Glossary of Terms

This page is intended to clarify terms that I have come across in the course of my research, or will use regularly in my writing.  I have included both British and American spellings where appropriate.  These definitions are not set in stone and therefore should not be taken as definitive, as their both their meaning and usage may shift as the research project evolves.  Any changes will be noted on this page.

application programming interface (api)

Allows programmers to integrate elements of (mainly) social-networking sites into their own application.

analogue photograph (UK)/analog photograph (US)

A photograph made by chemical, as opposed to digital processes.


A proposed term for our current geological time period, which acknowledges the effect of humans on the planet, such as climate change.


‘Anti-sublime’ is how Lev Manovich describes data visualisations which attempt to make that which was previously unknowable or unrepresentable (because of for instance, vastness or complexity), knowable by mapping such phenomena into a representation on a scale comparable to “human perception and cognition”.  In his essay “Data Visualization as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime”, he uses Lisa Jevbratt’s work 1:1 (which visualises IP addresses for all hosts on the World Wide Web) as an example of the ‘anti-sublime’.


An open-source electronics platform.  See:

augmented document

Ingrid Hölzl’s term for images that are “recorded and calculated”, merged in post-production.  These surpass the “spatiotemporal” confinement of photography, meaning that they are no longer tied exclusively to the past but represent a conjuction between past and present – a ‘photographic now’.  Works such as Weekend Campus (2004) by Nancy Davenport – which is neither a moving image nor still photograph – demonstrate this concept.

Big Data

Massive data sets (often gathered from social-networking sites) that can be analysed computationally to reveal patterns of behaviour, social attitudes, etc.

captured data

A general term for non-visual data captured by a sensor.  Closely related to ‘mechanically-captured metadata’, but may also include data such as that recorded by a Microsoft Kinect.


A computer programming language.  See:


Charge-coupled device, a type of sensor used to create digital photographs.


Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, a type of sensor used to create digital photographs.


Related to, but distinct from ‘information’, ‘data’ is the raw values from which ‘information’ is produced.  For example, a number of temperature readings might be considered ‘data’, whereas a graph of those temperature readings that lets us see changes over time might be considered ‘information’.

data pour

Closely related to ‘Web 2.0′, ‘data pour’ is Alan Liu’s term for web sites that do not follow the Web 1.0 paradigm of static pages, but instead are an incursion into a database.


A sign consisting of both ‘icon’ and ‘index’.


A word, or other indicator, which demonstrates or shows something directly, as opposed to by representation or example.


A social-networking site that allows users to upload, store, share, and comment on photographs.  As well as appearing in a chronological ‘Photostream’, based on the photograph’s upload date, photographs can be displayed in ‘Albums’ of the user’s own arrangement; and in curated and open ‘Groups’ of multiple photographers, often based around a particular subject, e.g. ‘Siamese Cats’.  Photographs can be displayed publicly, or limited to ‘friends’ of the photographer.  See:


Location data attached to a photograph, based on the Global Positioning System – a network of satellites that allows anyone with a GPS receiver to track their position on the Earth’s surface.  Returns two values: latitude and longitude.


The qualities of a thing which make it a particular thing, its unique qualities.

high-level metadata

Closely related to ‘mechanically-captured metadata’ and ‘user-added metadata’, ‘high-level metadata’ is the term used by Lev Manovich to describe metadata that describes the photograph or file in some way.  For example: the descriptive keywords assigned to a photograph.

hybrid photography

‘Hybrid photography’ is often used to refer to photography that is set into motion by panning (the ‘Ken Burns’ effect) or cinematic transitions, but is distinct from what Hölzl describes as an ‘augmented document’ since ‘hybrid photography’ does not necessarily merge a number of photographs together in an apparent whole. Michael Najjar also uses the term ‘hybrid photography’ to describe his series High Altitude (2010), in which the line of mountain ranges is adjusted to act as a graph of world stock exchanges; therefore it might also describe a photograph that incorporates data in some way.


A sign that bears a visual likeness to its referent.  For instance: painting; sculpture.


