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Abstract

The Chinternet Archive is a collection of tens of thousands of digital images that artist Michelle Proksell has been collecting over years of everyday use of Chinese social messaging app WeChat. These images all come from public WeChat accounts that Michelle finds through a location-based function of the app called “People Nearby”. By regularly exploring the social media profiles of individuals in a one-kilometer radius from her geographical position, Michelle has been able to collect visual content shared by WeChat users in several Chinese cities as well as ten countries around the world. From filtered selfies to cheesy graphics, and from recurring themes of vernacular photography to emerging genres of postdigital aesthetics, the images collected in the Chinternet Archive offer precious and intimate insights into the everyday lives of Chinese digital media users. This essay introduces Michelle’s collection, presents various research projects and artworks through which the authors have made use of the archive, discusses the potentialities of working with visual content as well as the dangers of appropriating found images in the era of ubiquitous photography. Keywords: archives; China; found images; vernacular photography; WeChat
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paula roush / Steve Edwards / Simon Menner / Alisha Sett / Witold Kanicki / Ronnie Close /
Marija Skočir / Michelle Proksell / Gabriele de Seta / Joanna Zylinska / Chinar Shah / Ivan Petrović
paula roush / Steve Edwards / Simon Menner / Alisha Sett / Witold Kanicki / Ronnie Close / Marija Skočir / Michelle Proksell / Gabriele de Seta / Joanna Zylinska / Chinar Shah / Ivan Petrović
Cabinet
4 Ivan Petrović, Photographer, Archivist and Artist • Interview with Ivan Petrović • Miha Colner
10 Photography at the Fringes • Interview with Simon Menner • Iza Pevec
20 Probing • Interview with Peter Koštrun and Peter Rauch • Nataša Ilec
24 sex’n’database: a corporeal taxonomy • paula roush
32 We Need More Documentary, and We Need More than Documentary •
Interview with Art Historian Steve Edwards • Andreia Alves de Oliveira
40 Alberto Frigo • Simon Podgoršek • Andrea Palašti
Mihai Şovăială and Horaţiu Şovăială • Dagmar Kolatschny • Onur Ciddi
55 Cabinet
56 Photos Circle: A Short History of the Nepal Picture Library • Alisha Sett
70 Wundercamera Obscura • Witold Kanicki
74 Parallax Error: The Aesthetics of Image Censorship • Ronnie Close
82 From Cheap Films to Museum Collections • The Author’s Significance for the Magnum Archive:
Archiving of Invasion 68 by Josef Koudelka • Marija Skočir
88 A Cabinet of Moments: Collecting and Displaying Visual Content
from WeChat • Michelle Proksell and Gabriele de Seta
95 Active Perceptual Systems • Joanna Zylinska
98 The Execution of Bin Laden in Images • Chinar Shah
abstracts
contributors
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Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha Collection, Nepal Picture Library.
Archiving vernacular creativity
A top-down, slightly skewed view of a small plastic table with
a large pot and three small dishes, each containing stir-fried
vegetables and eggs, along with the photographer’s feet; two
friends taking a cheek-to-cheek selfie, heads framed by their hands
showing V-signs, glowing neon yellow stars on the cheeks, with
stylized cat ears and two Chinese characters spelling the word
young girl” overlaid on the shot, the Mandarin caption reading:
our 17th year together”; thirty-something large crabs lined up on
the floor in the shape of a monstrous centipede, coiling around
a bottle of Kweichow Moutai liquor and posed as if eating from
a bowl of peanuts; a first-person shot of two hands giving the
thumbs-up to a stack of 500 Hong Kong dollar bills fanned on a
table, among cups of milk tea. At the time of writing this essay,
these are the latest entries of a messy content repository existing on
multiple, geographically dispersed hard drives, a nested file system
containing tens of thousands of digital images and videos that we
affectionately dubbed the Chinternet Archive.
A peculiar product of a historical moment characterized by
ubiquitous digital photography (Hand, 2012) and omnipresent
mobile devices (Wilken and Goggin, 2012), the Chinternet
Archive has grown out of the authors’ curiosity for collecting
digital artefacts from the Chinese Internet. This small archive
started coming together in early 2014, as weMichelle a digital
artist working in Beijing, and Gabriele a media anthropologist
doing research in Hong Kongdecided to pool the data we
were collecting to produce something collaborative out of it. Our
ongoing efforts in collecting vernacular content from Chinese
online platforms are grounded in our everyday use, and the regular
habit of saving the funny images, stickers and amateur photos that
popped up in our social media feeds has been a reliable way of
building up an archive of vernacular visual content produced by
Chinese users.
