Introduction – Transport Calculations

In: The Distributed Image
Simon Rothöhler
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Daniel Hendrickson
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The mobility of digital images takes place according to transport calculations. Inasmuch as these images consist of information that could not be employed visually without computation, their situation can be considered to be determined by logistics. Without a transport plan, without transition points and delivery protocols, no materializations in visual form could emerge from agglomerations of inscrutable numerical data. In order to be perceptible as movable visual elements that tend toward alterations of location and state, data must be packaged in appropriate container formats, funneled adaptively through networks, coded and processed specifically for visualization. The emergence, the manifestations, the movement patterns of digital images are in their very constitution dependent on computational operations, on a logistical interplay between various agencies adept at computation. In this, images are not so much sessile objects, necessarily fixed entities, as they are fluid processes—and distribution is precisely not a matter of subordinated, subsequent mobilization. For digital images are, in multiple respects, produced, inasmuch as and because they are directly distributable. This is causally linked to a multifaceted media logistics of the image, whose actants can likewise be said to distribute how they distribute because they are distributed.

Current visual culture is dominated by the output of »ubiquitous photography«1 whose media-technical acquisition already enacts a transport calculation. This concerns light measurements and formalizes a transformation: photons that are conveyed as electrons, transcribed and stored as voltage values. The image data—initially deposited as quantities of electricity, kept ready in working memory, and finally mobilized in raster graphics—are calculated according to the transport plan before, during, and after. In the general public perception they are encompassed by parameters that attempt to quantify the global image traffic in the form of abstract estimates. While humanity had produced a total of 3.8 trillion photographic images by the beginning of the 2010s, there are thought to have been one trillion in 2015 alone.2 These impressive numbers cannot be conceived concretely, and it is not even clear exactly how they are calculated. Especially with regard to the wide range of image-based everyday practices, however, the assumption of an unabated and sustained proliferation of images seems exceedingly plausible.

As a phenomenon and motor of ›big data,‹ digital images that »have information«3 (Claus Pias) are recording unbridled rates of growth. There seems to be no plateau of visual saturation in sight. On the contrary, the flow of images is becoming more comprehensive, easier to track, closer to ›real time.‹ Both computer-generated images without an optoelectronic prehistory of acquisition (that is, without measuring value equivalence) and those whose computability is still based on a visual capture that can, even »after photography,«4 be called photographic at its core, flow equally as information through transmission channels that are agnostic in this respect. Image-based practices are entering into more and more fields of activity and are being habitualized as everyday communicative routines. At the same time, image technologies and their infrastructures contribute, more or less cryptically, to the systematic control of a growing number of specific societal areas—usually without any recognizable temporal delay, in so-called ›real time,‹ more and more often even beyond the faculties of human perception.

As long as available storage capacities, end user devices equipped with cameras, and visual sensory input in general continue to increase, there is nothing to indicate a tendency toward stagnation here. Projected global figures like those cited above could even be considered comparatively conservative assumptions about the current intensity in the distribution of visual culture. Not only because forms of data visualization that reduce complexity, which could likewise be discussed in terms of image theory, such as diagrams5 or »iconized simulation images,«6 are usually ignored, but also because all kinds of visual occurrences, generated automatically and without intent, which are increasingly associated with the Internet of things, are generally not taken into consideration as often as image-based instant messaging services, which are more present in the discourse of media studies, or the 400 hours of video material uploaded minute by minute on the platform of the market leader YouTube alone. The fact that all these images can be not only constantly generated and saved, but also instantaneously sent and effortlessly multiplied, is also part of the complete picture of the flexibly aggregated mass of images that is coursing through the data circuits of visual culture: a constant transmission surrounded by metaphors of fluidity7 that leads to a stream-like circulation of images, to incessantly reconfigured visual structures, to a ubiquity of digital images spread throughout society. What these images—whether ›viral,‹ underway in the multiplying forms of social media, or stored in distant memory banks without anyone seeing them—actually »want«8 (W.J.T. Mitchell) seems at first, in view of their static profile values, to be quite unambiguous and mundane: to multiply, to be shared.

But simply attesting to this ubiquity does not get us particularly far. Is this a temporary interval in a tendency for image distribution that has been on the rise for centuries, or a qualitatively new stage of intensified dissemination? The history of the accelerated mobilization of images in massive quantities unquestionably does not begin with their being digitally fed into computer networks. This can be seen, for instance, in the work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who in 1859 saw »enormous collections« of photographic forms emerging and gaining momentum: »There is only one Coliseum or Pantheon; but how many millions of potential negatives have they shed—representatives of billions of pictures—since they were erected! Matter in large masses must always be fixed and dear; form is cheap and transportable.«9 Nearly a century later, in 1952, Lewis Mumford made a comparable assessment of what he observed as the »endless succession of images,« utilizing—much like Vilém Flusser at the beginning of the 1990s as well as many social commentators looking at our present moment, in which »bundled switching methods«10 can rely on fiber optic cables—the metaphor of the flood: »We are overwhelmed by the rank fecundity of the machine […]. Between ourselves and the actual experience and the actual environment there now swells an ever-rising flood of images which come to us in every sort of medium—the camera and printing press, by motion picture and by television. A picture was once a rare sort of symbol, rare enough to call for attentive concentration. Now it is the actual experience that is rare, and the picture has become ubiquitous.«11

