Photography Off the Scale: Technologies and Theories of the Mass Image
Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK, 2021
312 pp. Paper, $27.95
Photography off the Scale is a long-awaited reader, made in collaboration with media archaeologist Jussi Parikka and a photography theorist Tomáš Dvořák, leading the very active department of theory of photography at world-renown film academy FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing arts) in Prague. The reader is an outcome of the international conference, organized in Winter 2018 at FAMU Prague, bringing up a selection of its papers, with many familiar names, to name a few; Sean Cubitt, Andrew Fisher, Annebella Pollen, Joanna Zylinska, Geoffrey Batchen, among others. The book is structured in three major sections; Scale, Measure, Experience followed by Metapictures and Remediations and finally – Models, Scans and AI.
The opening essay by Sean Cubitt defines the excess in scale by introducing us to the ‘mass image’ theme, an image agglomerate constructing new databases. Such an image does not have a purpose of representation, but its meaning is in monitoring human behaviour. Mass images are overproduced, over-accumulated, and lead to an ‘apocalypse of images’ (p. 27). The next chapter, by one of book editors, Tomáš Dvořák, deals with the problem of the measure by revoking Hegel’s dialectics and its definition of measure as a relationship between quantity and quality. Dvořák analyses the photographic capacity to represent beyond natural human vision, ranging from microscopic representation to cosmic photographs and defining the excessive as ‘quantifying and calculating’ (p. 46). Andrew Fisher’s chapter expands his pivotal writing on photographic scales from 2012. Fisher now comes with the noun scalability, used to describe the growth of informational and even more economical systems. Contrary to all earlier authors analyzing the scale blowing, Michelle Henning analyses the reduction of emotions to emojis. Tereza Stejskalova expands the analysis by stretching a line from ‘bubble vision’ of 360 immersion to poor and weak images.
In the second part of the reader, the opening essay by Annebella Pollen borrows W. J.T Mitchell’s concept of metapictures to approach photographic excess by reduplication and production of copies of copies. Michal Šimunek, also from FAMU, continues the theme of metapictures in his analysis of the widespread amateur practice of Lomography. Josef Ledvina’s focus expands the concept of metapictoriality by mapping various reproduction methods as scans, prints, screenshots etc., also distinguishing between the poor image and ‘resolution overkill.
The third section opens with Jussi Parikka’s article making a step beyond visibility to analyze post-lenticular photography as radar technologies, lidar images, ultrasonic scans, motion data fees etc.… Lukaš Likavčan and Paul Heinicker proceed to autographic images, ones by which a phenomenon writes itself inside the image, distinguishing it from ordinary representations and operational images, on which many articles were recently published. Joanna Zylinska’s contribution defines the ‘undigital photography’, or the photography which does not come from optical processes but instead from - computation. The final contribution to the reader is a beautiful conversation between one of the most theoretically founded photographers today, Joan Fontcuberta and a theorist Geoffrey Batchen, furnished with many of Fontcuberta’s pics.
The concept of the scale, important in photographic production, which has somehow got lost in the theory of the medium, is by this reader fully captured from many discursive angles. In addition to the major theme of the scale, the book is in-depth research in ubiquitous photography and mass image, metapictures and AI photography, making this reader a compendium of the most essential theories rising around photography in postdigital times. For its substantial covering of themes, it is a worth buy, as it would not be read-only once. The book is available in both printed (paperback and hardcover) and e-version; but due to the number and quality of full-page illustrations, ebook might not be the best solution for readers dedicated to the theme.