Lecture 1: From Analogue to Digital, From Use to Exchange

The philosophy of photography

  • Digital, enhanced, manipulation of images, erasing and inserting.
  • Ontology changing; indexicality under threat.
  • Not as anchored in real world; journalism, consequences. Example, Adnan Hajj, Beirut, 2006, tried to make the smoke look more enhanced.

“Smoke billows from burning buildings destroyed during an overnight Israeli air raid on Beirut’s suburbs. August 5, 2006. Many buildings were flattened during the attack.” (Reuters in 2006)

  • Photography approaching painting, limit, line between photography and painting is blurring; anxiety for photographers.
  • Idealised, photography losing its core.

“Given the proliferation of digital images that look exactly like photographs, photography may even be robbed of its cultural identity as a distinctive medium” (Batchen, 1994, p.47).

  • Anxiety; photography being left behind. What is this new medium? Defining characteristics.
  • Analogue and digital; the difference between the two, share more than separate? Look similar – must be because sensor is different.
  • Not that different, emulsion or light sensitive. Indexicality is still happening.

“Is there so much at stake when the indexical quality of a photographic image is registered by an array of charge coupled devices rather than silver salts or electro magnetic particles?” (Lister, 2007, p.252)

  • Lister: discussion not on different aspects, not technology but social context, how they are operated and used. Ontological shift is taking place.

[T]echnology (in itself) is nothing until and unless it is given cultural and social purpose, gaining definition and meaning in specific historical circumstances (Lister, 2007, p.251).

  • Photography in social and political terms; event of some sort, context tells what it is (Azoulay).
  • Osborne: Social context more important.
  • His theory; what does it mean, does it help?

Osborne’s analogy:

Analogue                     Use Value

—————      =         ——————

Digital                      Exchange Value

Marx theory, somehow similar.

What, if anything, does digitalization tell us about the nature of photography in art?

(Osborne, 2010, p.62)

  • Exhibition, funders, between photography and art world.
Penelope Umbrico, Suns from Flickr, 2006–.

Martine Neddam, Mouchette, 1996– [http://www.mouchette.org/].

  • Wouldn’t normally call art but comes into art world (non-art).
  • Confining photography and art, widening Osborne’s theory.
  • Wide spread anxiety analogue to digital, something lost. Truth value in digital – citizen journalism.
  • Every has a camera (camera phones) is photojournalism being threatened?
Anonymous ‘Office Worker’, Untitled, 2005 (debris after the bombing of the bus in Tavistock Square, London. Source, BBC)
Adam Stacey, Untitled, 2005 (Mr Stacey disembarking the bombed train between King’s Cross and Russell Square, London. Source, BBC)

This anxiety appears irrational – which is, of course, no more than to acknowledge it as an anxiety: a free-floating anxiousness about the real that has ‘latched on’ to digital photography as a cultural site in which to invest, because of the social importance but current uncertainty about the various documentary functions of photography. The basic source of such anxiety has nothing to do with photography itself (Osborne, 2010, p.64).

  • Truth in image isn’t changing rapidly. Truth aspect has latched onto digital – not to do with photography – something else.
  • What are we anxious about with digital photography?

Osborne’s anxiety is about the real. Marx economic terms, financial anxiety.

In late autumn 2008, the media incessantly repeated the message that the world financial crisis had started to feed through into the ‘real’ economy (ibid.).

Parallel – divorce between reality financial and digital photography.

The fact that there is, in principle, no necessary visible indicator of the referential value of [a digital] image mimics the structure of the commodity, in which there is no necessary relation between use-value and exchange-value (Osborne, 2010, p.65).

Shift away from reality – use value to exchange value.

Chapter 1: Marx

All objects has two values

  • Human want/need use value
  • Anchored to physical qualities (chair and strawberries) and physical reality.

Can also be related to exchange value

  • Chair and larger quantity of strawberries; no longer use value. Negotiation. Commodities, not isolated quantitive value. Expanded to all commodities (car) creating an infinite network.
  • Not value in own right; how much gets you something else? Commodities for commodities.

Marx theory, one commodity which all others are measured. Have to want each other’s commodities – exchanges limites.

“In the direct barter of products, each commodity is directly a means of exchange to its owner, and to all other persons an equivalent, but that only in so far as it has use-value for them. At this stage, therefore, the articles exchanged do not acquire a value-form independent of their own use-value, or of the individual needs of the exchangers.”

(Marx, 2015/1867, p.62 – available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf)

  • Everyone wants cattle (money) one commodity above all others, one standard.

Digital photography is easier to exchange for money.

Richard Prince, from New Portraits, 2015.
  • Added his own comment and made it his own.
Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999.
  • Based on digital photography.

Digital photography is most often shared for free, no financial gain.

  • Osbornes analogy which touches us all.
  • Specific file format (Jpeg) (Daniel Parmer)
  • Image traffic online
Anonymous, High Compression Jpeg (sourced from http://www.investintech.com/resources/articles/howconvertjpegtopdf/)
  • Compromising quality in favour of exchangeability. Displaced alternatives – standard form.
  • Jpeg is the money form of digital files (cattle) bypassed other file formats.
Thomas Ruff, jpeg ny02, 2004.

Jpegs are taken for the purpose of sharing online.

  • Acclimating money to be able to buy stuff later

Commodity – Money – Commodity (selling in order to buy)

Money – Commodity – Money (buying in order to sell)

Money for its own sake.

In a capitalist exchange of the form M–C–M,

“[i]ts leading motive, and the goal that attracts it, is therefore mere exchange-value”

(Marx, 2015/1867, p.106 – available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf).

  • Family photos used to be taken in order to look at ourselves and to show other family members and friends.
  • No longer for ourselves (selfie) to be viewed by others in an online community. Trying to increase likes. Something new each time – more and more attention online. Trying to project a certain type of person.

“By posting selfies, people can keep themselves in other people’s minds. In addition, like all photographs that are posted on line, selfies are used to convey a particular impression of oneself. Through the clothes one wears, one’s expression, staging of the physical setting, and the style of the photo, people can convey a particular public image of themselves, presumably one that they think will garner social rewards.”

(Leary, 2013, n.p.)


“We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising. Selfies provide an opportunity to position ourselves (often against our competitors) to gain recognition, support and ultimately interaction from the targeted social circle. This is no different to consumer brand promotion.”

(Nelson-Field, 2013, n.p.)


Exchange value: sells for more than they’re actually worth.

  • Carte de Visite: Seed of exchange culture of social exchanges.
  • Beginning of selfie.

None discussed making of anxiety.

  • Selfie – hopeful.

Artistic practices which show digital anxiety

Big Bang Data, Somerset House, 3rd December 2015–20th March 2016.

Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, Face to Facebook, 2011.
  • Fake dating website (hacks) Facebook threatened to take them to court. Selfies were in the exhibition; nothing could be done about it once the images were shown.

Lev Manovich, Moritz Stefaner, Dominikus Baur, and Daniel Goddemeyer, selfiecity London, 2015.

  • How Londoners want to present themselves, selfies not intended to be used in this way. How available they are (artistic exchange value) different from original context.

Anxious: losing our privacy

Laura Poitras, The Program, 2012.
  • Harvesting and keeping digital personal data.
Timo Arnall, Internet Machine, 2014.
  • Sea has history of digital traffic.
  • Material facilities, can access if they feel the need.
  • Contradictions of how we look at digital photography, explains what goes on.

Essential Reading:
Osborne, P. (2010). ‘Infinite Exchange: the social ontology of the photographic image’. Philosophy of Photography, 1 (1), pp.59–68.



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