Shifts in the economics of attention notwithstanding, the acceleration of the image is not the exclusive privilege of technologically (re)producible visual forms and their media logistics. Working from the disciplinary viewpoint of art history, Jennifer L. Roberts has recently shown that transport histories can be used to explore even ›pretelegraphic‹ visual eras.12 Roberts is concerned not only with mobilizing an »aesthetics of transmission« that becomes operative within the image or in perception, but also with the »material history of visual communication,« which experiences a transformative reconfiguration in the eighteenth century as visual objects—not least through altered material qualities of the physical image carrier, which ultimately transforms into a »flexible screen«13—become increasingly »easy to move,« developing into a novel form of transport goods. Because of the emergence of transport infrastructures that facilitate a wide variety of transfer relations between London and Boston, a painting like John Singleton Copley’s A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (Henry Pelham) (1765) can be shipped across the Atlantic as a »long-distance picture«: »This process took muscle and it took time. It introduced the picture to what economic geographers call the friction of distance, exposing it to the risk of damage, spoilage, theft, or miscarriage and subjecting it to the contingencies of topography, seasonality, and territorial politics. It submitted the picture to the captivation of extrinsic transport and communications systems managed not by artists, patrons, or critics, but by customs agents, packers, drivers, couriers, postmen, and slaves.«14 What has already changed at this point in time are the agents that carry, store, and surround the image as socio-technical ensembles, distributing images throughout ever more open spaces in ever shorter time frames.

In terms of the logistics of the image, the general transport conditions of portrait painting in the eighteenth century—heavily labor-intensive, sent on sea voyages for months at a time, and received from afar—and the infrastructural requirements in place today for visual phenomena, which can be transferred instantaneously and in mass quantities via transoceanic fiber optic cables—such as the more than two million data sets of the Artstor Digital Library,15 to keep to the field of art history—are of course separated by a vast historical-cultural, economic-technological distance. With the telegraphic and photographic inventions of the nineteenth century—which, in terms of media history, are connected with today’s methods of trillionfold transmission of image data—a paradigm shift unfolds that fundamentally delegates both the production and the distribution of the image to technological processes. Having arrived in the digital present, images appear as more »easy to move« than ever, even if they circulate de facto over increasingly complex, generally less visible infrastructures—and in relation to these infrastructures pass through »shifting materialities.«16

Beyond proliferating transfer quantities and transfer times at the »speed of light«17 that give the impression of being in real time, the present state of the distributed image, whose conditions of delivery and storage are the focus of this study, seems to be defined first and foremost by fundamentally different, namely algorithmically intervening transport calculations. Because digital image transmission works with data, with images whose transportation is calculated through information technologies, the semantic field of the homonym »logistics«18 turns out to be quite appropriate—particularly from the viewpoint of a work in media studies that is interested in questions of distribution. Viewed etymologically, the Greek logistikós (having to do with calculation) meets the French loger (to quarter, to accommodate). The former sees logistics as a calculation to be treated mathematically and as a subfield of philosophical logic,19 while the latter initially referred to military apparatuses of provisions and supplies, which since the 1960s has been extended to economic phenomena that are more or less dependent on rationalization: to »all the operations of transporting, storing, and handing in the area of real goods,« which require »a flowing network of goods, materials, and energies to be formed«20 and are thereby supposed to become more logically thought through, that is, ›more rational.‹21

Against this backdrop, the calculation of data processing in information technologies and its stream-like, seemingly continuous distribution through computer networks can be conceived as media-logistical flow management. The prerequisite for this is a terminological exchange. Along these lines, logistics research in media and cultural studies in recent years has addressed the prehistory of radar technology,22 software and data centers,23 warehouses and flow charts,24 pirate infrastructures,25 but also calendars, clocks, and towers.26

The works of Gabriele Schabacher and Christoph Neubert in »transportation studies,« which are interested in terminological transfers between logistics and media theory approaches, refer, as does most current research, less to Virilio’s previously widely cited writings from the 1980s,27 than to actor-network theory (ANT). In ANT transport questions fundamentally appear as questions of transformation, and are thus a matter of relational categories.28 Dynamics of mobility are associated not only with changes in location and state, but precisely also with »formally constant« stabilization effects that facilitate efficient distribution, as can be seen in the scientific usage of image-based »simplification procedures.«29

For Latour images operate in this context by both blocking and mobilizing: they link »the global and the local, the paper of the image with its circulation,« halting »inscription practices« and rendering them transferable to »transformation networks.«30 The technical drawings, maps, or diagrams he examines become operative above all through their capacities to convey »inscriptions« as compact, easily mobilizable and combinable information storage. Ultimately, from this perspective, image transport primarily functions as a technique to establish power through »epistemic superiority.«31