As of today, most of the content in the Chinternet Archive is collected
through a mobile device, and from one specific social contact app
called WeChatin Chinese Weixin 微信, literally meaningmicro-
letter’ ormicro-message’. More specifically, Michelles routine
explorations of the platform have settled on using WeChat’s location-
based feature People Nearby, which allows her to browse the public
profiles of strangers using the app within a 1,000-meter radius around
her geographical position. Using her smartphone as a situated,
sensing prosthetic (Hein, O’Donohoe and Ryan, 2011), Michelles
daily collection of visual artefacts is akin to that of an archaeologist
of the immediate present, an archivist of found images who captures
the visual landscape pulled together by the interface of a mobile app
and preserves the vernacular creations shared by users during chance
encounters of situated public availability.
Michelles collection process is simple and straightforward: she opens
the WeChat app on her mobile device at any given location where
A Cabinet of
Moments:
Collecting and
Displaying
Visual Content
from WeChat
Michelle Proksell & Gabriele de Seta
In China, where no spac e is left over from politics and
moralism for expressions of aesthetic sensibility, only some things
are to be photographed and only in certain ways.
[…]
One of the
effects of the newer camera technology (video, instant movies) has
been to turn ever more of what is done with cameras in private to
narcissistic usesthat is, to self-surveillance. But such currently
popular uses of image-feedback
[…]
seem far less momentous
than video’s potential as a tool for surveillance in public
places. Presumably, the Chinese will eventually make the same
instrumental uses of photography that we do, except, perhaps,
this one. (Sontag, 1977, str. 82)
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“In general terms, uploading and
circulating visual content on social media
entails intricate decisions regarding self-
presentation and calculated performances
of identity.
from the found images all became categories of interest. This led to
expanding the Chinternet Archive to include not only photographs,
but also short videos and .GIF animations. These digital artefacts
have given us insight into aspects of everyday life in China that
include identity and self-presentation, nationalism and propaganda,
surveillance and self-censorship, consumerism and marketing,
celebrations and traditions, fashion trends and travel habits, home
and work environments, traffic accidents and weather disasters,
love and dating culture. Despite being a messy collection of found
digital artefacts, the Chinternet Archive offers a multifaceted,
intimate peek into the worlds of WeChat users living inside and
outside the People’s Republic of China.
With its expansion to different media, the archive also became
a repository that we could scour for materials to use in the
production of outputs other than academic writing. Michelles
performance art piece DongXi DongXi, a collaboration with artist
Ophelia S. Chan, was developed in late 2014 as an integral part of
our research on the practices and materialities of zipai. Similarly,
the selection of selfies consolidated for our co-authored essays was
condensed into two stand-alone collage prints displayed at the 2015
Portable Domains art exhibition in Australia. The companion piece
on display in the same exhibition, which has also been shown in
Beijing and London, consisted of a smartphone equipped with the
WeChat app, a familiar haptic interface that invited audiences to
scroll through the visual content from Michelles account, to follow
the artist on their own devices, and interact with her by sending
more content or taking photos of themselves in the exhibition
spaces. Worki n g with the tools offered by multimedia publishing
platform NewHive, Michelle has also repurposed another selection
of content into layered pieces of Internet art designed for browser-
based fruition.
Among all these projects, the most consistent is Michelles series
of WeChat posts titled 今天Chinternet (or Chinternet Today).
Starting as a quick way to share her daily collections of visual
content, this regular effort has become, over the years, an ongoing
performative ritual through which the archivist shares back the
most recently gathered content with her own social circles. Besides
disclosing her voyeuristic archival practice with a growing yet
closely-knit audience of followers and contacts, reposting photos
and screenshots on the same platform they are collected from
allows Michelle to elicit reactions and provoke discussions about
her daily selections, often resulting in unexpected insights into the
visual aesthetics of Chinese digital media users, and occasionally
enriching the archive with new content shared by audiences in
response to her posts. The typical post of Michelle’s Chinternet
Today series, which has been running for more than two years
and counts over six hundred entries, consists of nine images
(that We C hat automatically formats in a three-by-three grid),
occasionally accompanied by a short thematic title or emoji: “Mid-
Autumn Festival”, People Nearby from WeChat in Guangzhou”,
Lovers”, “Good eats”, In the car”, Weddings”. For many of her
she has a data connection, and taps on the People Nearby feature to
start browsing the last ten public WeCh at Moments” of her digital
neighbours. These Moments are short textual posts accompanied
by one or more images, visualized in an infinite scroll similar to a
Facebook feed, and consists of content that users deem important
enough to share with their pengyouquan 朋友圈 or friend circle,
the name the app gives to ones contact list. When a user activates
the People Nearby feature, the latest ten Moments are made public
beyond their friend circle, allowing strangers to also peruse them
and potentially make contact. These ten public Moments of nearby
WeChat accounts offer an ephemeral visual landscape, a shifting
picture of the worlds pieced together by We C h at users through their
creative engagements with mobile devices.
