There was one piece of work in the Big Bang Data exhibition that I did not mention in my last post: Black Shoals – Dark Matter by Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway.  More than any other piece in the show, many of which I was already familiar with from the Internet and academic texts, this is the one I was most excited, and most nervous, about seeing, ‘in the flesh’ so to speak.
“The person who has never climbed a mountain has never lived. He merely vegetates on a level plain. What he lacks is the third dimension, the dimension of the sublime.”
– Vilem Flusser, quoted by Michael Najjar 
In 2008 Michael Najjar travelled to Argentina to climb Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. While there he photographed the mountain and its surrounding peaks using an analogue camera; these photograph later became the basis of his 2010 series high altitude. In this series, the line of these already imposing mountain ranges is altered so that they no longer follow their natural path but instead trace the rise and fall of a number of the world’s stock indices – including NASDAQ, the Dow Jones, the DAX and the Hangseng. One image, perhaps the most potent of the series, deals with one single company: the infamous Lehman Brothers bank, the collapse of which is widely attributed as the trigger for the 2008 financial crash.
In a previous post,  I finished with a quote from a New Yorker article by Craig Mod, in which he suggested some different types of data that might be gathered and ‘pinned’ to the ‘back’ of a digital photograph. Amongst the data he suggested we might collect were “location, weather, even radiation levels […] social status and state of mind”, in other words data drawn from sensors and from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  I made the point then that there is a huge difference between data taken from a sensor and data from taken from Facebook, the first is reliant on measuring some kind of physical quality; the second, the expressions of people. I stand by that point, but now I want to examine the two in a little more detail. Continue reading
In my last post, I identified the index as a sign with a physical connection to its referent; which in photography theory is generally thought to be the imprint of light left on light-sensitive material. I also noted that for many theorists – Roland Barthes chief amongst them – this physical connection to the referent is the defining, or essential, quality of photography. What then is to be made of the numerous claims that digital photography does not share this essential quality? Continue reading