Image Studies

Image Studies

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KEYWORDS: Panopticon / Perspective / Picture Libraries / Picture Theory / Photobook / Photo-elicitation / Photo-essay / Photojournalism / Photoshop / Plato’s Cave (see: Simile of the Cave) / Polysemous / Positron Emission Tomography

PANOPTICON is a type of  building conceived, but never realised, by Jeremy Bentham for institutional use: for hospitals, schools and asylums and more particularly for prisons, consisting of a circular structure with an inspection house at its centre, from which inmates could be observed. The concept of the Panopticon was address by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975). Foucault proposes that hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories, as well as prisons, have evolved to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon. Taking forward Foucault’s analysis, the idea of the Panopticon has obvious implications today within our surveillance society.

Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon penitentiary, drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791

Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon penitentiary, drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791

PERSPECTIVE is the graphical representation, on a flat surface, of a scene as it is perceived by the eye. Two important characteristic features of perspective are that objects are smaller as their distance from the observer increases; and that they are foreshortened, meaning that an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are shorter than its dimensions across the line of sight. The most common categorizations of artificial perspective are one-, two- and three-point, referring to the number of vanishing points in a perspective drawing. Early paintings and drawings did not use perspective but sized objects and characters hierarchically according to their spiritual or thematic importance. The relative position of elements in the composition was by shown by overlapping. ‘Vertical perspective’ was used in Ancient Egyptian Art, with the most important figures often shown as the highest in a composition. Around 1413 Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, still used by artists today. 

PICTURE LIBRARIES hold collections of images (and other media) for public and private use. Commercial operations such as AlamyShutterstock, or Getty Images sell images, or their rights; whereas some institutions provide free online access. The British Library, the National Media Museum and the Library of Congress, for example, have all released images through Flickr Creative Commons.

PICTURE THEORY  is a term used by Wittgenstein in his ‘picture theory of language’, found in his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). Put simply, Wittgenstein argues that the function of language is to allow us to picture things, and that sentences work like pictures in that their purpose is also to picture possible situations. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (1995), is a book by W. J. T. Mitchell, where he asks what pictures (and theories of pictures) are doing now (i.e.in the late twentieth century), when the power of the visual is said to be greater than ever before and the ‘pictorial turn’ has supplanted the ‘linguistic turn’ in the study of culture.

PHOTOBOOK  (see also Photo-essay). A Photobook is a bound volume of related photographs that work in sequence or in relation to each other. They are usually authored by the photographer and, whilst they may contain some text, they are generally a showcase and a vehicle through which photographs can carry a message by themselves. Photobooks are booming in the digital age, with companies like Blurb offering competitive rates for self publishing. Although primarily directed at the amateur market, these companies are also successfully used by artists who wish to self-publish.

PHOTO-ELICITATION  is a method of interview in visual sociology that uses images to elicit discussion and to record how subjects respond. Social and personal meanings and values and emotional reactions may differ from or supplement those obtained through verbal inquiry only. Photo-elicitation was first named in 1957 in a paper published by the photographer and researcher John Collier. (Harper: 2002)

PHOTO-ESSAY (see also Photobook). The photo-essay shares many of the characteristics of a photobook, in that it involves a set of interdependent photographs. The photo-essay departs from the photobook in that it is not necessarily bound into a volume, but can be found on-line, in a magazine or journal, or even in an art gallery setting.  It can be a curated enterprise, such as the Here is New York volume, a book of an exhibition that is  produced ‘by the people and for the people’ and claims to be ‘the most comprehensive record of the events of 9/11’. The photo-essay usually  functions as a journalistic or documentary piece and may involve substantial contextualising text.

PHOTOJOURNALISM uses photographs, often a single photograph, to report news events and current affairs. Photojournalism is an immediate form of reportage, and is often discarded after the event. However, some examples of photojournalism, such as the war photos of Robert Capa,  have been preserved by becoming regarded as photo-essays, or as single autonomous art forms, perhaps with a dilution of their original political and journalistic message.

PHOTOMONTAGE is the process of making a composite image by bringing together two or more photographs, or usually parts of them, either physically or digitally, into a new image. It is also the name for the resulting composite image. Related terms are collage, cut-up and montage, all of which also have applications outside of photography. Working in Germany and Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, John Heartfield was a pioneer of modern photomontage and he developed a method of appropriating and reusing photographs to powerful political effect. Peter Kennard is a contemporary proponent of political photomontage, as are Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. The photomontage  of John Stezaker is less overtly political, but still revealing of the subversive force of images via photomontage.

PHOTOSHOP is a digital image editing software application produced by Adobe Systems, and is an integral part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. It was created in 1988 by software engineers Thomas and John Knoll. Since then, it has become the industry standard in photo editing; the word ‘photoshop’ is now used as a verb, as in ‘to photoshop an image’. Photoshop is, in effect, a digital development of analogue methods photographic manipulation and retouching, but the power, accessibility and relative ease of use of photoshop has caused some doubt as to the authenticity of the digital image per se. There are strict guidelines for the use of photo editing software in journalistic images.

PLATO’S CAVE (See Simile of the Cave)

POLYSEMOUS originates the from Greekπολυ-poly-, ‘many’ and σῆμαsêma, ‘sign’. It is a term used to indicate the coexistence many different meanings or messages within a single object. Roland Barthes uses the term in relation to the image, and in Image, Music, Text he argues that all images are polysemous and cites the ‘linguistic message’ as one method that society has developed ‘to fix the floating chain of signifieds’ (1977, p.39).

POSITRON EMISSION TOMOGRAPHY (PET) is a specialized radiology procedure used to examine various body tissues to identify certain conditions. A a tiny amount of a short-lived radioactive substance, called a radionuclide (radiopharmaceutical or radioactive tracer) is injected into the living subject to assist in the examination of the tissue under study. 

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