The application of non-representational theories to the digitally produced and circulated photographic image.

Lead Research Organisation: London South Bank University
Department Name: Fac of Arts and Human Sciences


Over the last decade we have witnessed photography being employed in a range of new contexts, online image cultures and innovative image applications, which pose new questions about the status and value of the photographic image. From "Google Street View" to the augmented reality application "Photosynth", there is a broad and consistently growing range of applications that employ photography in ways that challenge and redefine the representational model of the photograph as an imprint of the real.
These new photographic applications allow us to reconsider the fundamental assumptions about images: the single point of view, the nature of authorship, the predetermined subject-object relationships. They also present us with conceptual challenges that question the validity of the traditional perspectival, representational and semiotic approaches to photography. This has been called by a number of scholars (Crary.1999. Mitchell.1998. Lovejoy.2004) a 'crisis' of the representational paradigm which calls into question the representational system of visuality based upon the Cartesian logic of the picture plain and perspective, which aligns the paradigm of representation with the logic of the human retina. It is this logic that is being tested by the digital 'simulation' of the analogue photography, but as yet there is insufficient understanding of how the computer code can be said to give cultural meaning or value an image, which remains a cultural value. The problem in a nutshell, is that developments in computing which entail the photographic image continue to outstrip current photographic theory's ability to fully account for the far reaching changes in image cultures.

What the research will do.

The research will focus upon the impact of digital databases and algorithmic systems upon our understanding of the formation, reproduction, storage and circulation of the digital image from across a number of knowledge disciplines with the aim of producing transdisciplinary multiple perspectives. The research will develop a means of connecting the historical concerns of photographic theory with the indexical and semiotic image with algorithmic and coding of digital image reading in the semantic web in order to produce a new theoretical synthesis. The research will do this by bringing a number of scholars from different disciplines together through web technologies and meetings to enquire into applications of non-representational systems and theories to the photograph. Here the work of Nigel Thrift, (2008) Non-Representational Theory is considered as a founding text relevant to such enquiries and which has sofar been applied to space and politics, but not the visual image.

What is the outcome.

The research will result in the production of a website and academic network dedicated to enquiries into the photograph and digital technologies. In addition it will convene research meetings in London to bring scholars and researchers from differing disciplines together to consider a common set of problems. Finally it will result in the publication of a special edition of Philosophy and Photography dedicated to the proceedings of the seminars and debates and interviews on the website.

Planned Impact

Who Will benefit?
The research will be of direct benefit to The Photographer's Gallery, London who are developing a digital strategy as well as a research collaboration with London South Bank University over the next two years and the network research will feed into their approach through the involvement of Professor Andrew Dewdney working with the newly appointed Digital Curator at The Photographer's Gallery on digital photographic curation. This will allow the Photographer's Gallery to gain at first hand knowledge that will be relevant to the ways in which they develop a strategy. The Photographer's Gallery is a national and international organisation through which additional knowledge exchange will work within the field of other photography-based organisations dealing with contemporary photographic practice, exhibition and display. The Photographer's Gallery is further located within the UK public arts funding and policy network and the research outputs will contribute to the further development of national strategies for promoting digital arts. In particular the research will contribute to thinking about net users (prosumers) as potential new constitutive online and gallery audiences for the public arts. The link with The Photographer's Gallery in a sustained collaboration is a vital conduit for the research to impact upon the wider public realm. The research will influence the ways in which digital heritage is understood and the strategies for its management. In theorising the network user and their behaviours the research links to future audiences, which is of interest to such bodies as Nesta and the DCMS.

Professional New Media Practitioners
Whilst the research is of a primarily theoretical nature it considered that it will be of benefit to creative new media architects and designers in setting out new understandings of the processes of image search, circulation and meaning formation of the digital image. The research will impact in these commercial areas in more diffuse and longer terms ways through HE professional training, which will involve academics in a secondary set of tasks in translating the theoretical material into specific practice contexts.

