Reflections on Archiving Images

I thought the readings on archiving images were especially interesting in the context of my own work with creating a living archive of Chinese urban development. There are inherent contradictions in the act of archiving — it comes from a fatalistic tendency (Derrida’s ‘death drive’) but it is also hopeful, in that archiving allows for the legitimizing of alternative histories and narratives, and can be an act of resistance, as in the Egyptian Revolution.

It also holds the contradiction of wanting to be read as truth, while it is dependent on the a priori characteristic of photographs outlined by Foucault. The fact that photographic meaning is suspended and deduced differently in varied archive contexts contests the idea that individual photos can speak to a larger truth over time, or to “reach eternity” as Henri Cartier-Bresson describes.



Drone Images / Surveillance

I found Louise Wolther’s discussion in “Viewing Ecologies” about the “utopian effects” of the first photo of Earth particularly compelling, especially when she analogizes it to the “network of visibility” that contemporary surveillance technologies create. While birds eye view imagery provides legibility to the built environment and, therefore, easier governance, it’s interesting to turn this on its head and think about legibility for empathy and movement building among the masses. How can big data be used so that it creates community? Beyond the sharing of image creation and image consumption, how would data look if it were collectively owned, if everyone had control over their own representation?

I looked into how data visualization is being integrated into visual arts. One interesting project I found was Surveillance PET — the artist Igal Nassima custom-built a flying drone that followed a single person using GPS location tracking, taking photos every few seconds. The photos were then compiled onto Google Maps images. The result is an uncanny DIY surveillance video installation which makes me think of the desire to share on social media and to live as though we are being watched. It also makes me think of how easy surveillance of others can be, and the possibilities of subversive surveillance.


Another piece I like is “Inside Out Edinburgh” by Celyn Bricker, Joe Caslin and JR. They pasted photographs of both ‘surveilled’ subject and ‘surveillant’ in the same physical space in Edinburgh (the most surveilled city in the UK) in order to simulate a kind of encounter that is made impossible by the CCTV system. Through this piece they are highlighting the artificial separation (made possible by machine and closed doors) between surveilled and surveillant by turning the outdoor public space “inside out”.


Reflection on “The Battle of Algiers”

I thought that The Battle of Algiers was a fantastic film, both in it’s cinematography, but also in it’s subject matter.

The way the film was shot gave it a sense of realism, in contrast to how a lot of movies are shot today. It felt like the footage was shot from the scene the ground, giving it almost a documentary feel, as opposed to a more “theatrical” angle.

Politically, I really enjoyed seeing the story of someone who could very well be labeled a “terrorist” in Western society, and helped me better empathize with their cause. It made me realize just how fine the line between denounced terrorist and celebrated revolutionary is. It seems ironic that the people of Algiers were rising up against French colonial rule, as less than two centuries prior, it was the French who were rising up against their own rulers.

The Poor Image

I found Hito Steyerl’s analysis of the circulation of “poor images” very useful because it provides a history of the value behind images, and the role of images in different markets of distribution.
One contemporary example of image reproduction that I find very interesting is Bili Bili, a Chinese video platform website. It contains a wide range of content- from Chinese anime to US Hollywood movies. Users are able to create subtitles that scroll past the specific scene being commented on. I feel this exemplifies the bad image — what results is an “an art of the people”, remixed by disperse audiences. While there are many trash comments, there are also hilarious and sincere ones. Overall they create a layered dimension to the experience of watching a movie, as if you are watching with all the commentators.
Bilibili and regulation: How one video company is thriving on youth-generated content
I wonder how kitsch is valued and devalued in different cultural contexts.  For example, the use of Chinese kitsch images has recently proliferated in the Chinese American contemporary art scene. But what is seen as kitsch in Chinese American communities may differ from what is seen as kitsch in China.