Generally speaking: in the dialogue between media and logistics theory, news, messages, information appear as goods modulated by transport, circulating by means of transmission operations whose processuality can be conceived as a form of traffic. Even the shared media and infrastructure histories of traffic and messaging systems suggest the connection between technologies of transport and those of information transfer.32 Seen in this way, data packets become distribution commodities, whose regulation, monitoring, and circulation run via the activity networks of distributed, interacting actants. The terminological offerings of logistics are therefore certainly not inappropriate for a »metatheory of traffic,«33 for instance also in making automated packet switching in computer networks and self-regulating processes of the Internet of things accessible to media theory.34

The distributed image can be regarded as a logistical phenomenon insofar as it is operationalized in the form of data traffic and thus cannot be reduced to one location, a single medium, a primarily responsible agent, a central agency. Logistics primarily refers to the variety and interwovenness of the actants operationally involved in this distribution, which range from infrastructures of data distribution such as data centers and transoceanic cable networks to common container formats such as Matroska (MKV), standardized image compression norms such as JPEG, and various streaming protocols, to the human end users, who are still equipped with the initiative to work with the image in a practical way, and their demand for images, which is increasingly channeled into social media. If at its core logistics can be understood as those practices »that fall between production and consumption,«35 the distributed image can furthermore provide indications as to what it means when logistical calculations migrate and encroach, so to speak—that is, when they begin to have a sustained effect on the production and use of the transported goods.

What is inevitably set in motion within such a scenario, what gets distributed along with all this, however, is the concept of the image.36 For instance, in the introduction to a collection of writings on »Imagery in the 21st Century« we can read: »Images cannot be reduced to a specific technology (gravure printing or X-ray), to genres (portrait or silhouette), to practices (taking photographs or programming), to specific instruments or devices (pencil or microscope), to symbolic forms (perspectives), to a social function (edification or diagnosis), to materiality or symbolism—and yet images operate in all of these.«37 If we follow this cursory inventory of a »plurality of visual appearances,«38 extensively differentiated even typologically and by definition not easily lockable, the question arises as to how to establish an analytically productive perspective, how it might be possible to find at least an entry point that could help to sort out and narrow down the field of investigation. In this respect, to understand the digital image ›logistically,‹ as distributed, would suggest, in the sense outlined here, taking transportation and storage processes as modes of the continuous processing of image data, that is, focusing on the mobility and calculability of the image, the significance of the intersection between images and image data, the relationship between streaming and storing. This will also be my concern in the following.

For Peter Osborne, who approaches the »distributed image« against the backdrop of a philosophical examination of post-conceptual art, distribution is on the one hand a characteristic of the informational structure of pictorial data visualization, which is distributed in the information-technological form of fundamentally homogeneous pixels at concrete locations such as screens—and in this preferentially creates ›photographically‹ coded appearances: »the current historically dominant form of the image in general.«39 To this is added a further mobilization: »There is an inherent tendency in the distributive networks of the digital image to move the image on. […] The digitally produced and distributed image ›lives‹ (has social actuality) increasingly, through its relations to and transformation into other images, within a globalized image-space.«40 Qualified by the contingent relationship between image file and image display, which also facilitates variably distributed computer graphic materializations on the basis of invariable data sets, digital images fundamentally appear and take form in relation to distribution parameters. Over the course of repeated regenerations, the boundaries between images also become more permeable, as the quantifiable information in the images is transported through the same data channels, exchanged and adjusted with regard to the ongoing transmission calculations, which migrate and adapt themselves. The »global image-space« is not a stable, accessible building, but a continuously replenishing data pool requiring calculation, a non-binding, algorithmically implemented state that is permanently reconstructing itself, an intermediary result that cannot be identically reproduced in its information-technological details, which calculates streaming movements of data and connects them with ever new requests for elements of visual culture.

Viewed empirically, this culture is dominated by phenomena that, according to Claus Pias, in a certain sense do not exist at all or exist only as a »semantic disturbance«41 of analogue display: digital images. Siegfried Kracauer had already written—with regard to raster pictures in the »illustrated newspapers« of the 1920s, which also consisted of discrete elements—that the digital as such could not be seen pictorially: »The picture, however, does not refer to the dot matrix.«42 But we can also say, along with Pias, that the digital images of the present—whose individual points correspond to numerical values that, as units of information, can be discretely addressed, calculated, manipulated—do not not exist, strictly speaking, but exist doubly: as invisible, stored code, which computer programs can also use for calculations beyond the task of transporting and displaying an image, and as a visualized form, which can be recognized and examined as images by human perception. The transfer from the first state into the second may indeed be contingently updated, and may to a certain degree appear dispensable from the viewpoint of the computer, which does not need the visual output in order to be able to make calculations with the image data.43 If there is no pictorial visualization, on the other hand, information (and resources for action) are also lost, which can be shown, for instance, in light of the still limited machine-readability of the image, as will be discussed below.

