Cloned images and the optical unconscious

Bojana Romic

    Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


    In this presentation I would discuss the term optical unconscious as defined in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Rosalind Krauss, and propose a broadened definition of this term, taking into account the new media spreadability (Jenkins et al., 2013) and 'image cloning' (W.J.T. Mitchell, 2008). The hypothesis is that images embody power not only through scientific visualisations, marketing campaigns, celebrity culture or visualisation of ideological messages, but also through the specific visual codes they produce. These codes can be transferred to other images as a 'hidden algorithm', which can later contribute its special status.
    When Walter Benjamin coined the term optical unconscious, he was primarily referring to the psychoanalytical perspective: photography opened a new realm of experience that was not accessible to the naked eye – the same way that psychoanalysis provided an access to the physic unconscious. The camera conveys the virtuality of vision, through which the eye learns about the spatio-temporal arrangements of the photographic object 'with its devices of slow motion and enlargement' (Benjamin, 1931, pp. 510).
    In reference to this, Rosalind Krauss wrote in her book Optical unconscious that her use of the term is at an angle to Benjamin's: speaking of the modernist optical logic, she retrieves the associationist theory and the notion of memory: 'the only point of recognition within associationist theory that consciousness might be shot through by unconscious conflict, and this is at the very heart of perception, was when it had to confront its own peculiar laboratory rat: the optical illusion. And there it found itself staring at something like an 'optical unconscious' (Krauss, 1996, pp. 145.).
    Krauss proposes a strategy of alternate strategies of vision, taking examples from the modernist artworks, where bodies and the ground blend from one part-object to another, leading to the experience of formlessness.
    In my own research I am employing both of these concepts, with an added focus: a codified arrangement of the image (a structure, or gesture, placement of the figures) can be stored in a memory of an observer – and later recognised as a pattern (structure) in the another image. The associative process that takes place is usually hidden from the observer, thus the use of the term optical unconscious.
    As the image gets disseminated via electronic media – 'cloned' is the term that William Mitchell suggests, it easily gets appropriated to a variety of different contexts revealing its inner power.
    To illustrate this, I would discuss several images, and compare it with some well-known examples from the art history. One of my case studies would be the discourse analysis of an image of Neda- Agha Soltan* and the subsequent 'production of the hero'.

    End notes:
    * Victim of the post-election riot in Tehran in 2009. Her death has been recorded by a passer-by and uploaded on YouTube, causing an immediate response from the audiences worldwide. I find example particularly interesting, because this young woman had no political/activist record – it was her image that communicated with the world.

    Benjamin, W. (1999) Little History of Photography. in: Jennings, M.W., Eiland, H., Smith, G. (eds) Selected Writings: Volume 2 1927-1934. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
    Jenkins, H., Ford, S, Green, J. (2013) Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press.
    Krauss, R. (1996) The Optical Unconscious. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
    Mitchell, W.J.T. (2008) Cloning Terror: The War of Images 2001-04. in: Costello, D. and Willsdon,
    D. (eds) (2008) The Life and Death of Images: Ethics and Aesthetics. London: Tate Publishing.
    StatusUdgivet - 2014
    BegivenhedHelsinki Photomedia 2014: Photographic Powers - Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki, Finland
    Varighed: 26 mar. 201428 mar. 2014


    KonferenceHelsinki Photomedia 2014
    LokationAalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture

    Citer dette