Image activism reflection

I found Peter Weibel’s “Power to the People” and Michael Glassman’s “Occupying the Noosphere” to be very optimistic about social media and its significance in promoting democracy. Written in the early 2010s, the hope in the discourse surrounding civic participation online is palpable. While people do have more modes of self-representation, mass media continues to be powerful and social media platforms have become more powerful.  Feeding Instagram with self-images and using Facebook to mobilize  seems less democratizing when it is ultimately legitimizing and upholding Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, online influencers and KOLs become movement spokespersons and leaders, creating uneven power dynamics in the online noosphere despite its possibility of open participation.

The hand of a protester recording with a mobile phone in Tahrir Square, 2011.

Sourced from
I’m interested in how images can legitimize alternative narratives and build power in a movement. Images build solidarity and create empathy, although but can be dangerous when taken as truth or evidence or faith.

Link for surveillance film



Dragonfly Eyes is an 81-minute fictional movie, made entirely out of surveillance footage. It tells a story deeply rooted in today’s reality, revealing the “invisible” crises hidden in our mundane lives, and the inexplicable turns of events that lie beyond our grasp. The film reflects fragile sensibilities in our private emotions, and it mirrors how anxiety and insecurity fog our own perspective on modern live.

Reflection on Week 12

Sontag pointed out that “Cameras define reality in the two channels essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers).” This reminds me of China’s human rights issues. As in the ID SNIPER project, when it comes to artists introducing their products, I’m sure the Chinese military will show great interest. Just as the situation in China today – surveillance camera, face recognition and big data analysis. Digital images are bringing us power while depriving us of our freedom.

Another thing came into my mind is that in the Media Lab Camera Culture Group, they have a photon camera project in 2012. They use a camera with a time resolution of about one trillion frames per second to visualize the wave-particle duality of light. The camera can photograph objects that were blocked by the wall. But in reality, the object is not visible. Just like X-rays change the surface properties of an object, photonic cameras change the spatial properties of the subject. I think new digital technologies are redefining photography.


Thoughts on “Viewing Ecologies”

Of the three readings, Viewing Ecologies by Wolthers resonated the most with me. It was interesting to learn about the history of The Blue Marble, and the societal implications of being able to represent all of human existence in one image. One extension I thought of what was discussed was the rise of live-streaming, and how that relates to the “citizenry of photography.” In particular, this reminds me of how encounters with police officers are increasingly recorded/live-streamed, as a way to hold both officers, and the citizens they interact with ostensibly accountable for their actions on camera. However, as we have increasingly witnessed in the past few years, even video evidence is oftentimes not sufficient to effectively fight abuses of power by the state.

Thoughts on Archive Readings

Archive Fever, and The Historical A Priori And The Archive both made zero sense to me.

In the case of Archive Fever, I felt as if I was reading something completely foreign – the author did not seem to want to make his point very clear. The allusions to Freud and the Classics may indicate the author’s education level, but did little to convey anything to someone, like myself, who did not spend years studying those subjects. I have no comments on the reading  as I got nothing out of it.

The Historical A Priori And The Archive was a little more readable, but still did not convey its point clearly (or at all), and as such, I have no comments on it either.

As a general comment on these sorts of readings, it feels as if the authors purposely shroud their text in pompous language, so that the only readers who might understand the texts are fellow academics with similar knowledge bases. While it may be that this language is essential to convey the exact points and feelings the author is trying to make, it does nothing to help anyone else understand what they are trying to say.


Archiving a Revolution in the Digital Age, Archiving as an Act of Resistance and Reading an Archive: Photography Between Labor and Capital were much more enjoyable reads, just by virtue of them being readable.

I like how Baladi gives a history of and context around the protests during the Arab Spring, and helped me better understand exactly how technological advances of social media and mobile telephony helped fuel and make feasible such a large-scale protest.

I also liked how Sekula brought up interesting points about the significance of context for understanding the power of images, and archives. Both the context of which the image is presented, and the viewer itself, can completely change the meaning and feeling of a photograph. With archival, this context can be warped, or even stripped away. reducing photographs from images, to just pure visual information.