Images, writes W.J.T. Mitchell, »have always given form to information«44—which, in the context of digital data distribution, also renders them unique mediators in media history: »If the ones and zeros did not add up to an image that massages the familiar and traditional habits of the human sensorium, it is unlikely that the digital revolution would have gained any traction at all.«45 The persistence of photographic conventions46 evident in the digital image traffic of the present era should also be understood against the backdrop of our well-rehearsed sensory habits. From this perspective, digital images appear as forms determined by information, which, if uncalculated, remain abstract, but are in principle also calculable regardless of their being visually played out, or their perceptibility to the senses. Birgit Schneider, in her discursive history on the tension between code and form,47 which during the theoretical debates of the 1990s had once again become virulent in ontologizing rhetoric as a »history of losing reference and materiality,«48 emphasized that it is ultimately not the ontological status of digital images that is decisive, but what can be done with them operationally: »[T]he discretized, digital state of data and images provides the precondition for a much more far-reaching consequence, as it allows for special access to data through programs, making images accessible to technological processing. The uniqueness of digital images lies in their operationality and processability.«49 These expanded operational opportunities are used, for instance, by image editing programs, in order to reconfigure and manipulate the phenomenal appearances of the image on the elementary level of individual pixels. In terms of information technology, however, the addressability of discrete picture elements can be discussed not only with regard to what in the broadest sense can be called a design-manipulative intervention of complex software,50 but also, as will be shown in the following, in relation to those dimensions of technological processing that have to do with distribution agendas.

With regard to the relation to reality—which, in the case of both digital images and their analog predecessors, is fundamentally less dependent on imaging processes than on the discursive practices through which they are circulated—it can also be observed that digital images are in a novel way able to be processed referentially, as traces, not despite, but rather because of their distributed informationality. For instance, image-forensic projects such as those of Bellingcat51 and Forensic Architecture, which construct valid chains of evidence and »architectural image complexes«52 from user-generated images, distributed on social media, and sometimes excessively reproduced, are based precisely on the algorithmic operationalizability of digitally stored image data.53

The information that digital images, in contradistinction to non-digital images, carry with them alters their logistical condition. How images that are generated and administered through information technology can be distributed and stored, how one can take them, their distribution, their being distributed, into account, what the transport calculations mean for image archives and visual environments, and what media-archaeological traces of the technological history of image distribution exist and continue to have an effect in the data storage of the present—these are the themes of the present study. To understand the image as distributed, as shared, leads to infrastructures, agents, processes of transmission, to the interface between images and transport data, to the question of how streams relate to storage, and what this means for image archives that can be transmitted ›in real time.‹

However, because the image in fact does not solely refer to the »dot matrix,« to its technical features, the distances to the image as image in the following will need to be scaled to different degrees. Code and form are equally interesting, but with varying emphasis. At times the image will give way to a media-technical perspective on the processes of its datafication, while other passages will be concerned with deriving media-historiographical information precisely from the ›exterior‹ of data that is accessible to the senses, from visual phenomenalizations, because these, from the viewpoint of human practices of perception and interpretation, continue to generate one meaning or another—including those meanings that lead into the distribution history of the image. To this end, case studies on photographic and videographic digitizations can serve as exemplary close-ups, in order to dissect not only media-archaeological stages of technological image distribution, which find their continuation in today’s digital image practices, but also institutional, bureaucratic, discursive histories that circulate through the material.

The logistical systems that ›fluidly‹ move and calculate data sets are thus as a whole just as relevant as the question of messages, whose information, which can be addressed by media studies, is not transported into the present as sets of numbers, but in the form of an image. To put it another way: the question of the image can neither be answered exclusively in terms of a theory of infrastructure, nor abandoned in favor of an ontologically grounded universal data theory. The aforementioned operationality and processuality at play here should thus first be examined in terms of distributive parameters—without losing sight of the image as image.

It is nonetheless constitutive of the digital images in question that they are distributed by means of computer graphical dot matrices and networks, and are transported and perceptible under these conditions. At the other end of the spectrum, where the form of the image tends to be neutralized by media technology, the question arises as to where it is becoming apparent that the proliferation of visual capture, the sheer magnitude of image data created and distributed worldwide every second, leads to algorithmic routines that disregard the image as image not only theoretically, but also effectively and pragmatically. This does not simply refer to the channeling and sorting done on social media or the hierarchical effects of hegemonic search engines. Rather, at the horizon of the distributed image, its dissolution, a continual diffusion in a certain sense becomes apparent—and is already taking place when image data are automatically fused and processed in sensory networks, when they are consigned, almost ›without image,‹ to the ambience of ›ubiquitous computation,‹ marketed within the attention economy, completely and utterly calculated.