The sense or promise of an immediate or authentic experience, thought to be achieved by erasing (or more often attempting to ignore) the medium and providing a direct conduit to the thing depicted.  Closely related to ‘transparency’.


C.S. Peirce’s term for ‘index’.


A sign that bears a physical relationship to its referent.  For instance: footprints.


Related to, but distinct from ‘data’, ‘information’ is what we get when ‘data’ is collated in a manner that tells us something.  For example, a graph that communicates changes in temperature over a period of time is ‘information’, whereas the temperature readings alone would be considered ‘data’.


A social-networking site that allows users to upload, share and comment on photographs.  Photographs are generally displayed in a chronological ‘feed’ of recent uploads, although each user also has their own ‘page’.  The site is well-known for (and often mocked) for its use of ‘vintage’ filters, which give photographs the appearance of, for example, distressed Polaroids.  See:


A computer programming language.  See:


Closely related to ‘tags’, being textual descriptions added to photographs as metadata to facilitate database searches.  However, unlike ‘tags, keywords are generally carried in the photograph, not stored separately.


The socialised unit of reading (reception).  For example, in sculpture the lexis is the statue and in music the piece.


C.S. Peirce’s term for ‘icon’.


Meaning to occupy a position at the threshold between two states of being, or at a transitional point in a process.  For example, at the border between the digital and the actual.

low-level metadata

Closely related to ‘mechanically captured metadata’, ‘low-level metadata’ is the term used by Lev Manovich to describe technical data embedded in a digital file.  For instance: camera technical specifications in a photograph, the word count of a text file; the font used in a PDF.


The word ‘map’ has two distinct meanings – one cartographical and one mathematical. In the cartographic sense, ‘map’ generally refers to a representation of an area of land showing physical features such as roads and cities; it may also refer to a diagram detailing the spatial arrangement of a collection of data. The images produced from the Hubble Space Telescope fall into this latter category. In the mathematical sense, ‘map’ refers to an operation that associates one set of values with another set. For instance, temperature readings ranging from 0 to 30 degrees might be ‘mapped’ to an RGB colour value ranging from 0 to 255 as part of a data ‘visualisation’.


The function in ‘Processing’ that performs the ‘map’ operation. A similar function can be found in other programming languages, but may be written differently. For instance, the ‘openFrameworks’ toolkit (based on ‘C++’) uses ofMap().


Closely related to ‘visualisation’, as defined by Lev Manovich, ‘mapping’ means to map one type of (digital) ‘data’ on to another.  For example, the iTunes music visualiser maps sound on to an image.  Many artworks dealing with ‘data’ are examples of ‘mapping’.


An alteration made to a photograph with the intent to alter its content.

mechanically-captured metadata

Data captured by a sensor at the photograph’s moment of exposure and embedded in the photograph.  For instance: ‘timestamps'; ‘geo-tags'; camera technical specifications.


A general defintion of ‘metadata’ is ‘data about data’, a secondary layer of data which provides information about a photograph or other digital file. However, as Rubinstein and Sluis point out, this definition does not take into account metadata’s role as a mediator between humans and computers.  Can be split into two categories: ‘mechanically-captured metadata’ and ‘user-added metadata’.


The main computer programming language used by Apple iOS devices, such as the iPhone and iPad.  See:


An open-source programming toolkit, based on C++.  See:

operative image

Harun Farocki’s term for an image that no longer represents an object but forms part of an operation.  For example, images that are not aimed at a human mind, but at a computer which can facilitate pattern recognition and intepretation.  Ingrid Hölzl and Rémi Marie further argue that the term can be applied to Google Street View.


Used in the same sense as Green and Lowry, ‘performative’ refers to the act of taking a photograph with the intention that the photograph should act as a ‘pointer’ to, or evidence of, an event or action.

performative cartography

Nanna Verhoeff’s term for range of place-making and mapping practices facilitated by smartphones and other locative devices.

photographic now

Ingrid Hölzl’s term for photographs that are a conjunction between past and present, no longer static.  David Clarebout’s Vietnam (2001) is an example of such work.


