublimates
and pacifies them.  Truly traumatic photographs are rare, for in
photography the trauma is wholly dependent on the certainty that the scene
‘really’ happened: the photographer had to be there (the mythical
definition of denotation).  Assuming this (which, in fact, is already a
connotation), the traumatic photograph (fires, shipwrecks, catastrophes,
violent deaths, all captured ‘from life as lived’) is the photograph about
which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant:
no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold
on the process instituting the signification.  One could imagine a kind
of law: the more direct the trauma, the more difficult its connotation; or
again, the ‘mythological’ effect of a photograph is inversely proportional to
its traumatic effect. (30)

"The more difficult its connotation…," close to what Jeff posted
Monday at
this Public Address on

spectacle, disaster and "signature images."

Barthes – The Photographic Message (1961)

Press photographs.  Barthes refers to several such photographs in this
essay from 1961.  He was concerned with contending orders of connoted
and denoted meanings operable in the reading of photographs. The
"photographic paradox," as he puts it, involves the double structure of
contending linguistic orders (connotative, denotative) and the photograph as
analogon
, "a message without code" (17).  Paradoxically, the press
photograph bears a "continuous message" sustained in the two significant
structures (of which "only one is linguistic"…either accompanying text or
description). Barthes calls the relationship between the image and the text
"contiguous" rather than "homogenous" (16). And so the photograph must be read
with some awareness of these variations, which lead to variations in meaning.
Barthes: "What can at least be done now is to forecast the main planes of
analysis of photographic connotation" (20).

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