The route planned for this discussion is structured as follows:

The first part, Stream—Data Traffic, explicates in more detail the digital media logistics of the distributed image in three steps. The infrastructural design of the transport channels and the algorithmic calculations at work in them (I.1), the various levels of the associated datafication of the image (I.2), the constitutive significance of the processes and agendas of data storage involved in image data traffic, despite the emphasis on its stream-like quality (I.3)—these topics are developed as three interdependent dimensions whose media-theoretical contours will help to define more closely how, and to what degree, the digital image is distributed.

The second part, Archive—Media Historiography, follows up with the question of how the transfer processes of stream-like image data distribution relate to the intentions of archival storage institutions (II.1). Viewed pragmatically, digital image archives are initially distributed insofar as they enable remote access. Collections are transcribed, ›unconstricted,‹ newly suitable for distribution. The architecture of media technology in the depots constructed for this purpose, whose data can then be calculated ›granularly,‹ leads to networked archives, which are logistically linked with the current standards and protocols of ›ubiquitous‹ data storage, but these are applied to the transport of institutionally encoded historical information. Following a review of the complex debates in media and cultural studies about the »archival turn,« we will then examine concrete image data sets as actual images. This will be based on two digitized archival holdings: the NYC Department of Records and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The case study materials comprise a series of digitized photographs from the 1910s, which were first produced at crime scenes by forensic specialists from the NYC Police Department and later transported into the agency’s bureaucratic working storage, and several 16mm films that were almost completely unknown until recently, but have also been digitally transcribed and are now easily accessible via video streaming in a digital archive of outtakes, containing Claude Lanzmann’s encounters with German SS men in the 1970s, which were also operationalized in a particularly complex way in terms of media logistics.

These materials were selected for a variety of reasons. The chapter on the Long-Distance Photographs (II.2) of the New York Police offers an opportunity to examine the distribution of images in the context of the bureaucratic desire to collect data, which already focused on photographic image archives as early as the nineteenth century in Alphonse Bertillon’s department of the Prefecture of Police in Paris. The distribution history of selected crime scene photographs, which can be reconstructed as media history, deals with the phases of the photographs’ ›de-datafying‹ and ›re-datafying,‹ which transported the images first into popular culture and art, and then, in a certain sense consolidated as historical documents, into digital archives; these phases can be read, on the one hand, in terms of discourse history. On the other hand, this chapter is also interested in the media-archaeological trails that lead from the technological scan processes of today’s retro-digitization to photo-telegraphic operations, which the Berlin physics professor Arthur Korn promoted in 1926 at the international police congress in Weimar Republic Berlin as an accelerated image transport medium. He intended to show the representatives from various agencies gathered there how they could use this invention to send visual information about criminals on the run in the form of wanted posters and mug shots or crime scene forensics.

In the following chapter, High Frequency Videos (II.3), the focus then turns to archival materials that belong to a historiographic complex that has triggered a debate in image theory unlike any other. The historical and cinematic point of reference for this discours—which began with the images of the Allies liberating concentration camps in 1944/45 and, often ontologically charged, revolved around the relationship between visual documents and the historical event of the Holocaust—is Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah, released in 1985. The visual archive that surrounds this film amounts to more than 250 hours of recordings and is now being streamed out under the technological conditions of the compression standards and transfer protocols described in the first part of this study. This fact is addressed in this chapter, on the one hand, with regard to the distribution history of the entire visual archive of the Holocaust, which can also be read in terms of media historiography. From the viewpoint of this study, the fact that a large portion of these precarious archival images, often classified as ›iconically‹ abstracted—which were initially introduced as material evidence in legal trials, then recycled for decades in television and popular culture—now circulate as digital matter on commercial video platforms, but also in the digital image archives of institutional agencies, raises, among other things, the twofold logistical question of what it means that these images (and their information) have become both newly distributable and also accessible to algorithms, and thus can be brought into the image-related agendas of the digital humanities, such as models of a ›distant viewing.‹ The selected outtakes from Shoah—which do not contain photographic images of crime scenes, but rather videographic images of perpetrators, images that have thus far largely escaped the attention of media studies and historiography—are furthermore of particular interest because their creation in the German provinces of the late 1970s is due to what at the time was a highly advanced media logistics that enabled the clandestine production of visual signals, which had to be distributed ›at high frequency‹ even before they could be stored.

After this examination of the distribution histories of photographic and videographic digital objects, which is argued at varying scales, but nonetheless tends to remain ›near‹ to the digital image as a visual form, the third part, Ambience—Sensory Networks, concerns a somewhat contrary dynamic of recent image data traffic, namely, one that is in a certain sense ›imageless.‹ While the operativity and breadth of non-human storage readings are tested selectively in the context of the ›digital humanities,‹ they are already included in continuous implementation in certain usage areas of the Internet of things. The first chapter (III.1) is concerned with examining the related discussion about »ubiquitous computing« and »smart environments« pragmatically as well as epistemologically with respect to its visual-sensory approaches. The ›place‹ of digital image acquisitions outlined in this way then raises the question (III.2) of how the technological operations of images are to be understood from the perspective of media studies—operations that are indeed achieved by means of a visual capture, but first and foremost capture and store sensory environmental data whose logistical value appears as decoupled from any manifestation in the form of an image.

