What do images want? Towards an Economy of the Image in the Age of Digital Envisioning

Edinburgh College of Art and the Centre for Design Informatics.
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Transimage 2018 Proceedings of the 5th Bie nnial Transdisciplinary Imaging Conference 2018, 2018, 1, 1 pp. 14 - 29 (16)
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In the darkness a person is deeply engaged with their phone, the light from the screen projects onto their face as if both are preparing to engage in an intimate transaction. A familiar moment like this reminds us that the technology of our private portable screens has silently engendered a new visual presence, a technical image, that reaches out to all other kinds of screens, including the traditional screen of painting, and the psychological screen of dream projection. The way an image appears to us through digital formats, is more aptly described as an envisioning, facilitated by light emitting diodes that irradiate the eye, while at the same time beckoning touch through an interactive surface. Villem Flusser claims that these 'technical images' are technically not images, but symptoms of electronic processes driven by a convergence of visual observation, conceptual categorisation and computing touch. Consequently the technical image is not like anything that has preceded it, from the cave to the cinema, since envisioning is facilitated by a swarm of electronic points in a state of decay, closer to a yawning emptiness than a physical presence. In this paper I will develop an ontotypology of the contemporary image by way of Flusser, Phillipe Lecoue-Labarthe and Friedrich Kittler, arguing that technical images have moved out beyond all previous means for understanding images, cutting aesthetics, philosophy and contemporary art off from the previous age of images and their productive or communicative projects. I will attempt to show that since images are no longer images, but are more readily discussed as visible objects or disembodied surfaces, they generate existential consequences impacting everything from hand held technologies to REM dreaming. As such the contemporary image is caught somewhere between being and non-being. The image as semblance is less than a being because if semblance were to fully resemble its model then it would no longer be an image but that indicated being. At the same time any kind of 'appearing as non being' given by the image has its own kind of being that cuts across the division of being-non-being. The result, by way of Heidegger and Aristotle, is that technical images bring all visualisation into an essential closeness, a de-severance, that does not make images more intimate or understood, on the contrary, images become conceptually and phenomenally distant like looking glasses, equipment to be looked 'through' but not 'at'. By treating images in this way, as optical holes instead of dithering presences, something of the gigantic nature of our global technologies of envisioning are revealed, bringing with them an annihilating distance flung to the greatest point of removal beyond embodied experiences and discursive formations.
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