The Chinternet Archive is an ongoing, small-scale project of
everyday curation, and as of October 2017 it accounts for over 40,000
individual digital artefacts, a collection that expands on a daily basis
along with Michelles international travels, reaching far beyond the
walled garden of the Chinese Internet inside of which our efforts
first began in 2014. Besides Beijing and Shanghai, where we operated
during the early phase of this project, the archive includes content
collected in eight other Chinese cities, as well as multiple locations
in eleven countries around the world, thus incorporating chance
encounters with the visual landscapes of Chinese tourists, exchange
students, emigres and diasporic communities beyond the country’s
national and infrastructural borders.
From archive to practice
In terms of analysis and interpretation, our first approach to this
growing archive of We C hat content focused on what was perhaps
the most evident category of photographic production: selfies.
Working through hundreds of self-portraits shot with the front
cameras of tablets and smartphones, we came up with a tentative
typology of the selfies produced and shared by Chinese digital
media users, highlighting how these related to the social and
material contexts of their everyday lives (de Seta and Proksell,
2015). This line of inquiry led us to experience the 2015 Beijing
V-Day military parade through the (digitally mediated) eyes of
local residents, discovering how selfies could be used to take part
in, comment on, and make fun of a large-scale media event (de
Seta and Proksell, 2017). While most media panics about selfies
connected this genre of vernacular photography to narcissism and
exhibitionism, we found that in the Chinese practice of zipai
(’taking a picture of oneself’) a variety of ways of representing
oneself or socializing with both friends and strangers took place.
Over time, Michelle became fascinated by other aspects of the
visual content she was collecting on We C h at . Beside zipai selfies,
the objects framed inside the photographs, the backdrops of
peoples homes and workplaces, the gestures and poses, the
postdigital aesthetics and improvised self-censorship emerging
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infrastructural borders of national censorship by interacting with
users outside of the country, and even to transcend a local spatial
context or probe an unfamiliar foreign locale by deploying locative
functions like People Nearby. WeChats Moments, as a carefully
designed convergence of technical affordances and communication
protocols, seemed to us a unique (and peculiarly temporal) means
for discovering and archiving the ongoing history of vernacular
photography on Chinese social media.
When we started collecting visual content from our everyday use of
WeChat, it became apparent that the two activities were not neatly
separated: archiving was an activity as messy and pointillistic as
posting and reacting to a continually updating feed of content and
growing lists of likes and comments. Uploading content or reacting
to aMomentshared by a friend would require a parallel moment
dedicated to archiving it. In the early months of the project, every
MomentMichelle encountered seemed urgent and relevant, since
everything depicted in them looked new and foreign and generative
in terms of emerging patterns and visual aesthetics. However, the
protracted, regular collection of content has resulted in a more
solid grasp of the visual genres and cultural referents to which
most images speak to. Building on an archive of tens of thousands
of individual files, we now approach our interaction with We C h a t
seeking to uncover the unexpected, to document specific historical
events and phenomena, and to understand how the locational
aspect of theseMoments” connects WeChat users with their
geographical surroundings.
Albeit positioned at very different scales, the everyday use of
WeChat and the archival collection of its visual content share
a common curatorial component that we often feel resonating
between our experiences as both amateur users and serial
preservationists. In general terms, uploading and circulating
visual content on social media entails intricate decisions regarding
self-presentation and calculated performances of identity.
Without delving in the politics of distinction and in the playful
appropriations connected to selfie poses, image filters, photo-
editing apps and posting frequency, we quickly realized that careful
curatorial choices happened on the other side of the WeCh at
profiles we were browsing, and that what the app interface offered
our occasional stints of voyeuristic geolocation were in fact
examples ofcalibrated amateurism” (Abidin, 2017), miniaturized
cabinets of personal moments assembled for a quick scrolling
preview by the apps interface design. These cabinets of moments,
encountered as three-by-three grids of square image thumbnails
the WeChat automatically uses to format user posts that include
multiple images, became a guiding metaphor for us to think of
the activity happening on both ends of the platform: on the one
hand, the aesthetic and compositional decisions of a young woman
sharing a series of selfies detailing the use of a facial cleansing
foam on her own account; on the other, Michelles collation of nine
different make-up related images in one of her Chinternet Today
WeChat posts.
social media followers, these snippets from the daily process of
collection behind the Chinternet Archive provide an intimate
and immediate window onto the swirling clouds of visual content
pulled together by WeC h a t’s social and locational affordances.