Whether the automatisms that extend into the media-technical ambience speak for an impending hegemony of ›calm images‹—whose data are acquired ubiquitously and distributed automatically, but are not viewed as images—seems to have not yet been decided. Regardless of this, we can say: even those digital images that continue to have human agents involved in their distribution and distributedness no longer circulate free of transport calculations.


This book is a translation of the German original Das verteilte Bild. Stream—Archiv—Ambiente (2018). The text and the references have not been revised for translation.


Martin Hand, Ubiquitous Photography, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012.


Cf. Gerald C. Kane, Alexander Pear, »The Rise of Visual Content Online,« MIT Sloan Management Review (blog), Jan. 4, 2016,


Claus Pias, »Das digitale Bild gibt es nicht. Über das (Nicht-)Wissen der Bilder und die informatorische Illusion,« zeitenblicke 2/1 (2003),


Fred Ritchin, After Photography, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.


Cf. Sybille Krämer, »Operative Bildlichkeit. Von der ›Grammatologie‹ zu einer ›Diagrammatologie‹? Reflexionen zu erkennendem ›Sehen‹,« in: Martina Heßler, Dieter Mersch (eds.), Logik des Bildlichen. Zur Kritik der ikonischen Vernunft, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009, 94–117.


Inge Hinterwaldner, The Systemic Image. A New Theory of Interactive Real-Time Simulations, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.


Cf. Matthias Bickenbach, Harun Maye, Metapher Internet. Literarische Bildung und Surfen, Berlin: Kadmos, 2009, 17ff.


Cf. W.J.T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.


Oliver Wendell Holmes, »The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,« The Atlantic Monthly, June 1859, 738–748, here: 742.


Vilém Flusser, »Bilderstatus« [1991], in Flusser, Die Revolution der Bilder, Mannheim: Bollmann, 1995, 81–94, here: 85f.


Lewis Mumford, Art and Technics, New York: Columbia University Press, 1952, 96. On the putative erosion of »attentive concentration,« see Petra Löffler, Verteilte Aufmerksamkeit. Eine Mediengeschichte der Zerstreuung, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2014.


Jennifer L. Roberts, Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America, Berkeley: University of California Press.


In his media and trade history, Matthias Bruhn gives an earlier beginning to the »development of mobile image carriers«: »The use of cloth for painting surfaces has been known since antiquity. In the Middle Ages it was still being used for banners or as an ersatz for woven carpets. As a surface for figurative painting, however, strung wooden panels were primarily used, which were sensitive to climate and transport. Around 1500 wood was therefore gradually replaced by canvas, above all in Italy (with Andrea Mategna or Sandro Botticelli), but only became common on the continent over a hundred years later. […] Due to the growing wealth of mostly bourgeois-mercantile classes, the transport of artworks across borders steadily increased throughout Europe« (Matthias Bruhn, Das Bild. Theorie—Geschichte—Praxis, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009, 29).


Roberts, Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America, 1.


Cf. the Artstor homepage,


Cf. Arlid Fetveit, »The Ubiquity of Photography,« in: Ulrik Ekman (ed.), Throughout: Art and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012, 89–102, here: 96.


On the transmission of optical signals by fiber optic cables, Friedrich Kittler writes: »This sensational tautology of light becoming a transmission medium for light includes rather than excludes the possibility that the same speed of light also benefits all other signals. Besides television signals, optical fibers can also transport electronically converted acoustics, texts or computer data, and can thus be promoted to the position of a general medium, just as Hegel had already celebrated light« (Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999, trans. Anthony Enns, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010, 224).


Cf. in general Gisela Hürlimann, Frédéric Joye-Cagnard, Daniela Zetti (eds.), Gesteuerte Gesellschaft. Logistik, Automatisierung und Computer in der Nachkriegszeit. Traverse 16, Zurich: Chronos, 2009.


Cf. Rudolf Carnap, Abriss der Logistik: Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Relationstheorie und ihrer Anwendung, Vienna: Springer, 1929.


Ulli Arnold, »Logistik,« WiSt 3 (1986), 149–150, here: 150.


On etymology cf. Gabriele Schabacher, »Raum-Zeit-Regime. Logistikgeschichte zwischen Medien, Verkehr und Ökonomie,« Archiv für Mediengeschichte 8 (2008), 135–148, here: 136ff.; and Christoph Neubert, Gabriele Schabacher, »Logistik,« in: Tina Bartz, Ludwig Jäger, Markus Krause, Erika Linz (eds.), Signaturen der Medien. Ein Handbuch zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Medientheorie, Paderborn: Fink, 2012, 164–169, here: 164. On the ›logistical‹ encounter between the military and mathematics, cf. Monika Dommann, »Handling, Flow Charts, Logistik: Zur Wissensgeschichte und Materialkultur von Warenflüssen,« in: Philipp Sarasin, Andreas Kilcher (eds.), Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte 7: Zirkulationen, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2011, 75–103, here: 94f.


