Image Studies

Image Studies

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KEYWORDS: Magnetic resonance imaging / Male Gaze / Mediality / Medium is the Message / Metapicture / Microscopy / Mimesis / Mirror Stage / Modernity / Multimodality


MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI) is a medical imaging technique that uses a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to form images of the body. MRI and CT (see ‘computed tomography’) are complementary imaging technologies, with each having its advantages and limitations for particular applications. 

MALE GAZE was first introduced as a concept by British film theorist Laura Mulvey, in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, as a feature of gender power asymmetry in film, as the male gaze frequently takes precedence over the female gaze. Mulvey’s essay further argues that women often look at themselves through the eyes of men, resulting in a complex conflation between male gaze and female gaze. The male gaze has become a critical concept in contemporary feminist film theory and media studies but can be traced back as far as the Renaissance, where, as John Berger argues in Ways of Seeing, female nudes were painted almost exclusively for the benefit of the male viewer.

MEDIALITY can be understood as an individual medium’s specific manner of functioning, and it is clear that the meaning of an object (an image, for example) cannot be independent of its mediality. Objects can be transferred from one media to another (remediated) and medialities can be mixed (multimedia, mixed media), with implications for the object and its meaning.

MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE  is a phrase used by Marshall McLuhan in his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, first published in 1964, where he agues that the characteristics of the medium are critical to the message it carries and to how the message is understood. McLuhan’s idea of media is not restricted to conventional forms of  mass-media communication such as  radio, television or press: at the beginning of Understanding Media, he tells us that a medium is any extension of ourselves, suggesting that a hammer extends our arm and that the wheel extends our legs and feet as so are classed as media. He warns us that we are often distracted by content, arguing that it often ‘blinds us to the character of the medium.’ (1964, p9) . McLuhan frequently punned on the word “message”, changing it to “mass age”, “mess age”, and “massage”; a later book, The Medium Is the Massage (1967) was originally to be titled ‘The Medium is the Message’, but McLuhan preferred the new title, which is rumoured to have been a printing error. 

METAPICTURE is a term used for a picture about a picture, broadly in the same way that metadata is data about data. More crucially though, it is a critique of the image, within the image itself; as  W.J.T. Mitchell (1994, p57) explains, ‘[t]he principle use of the metapicture is […] to explain what pictures — are to stage as it were the “self-knowledge” of pictures.’ (See also the entry on ‘hypericon’)

MICROSCOPY is the use of microscopes to view objects and areas of objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Optical, electron, and scanning probe are all types of microscopy. Optical or light microscopy involves magnification of the through single or multiple lenses. Electron microscopy involves sending an electron beam through a thin slice of the object. Scanning probe microscopy uses the physical contact of a solid probe tip to scan the surface of an object and form an image. Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was the first to use microscopy to make images in his 1665 illustrated  book Micrographia.

MIMESIS comes from the Ancient Greek  μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), ‘to imitate’, an idea that then governed the creation of works of art, in particular with reference to the physical world as a model for beauty, truth, and the good. Plato and Aristotle defined mimesis as perfection and imitation of nature, but Aristotle also advocated the use of mathematical ideas and symmetry in the search for the perfect model. Both philosophers contrasted mimesis with diegesis, or narrative, arguing that mimesis shows, whereas diegesis tells.  In 17th and 18th century aesthetics, mimesis remained bound to ideas of idealised nature. However, it has become a broad and theoretically elusive term that traverses aesthetics, psychoanalysis and anthropology, for example. 20th century thinkers such as Benjamin, Adorno, Girard, and Derrida have defined mimetic activity in relation to social practice and interpersonal relations rather than as simply a process of making and producing models.

MIRROR STAGE is an important component in Lacan’s critical reinterpretation of the work of Freud. Lacan proposes that human infants pass through a stage in which an external image of the body (reflected in a mirror, or represented to the infant through the mother, for example) gives rise to a mental representation that is established as an ‘ideal ego’ (Lacan:1994, p. 257), towards which the subject will perpetually strive throughout his or her life.

MODERNITY is a term of art used in humanities and social sciences to designate a historical period, i.e. the modern era. Modernity was marked by the rejection or questioning of tradition, socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices, with associated with cultural and intellectual movements stretching from around 1500 up to the 1980s. In art, the related terms ‘modernism’ and ‘modern art’ are generally used by critics and historians to describe dominant art movements from Gustav Courbet up to abstract art and its developments in the 1960s. Modernity in art was characterised by constant innovation and a rejection of conservative values such as the realistic depiction of the world.

MULTIMODALITY is a theory of communication that describes practices that use several media together to create a single message. The idea of multimodality has been studied since the 4th century BC, when classical rhetoricians used several different modes, such as voice, gesture, and expressions, in public speaking. However, the term was not properly defined until the 20th century, and the latter part of the century saw the development of multimodality  through research on learning techniques. Since the 1990s, multimodal opportunities have grown with the onset of digital technologies that afford integration of text, sound, still and moving image.

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