Wider public interest to practitioners
The use of a website as a strategic method of transdisciplinary enquiry will also make the research accessible to a wider set of interested parties. This will include other individual, freelance new media professionals involved in website design, those looking for new thinking about the organisation of the archive, for photo-agency companies looking for new ways of setting up and using search engines and photographers interested in thinking about the circulation of their portfolios along different distributed lines. By developing the research online as well as through research seminars the research will maintain maximum openness and has the potential to impact in unexpected ways. In this last respect the value of theory to a range of new media, art and photography practices is also recognised.

The Oneline network approach will ensure global reach during and beyond the period of the network funding. It will foster greater inter-cultural understanding of visuality, a move towards the idea of transvisuality is implicit in the likely impact of the research. The impact upon technical fields of practice is to offer new paradigms for thinking about visuality and for the cultural and theoretical fields to offer new ways of including technical knowledge. The research network will report over an eighteen- month period and it is expected that it will continue to develop in further collaboration throughout the remainder of the decade. The research network represents an ongoing knowledge exchange between different academic disciplines and between academic disciplines and professional practitioners in sharing knowledge and skills.


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Rubinstein D (2012) Philosophy of Photography: Special Section in Philosophy of Photography

Description *AHRC photography research network. * Rethinking epistemological pedagogical and artistic relationship to the photography. * Ongoing international conversation about the non-representational image and digital aesthetics * Initialising a conversation about impact assessment in arts related production and research at individual and collaborative level. * Innovative ways to use social media and networks to facilitate global reach on these topics, augmented by traditional methods of knowledge dissemination; books and journals.
Exploitation Route * We developed an innovative way to engage young people via tweet / livestream collaboration. This has impact on the way in which conferences are put together in a less centred and hierarchical way. There was outreach done to the public which allowed exchange during workshops through online collaborations. The website allows open access at point of publication and delivery, as a permanent portal to the problematic of the photographic image oniline .
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other

Description The findings from the award were used to design and deliver a series of public lectures at the Photographers' Gallery, London in January - March 2016. The lecture series title was 'Philosophies of the Digital Image'. The findings are now contributing to a book that will be published by Routledge Publishing, titled 'The Fragmentation of the Photographic Image in Digital Culture'
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description The award enabled to develop an innovative MA Photography course at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Beyond Representation: Photography, Humans and Computers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Paper Presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This first (of two) major 2-day conferences launched the AHRC research network by bringing together a number of key international figures in the field of photography studies, computing, fine art, philosophy and digital aesthetics. Held at CMCR-LSBU, It initiated a reframing of photographic theory so as to account for a radical reorientation of image production brought about by the intersecting landscapes of mobile media, fine art, computer networks, embedded in acoustic/visual culture. With over 30 scholars and artists worldwide, Beyond Representation considered the current state of photography in digital culture and aimed to advance our understanding of the contemporary image through a call for trans-disciplinary contributions, which began to open up different analytic approaches to photography within networked cultures.

journal speical issue and a book proposal
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description On The Verge of Photography: Imaging, Mobile Art, Humans & Computers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The third and final conference/symposium emerging from this AHRC grant, On the Verge of Photography was a major two day international event held at the School of Art, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BCU). Chaired by Prof. Johnny Golding (CFAR-BCU) and Dr. Daniel Rubinstein (CMCR-LSBU), with over 150 in attendance on the two days, it brought together deeply engaged set of artists, philosophers, engineers, curators, technicians and cultural researchers to rethink new strategies for mediating the world through photography. By cutting across disciplinary borders, this conference enabled dialogue with unexpected avenues of enquiry.

By bringing together such a diverse and excellent range of scholarship on photography, we were able to begin also to re-think creative integration of social networking platforms (eg: twitter, youTUBE) during the conference (and second workshop, 'What is a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description What is a Photograph? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Paper Presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact An international round-table event responding to the simple question 'What is a Photograph?'

Chaired by Prof. Johnny Golding this experimental one day micro-laboratory included a series of presentations from invited speakers on the networked photograph. All participants were requested to reflect on their own response on the recent works of François Laruelle's Non-Photography (2011), Isabelle Stengers' Thinking with Whitehead (2012) and Sloterdijk's Bubbles/Spheres (2011).

An experimental one-day micro-lab including a series of presentations from invited international / regional/national artists, philosophers, social engineers, designers on the networked photograph. What is a Photograph? formed part of the wider AHRC netwo
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012