Judd A. Case, »Logistical Media: Fragments from Radar’s Prehistory,« Canadian Journal of Communication 38 (2013), 379–395.


Ned Rossiter, Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares, New York: Routledge, 2016.


Monika Dommann, »Wertspeicher: Epistemologien des Warenlagers,« Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung 12 (2012), 32–50; and Dommann, »Handling, Flow Charts, Logistik.«


Brian Larkin, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.


John Durham Peters, »Calendar, Clock, Tower,« in: Jeremy Stolow (ed.), Deus in Machina: Religion and Technology in Historical Perspective, New York: Fordham University Press, 2013, 25–42.


Cf. Benjamin H. Bratton, »Logistics of Habitable Circulation: A Brief Introduction to the 2006 Edition of Speed and Politics,« in: Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Marc Polizzotti, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2006, 7–25, here: 13. On logistical theorems in Harold A. Innis’s work cf. Torsten Hahn, »Waterways. H.A. Innis’ Kanufahrt zum Ursprung des Dominion,« in: Christoph Neubert, Gabriele Schabacher (eds.), Verkehrsgeschichte und Kulturwissenschaft. Analysen an der Schnittstelle von Technik, Kultur und Medien, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012, 143–161; on Norbert Wiener cf. Case, »Logistical Media«; on McLuhan cf. Gabriele Schabacher, »Transport und Transformation bei McLuhan,« in: Till A. Heilmann, Jens Schröter (eds.), Medien verstehen: Marshall McLuhans Understanding Media, Lüneburg: Messon Press, 2017, 59–84.


On the relation between transport and transformation cf. Bruno Latour, »Train of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and the Fifth Dimension,« Common Knowledge 8/3 (1996), 170–191; see also Christoph Neubert, Gabriele Schabacher, »Verkehrsgeschichte an der Schnittstelle von Technik, Kultur und Medien. Einleitung,« in: Neubert, Schabacher (eds.), Verkehrsgeschichte und Kulturwissenschaft. Analysen an der Schnittstelle von Technik, Kultur und Medien, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012, 7–45, here: 25f.


Bruno Latour, »Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together,« Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present 6 (1986), 1–40, here: 16. See also Latour, »Die Logistik der immutable mobiles,« in: Jörg Döring, Tristan Thielmann (eds.): Mediengeografie. Theorie–Analyse–Diskurse, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009, 111–144. On the connection between mobile transportability and formally constant immutability, which is expressed in Bruno Latour’s concept of immutable mobiles, cf. Erhard Schüttpelz, »Elemente einer Akteur-Medien-Theorie,« in: Schüttpelz, Tristan Thielmann (eds.), Akteur-Medien-Theorie, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013, 9–70, here: 33ff. Cf. also Christoph Neubert, »Innovation, Mobilisierung, Transport. Zur verkehrstheoretischen Grundlegung der Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie in Bruno Latours ARAMIS, OR THE LOVE OF TECHNOLOGY,« in: Neubert, Gabriele Schabacher (eds.), Verkehrsgeschichte und Kulturwissenschaft. Analysen an der Schnittstelle von Technik, Kultur und Medien, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012, 93–140.


Bruno Latour, »Arbeit mit Bildern oder: Die Umverteilung der wissenschaftlichen Intelligenz,« in: Latour, Der Berliner Schlüssel. Erkundungen eines Liebhabers der Wissenschaften, Berlin: Akademie, 1996, 159–190, here: 182ff.


Friedrich Balke, »System- und Netzwerktheorien: Bilder in Umgebungen,« in: Stephan Güntzel (ed.), Bild. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2014, 109–117, here: 114ff.


Cf. Christoph Neubert, »Verkehr,« in: Tina Bartz, Ludwig Jäger, Markus Krause, Erika Linz (eds.), Signaturen der Medien. Ein Handbuch zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Medientheorie, Paderborn: Fink, 2012, 323–328, here: 323f.


Schabacher, »Raum-Zeit-Regime,« 147.


Cf. Schabacher, Neubert, »Verkehrsgeschichte,« 24f.


Dommann, »Handling, Flow Charts, Logistik,« 75.


Already against the backdrop of the broader transdisciplinary debate that began in the 1990s about a »turn to the image« largely promoted by the changes in digital media—according to which the image is on the one hand ubiquitous, hegemonic, and on the other epistemically dubious, precarious, susceptible to manipulatively calculated attacks—the question persistently arose as to how the image, through new means and expanses of circulation, reformats its forms of practice and ultimately also the sphere of the visual in culture as a whole. For an overview of the debate around the iconic or pictorial turn and the discursive field that emerged between the science of images (Bildwissenschaft) and visual culture studies, cf. Marius Rimmele, Klaus Sachs-Hombach, Bernd Stiegler (eds.), Bildwissenschaft und Visual Culture, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014; for a review see also Beat Wyss, »Die Wende zum Bild: Diskurs und Kritik,« in: Stephan Güntzel, Dieter Mersch (eds.), Bild. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2014, 7–15. The degree to which the »turn to the image« is associated with a practical turn in the theory of science can be seen in Monika Dommann, »Vom Bild zum Wissen: eine Bestandsaufnahme wissenschaftshistorischer Bildforschung,« Gesnerus 61 (2004), 77–89.