Closely related to ‘index’ and ‘indication’, a ‘pointer’ is used to point to, or indicate something.  For instance, in the phrase “That house”, ‘that’ is the pointer.


The process of printing a chemical photograph in the darkroom or preparing a digital photograph in Photoshop without manipulating its content.  Intended to refer to standard ‘darkroom’ procedures such as adjusting exposure and contrast – not combination or composite printing (manipulation with intent to alter the photograph’s content).


When written with a capital ‘P’, ‘Processing’ refers to an open-source programming language and development environment, based on ‘Java’. See:


The thing to which a sign refers; in the case of a photograph the thing which it depicts.  For example, in the famous (but unpublished) photograph of Roland Barthes’s mother, the referent is his mother.


Bolter and Grusin’s term for the refashioning of (also rivaling and paying homage to) an earlier medium, into an apparently new medium.  For example, digital photographs remediates analogue photography.  However, remediation can work both ways: a newer medium can also refashion an older medium.

social-networking site

A website which allows users to upload, share and comment on content such as text, photographs, videos and web links.


A sign that has come to stand in for its referent by association.


Closely related to ‘keywords’, being textual descriptions added to photographs as metadata to facilitate database searches.  However, unlike ‘keywords’, tags are often stored separately from the photograph, as in the case of Flickr.


Time and date data attached to a photograph, usually indicating when the photograph was taken.


The idea or desire that a medium should become invisible, provide a direct connection to the thing depicted.  Closely related to ‘immediacy’.

user-added metadata

Data added to the photograph by the user, often stored separately from the image itself.  For instance: ‘tags'; the photographer’s biographical information; the number of views or ‘favourites’ the photograph has gathered on a social-networking site.

visualisation (UK)/visualization (US)

As defined by Lev Manovich, the making visual of data which is non-visual, a subset of ‘mapping’.

Web 2.0

A general term for websites that, like social-networking sites, constantly update with new content and require little or no knowledge of web technologies such as HTML to create content.

Web 3.0

A term coined by Tim Berners-Lee for the imagined future of the Internet, a semantic web in which it is possible for computers to accurately analyse all the information on the Internet.




Cited References

Barthes, R., Camera Lucida (London: Vintage, 2000).

Bolter, J.D. and Grusin, R., Remediation (Cambridge, MT: The MIT Press, 2000).

Green, D. and Lowry, J., “From Presence to the Performative: Rethinking Photographic Indexicality” in Where is the Photograph? ed. David Green (Brighton and Maidstone: Photoforum and Photoworks, 2003), 47 – 60.

Hölzl, I. and Marie, R., “Google Street View: Navigating the operative image,” Visual Studies 29, 3 (2014): 261 – 271.

Hölzl, I., “The Photographic Now: David Claerbout’s Vietman,” Intermediality: History and Theory of the Arts, Literature and Technologies 17 (2011): 131 – 145.

Hölzl, I., “Blast Off Photography: Nancy Davenport and Expanded Photography,” History of Photography, 35, 1 (2011): 33 – 43.

Kessler, E. A., Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Space Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

Kim, J., “Remediating Panorama on the Small Screen: Scale, Movement and Spectatorship in Software Driven Panoramic Photography,” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9, 2 (2014): 159 – 176.

Manovich, L., “Metadata, Mon Amour” [Online], 2002, (accessed 18 December 2014).

Manovich, L., “Data Visualization as New Abstraction and the Anti-Sublime” [Online] , 2002, (accessed 17 December 2014).

Najjar, M., Slavin, K., and Wombell, P., Michael Najjar: High Altitude. (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2012).

Rubinstein, D. and Sluis, K., “Notes on the Margins of Metadata: Concerning the Undecidibility of the Digital Image,” Photographies 6, 1 (2013): 151 – 158.

Whitelaw, M., “Art Against Information: Case Studies in Data Practice,” The Fibreculture Journal 11, 2008, (accessed 17 December 2014).