Browse Essays (6 total)

Transparent Walls: The Technology of Dissemination in Art Museum Collections

Clarence Kennedy photographed by friend and fellow photographer Ansel Adams

The still image has been paramount to human documentation since our earliest history. We have always relied on captures of the present to preserve it for posterity, and never more so than in the arena of art museums. Whether a physical painting hanging in a gallery or an extremely high definition image of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses available online, still images allow for reflection, comparison, and dissemination. While these three concepts are vital to the mission of museums, it has only been through embracing new technologies that museums have been able to truly adhere to their goals of global access to collections. 

Still imagery has allowed museums around the world to slowly eliminate the barriers between their galleries and a global audience. From simple reproductions in the 19th and 20th centuries to virtual gallery tours in the 21st century, museums are now able to share information about the physical collection and scholastic content of their institutions to an ever-growing audience. Through still imagery, the art historical discipline even gained a legitimate foundation on which to ground continued scholarship and general education. The key stages of both specialist and leisurely consumption of art-related still imagery involves projection, print, color, and digitization—all of which have helped museums disseminate their collections farther, cheaper, and faster with a quality respectable to the fine art being shared. 

The System of Telling the Visual Story in Wartime America

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Traditionally, the camera has been seen as a medium for capturing truth (Snyder 2014). There is merit to the saying, “The camera doesn’t lie,” as it records the scene in front of it. However, the truth of the photograph is complicated in a system that includes factors such as censorship and Photoshop. Since the American Civil War, photography has played a role in the war story by creating a visual narrative. These war pictures are presented to or hidden from an audience through modes of dissemination.

According to Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, the study of complex systems is as follows:

…an interdisciplinary field of research that seeks to explain how large numbers of relatively simple entities organize themselves, without the benefit of any central controller, into a collective whole that creates patterns, uses information, and, in some cases, evolves and learns. The word complex comes from the Latin root plectere: to weave, entwine. In complex systems, many simple parts are irreducibly entwined, and the field of complexity is itself an entwining of many different fields. (Mitchell 2009)

The creation of the visual narrative of war is a complex system. As Raymond Williams writes in "From Medium to Social Practice," the medium, although important, is not autonomous (Williams 1977). The medium, in our case photography, depends on other components within a system to create a mediated representation of reality. The interplay between photographic technologies, modes of dissemination, and censorship from the Civil War to the current War on Terror shape the story presented to the American public. These components, and even smaller components within them, are inextricably linked and dependent on one another in the creation of the visual narrative of armed conflicts.

The following three entwined essays deal with the complexity of the visual war narrative through an intensive study of types of cameras, specific war photographs, and the means in which these photographs are presented to American civilians. Each essay stands alone, but can also be read in conjunction with each other as well as other modules within this website such as technologies, events, and visualization

Try Not to Smile and Say Cheese

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These three interconnected essays, "Public Gaze," "Typification and Surveillance," and "Recognition," deal with the relationship between the image and the marginalized other. All three essays also evalute the roll that the image has had in constituting and perpetuating the notion of the Other. "Public Gaze" focuses on themes of spectatorship, space, and popularized images. "Typification and Surveillance" deals with the role images have in typifying, surveying, and, in turn, documenting marginalized individuals. "Recognition" deals with misrepresentation, lack of representation, and proper recognition of marginalized individuals in images.

The Historical-Mechanical Origins of Audio Fidelity

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Since the explosion of recording technologies in the 19th and 20th century, the question of audio fidelity has been understood primarily as how closely a record reproduces its source. This is often framed in degrees, for example, “hi-fi” vs “lo-fi” stereos (fi = fidelity), or as a recent ad for JBL headphones puts it, in the ability to render ‘pure’ over ‘impure’ sound.

This experiential or “acousmatic” approach to understanding sound is highly problematic and ultimately untenable. The hierarchy that is in implicit in qualifiers like ‘pure’ or ‘true’ relies on a false dichotomy in which interpersonal “authentic” sound, is placed over and above decontextualized, supposedly inauthentic sound. Although highly profitable as a marketing strategy, it is a gross essentialism that is ultimately not born out by a close analysis of the material of sound itself (Sterne 2003)

The approach to audio fidelity for this project will focus on the historical-mechanical nature of sound reproduction, specifically as it is related to the recording process. By making fidelity a function of recording technologies, rather than of subjective user experience, we avoid the fruitless argument over ‘authenticity,’ as well as the controversy around the phenomenology of sound. That being said, there are some important caveats that deserve clarification before we move on. 

The Influence of the Technologies that Make Political Pamphlets

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The purpose of the political pamphlet throughout United States' history has been in many ways dependent on the technologies that produced it.