Oliver Grau, Thomas Veigl, »Introduction: Imagery in the 21st Century,« in: Grau, Veigl (eds.), Imagery in the 21st Century, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011, 1–18, here: 7. On scientific images, cf. Horst Bredekamp, Birgit Schneider, Vera Dünkel (eds.), Das Technische Bild. Kompendium zu einer Stilgeschichte wissenschaftlicher Bilder, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008; for an image-theoretical approach to game studies, see Stephan Güntzel, Egoshooter. Das Raumbild des Computerspiels, Frankfurt/Main: Campus, 2012.


Dieter Mersch, Oliver Ruf, »Bildbegriffe und ihre Etymologien,« in: Dieter Mersch, Stephan Güntzel (eds.), Bild. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2014, 1–7, here: 1.


Peter Osborne, »Infinite Exchange: The Social Ontology of the Photographic Image,« Philosophy of Photography 1/1 (2010), 59–68, here: 59.


Peter Osborne, »The Distributed Image = Das verteilte Bild,« Texte zur Kunst 99 (Sept. 2015), 74–87, here: 84 (italics in the original). Winfried Gerling speaks in a similar sense with regard to the social media commodification effects of »mobile and mobilized images«: »[P]ictures are becoming ever more mobile: photographs are moving images in the context of social media; they are moved on screens and pushed to be updated both automatically and by the user. Due to the constant urge for updating, images are taken for consumption rather than for concentrated observation« (Winfried Gerling, »Moved Images—Velocity, Immediacy and Spatiality of Photographic Communication,« in: Mika Elo, Merja Salo, Marc Goodwin (eds.), Photographic Powers, Helsinki: Aalto ARTS Books, 2014, 287–307, here: 292).


Pias, »Das digitale Bild.«


Siegfried Kracauer, »Photography« [1927], in: The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, 47–64, here: 47.


Cf. Kittler, Optical Media, 293ff.


W.J.T. Mitchell, »Image,« in: Mitchell, Mark B.N. Hansen (eds.), Critical Terms for Media Studies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, 35–48, here: 46.


Ibid., 45.


Sarah Kember has spoken in this sense of the »endurance of photographic codes and conventions« (Sarah Kember, »Ambient Intelligent Photography,« in: Martin Lister (ed.), The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, London: Routledge, 2013, 56–76, here: 57).


Birgit Schneider, »Wissenschaftsbilder zwischen digitaler Transformation und Manipulation. Eine Anmerkung zur Debatte des ›digitalen Bildes,‹« in: Martina Heßler, Dieter Mersch (eds.), Logik des Bildlichen. Zur Kritik der ikonischen Vernunft, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009, 188–200, here: 191.


Johanna Drucker has addressed this relationship in the form of a critique of digital ontologies: Against the mythology of »pure code« (as an idealized concept of an immaterial »mathesis«) she understands digital images as »material embodiments,« which emerge from the oppositional logical of »graphesis« (»knowledge manifest in visual and graphic form«; cf. Johanna Drucker, »Digital Ontologies: The Ideality of Form in/and Code Storage—or—Can Graphesis Challenge Mathesis,« Leonardo 34/2 (2001), 141–145; and Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).


Schneider, »Wissenschaftsbilder,« 194.


Cf. the chapter »Inside Photoshop« in: Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, 124–146. For a glimpse into current directions in manipulation in the context of machine learning (»AI-assisted deepfakes«) using the example of »face-swap porn,« see Samantha Cole, »Everyone Is Making AI-generated Fake Porn Now,« Motherboard: Tech by Vice (blog), Jan. 24, 2018,


Cf. the Bellingcat website,


Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, New York: Zone Books, 2017.


Regarding the works of Forensic Architecture, Roland Meyer has noted that they make clear »how little the dichotomy of recording and simulation, of ›computed‹ and ›computer-generated‹ images, which has long defined the debate about digital images, does justice to today’s visual practice. Rather, in the production of ›evidence assemblages‹ and ›architectural image complexes‹ indexical recording and data-based simulation are entangled with one another in nearly every step of production. Positions of virtual cameras and computed trajectories of shots are synchronized with photographically recorded movements of bodies in space, virtual models of light conditions and cloud formations are compared with the available visual image information« (Roland Meyer, »Asymmetrien der Auflösung,«Cargo: Film/Medien/Kultur 34 (2017), 70–73, here: 73).

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The Distributed Image

Stream – Archive – Ambience