Cabinets of moments
Looking back at the history of the Chinternet Archive and at
our varied engagement with its contents, we can’t help but raise
questions to each other. Are you still collecting images? Should we
create a separate archive of short videos? Which trends did you see
emerging lately? What should we write about next? What would be
the best way of organizing the archive beyond nested folders with
increasingly convoluted taxonomies? How can we make this archive
accessible to other researchers and artists, or perhaps even to the
public? Where should we look for funding to support this work?
In order to start answering some of these questions and to reflect
on the role of the archival collection of social media artefacts more
generally, we think it is worth going back to the We C h a t interface
itself, and to the peculiar way in which visual content is shared and
viewed on this specific platform.
It is undeniable that Tencent’s launch of the WeChat app in 2011
was a turning point for the Chinese Internet at large. Coinciding
with a momentous shift towards mobile devices, We C h at ’s rise
to popularity accompanied hundreds of millions of users in their
migration from computer screens, keyboards, webcams and
browser windows to the integrated experience of smartphones
screens, high-definition cameras, app interfaces and haptic
interaction. Besides the sweeping changes that this shift meant
for Web design, social networking, mobile access, intimacy and
e-commerce, WeChat has had a definite impact on Chinese visual
culture and its varied array of image-making practices. At the most
basic level of interface, WeChat allowed users to share existing
images saved on their device or to take photos on the spot with
either the front or the back camera. Visual content could be sent
in a one-to-one conversation, a group chat, and even posted in
ones Moments feed and be made instantly visible to the entirety
of ones contact listor even to strangers. WeC h a t also offered the
possibility of importing .GIF animations as personalizedstickers”,
and to share 6-second videoSights” shot inside the app.
This convergence of imaging affordances (front and back cameras,
locational functions, image-editing apps) and visual content
formats (predominantly .JPG and .PNG images, .GIF animations
and .MP4 video clips) made of WeCh at and of its social media
feed of Momentsone of the most representative contexts where
we could look for the emerging aesthetics of the post-Web Chinese
Internet. While massively popular social media platforms like Sina
Weibo or widely used messaging software such as Tencent QQ
were still tethered to their PC-based origins, apps like WeC h a t
are natively mobile, and allow users to weave their creative
media practices throughout their daily activities, to leap over the
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Inverting the cabinet
To be sure, the similarities between practices of content creation
and management, between personal front construction and found
image curation should not blind us to the representational power
differentials existing between the individual composition of
cabinets of moments for a carefully calibrated audience and the
editorial decisions behind the Chinternet Archive. With each image
downloaded into our mobile devices and archived in our thematic
taxonomy of folders, we dissemble intimate portraits of personal
temporalities and transform them into source material for second-
order representations such as artworks, performances, lectures and
essays. Our collages, selections and series of We C hat visual content,
including the ones used to illustrate this article, mimic the logic
behind the user’s creation of cabinets of moments, but unavoidably
lose their situated temporality, resulting in an abstraction of
locationality and momentariness thatif not constantly kept in
check through interactive redistribution and dialogic exchanges
– becomes closer to the original definition of wunderkammer as a
cabinet of curiosities, with its undesirable exoticizing, totalizing and
appropriative self-sufficiency (Arellano, 2010, p.371).
The risk of turning an archive of platform-native visual content
into a vault of caricatural stereotypes of Chinese vernacular
photography increases as our collection grows in both scope and
disorganization. After dedicating most of our research work on
the Chinternet Archive to selfies and zipai-related practices of
self-representation, framing and filtering, we are presently looking
into ways of organizing and accessing the archive in a less arbitrary
fashion, hoping that a more fluid taxonomy could lead our analysis
towards discovering practices that are not necessarily foregrounded
by the users themselves, and phenomena that are not immediately
apparent to a superficial browsing of messy folders containing
hundreds or thousands of individual files. One example of these
practices and phenomena is the genre we have provisionally dubbed
first-person photography”.
Most cabinets of moments posted by We C hat users consist of photos
of objects, people or landscapes and cityscapes shot during everyday
activities; some are comical and playful, others are more formal
and serious; some are self-conscious about the postdigital aesthetics
of contemporary online content, while others are more simple
and naive creations; some are shockingly personal, while others
are downright confusing, disturbing and potentially troublesome.
Selfies are prominent and often depict We C hat users toiling at their
workplace, relaxing at home, or spending leisure time outside: there
are company bosses taking self-portraits at their desk, hairdressers
showing off their skills on the job, teenagers using selfie sticks for
group shots at fast food restaurants, parents taking photos with
their babies and editing them with cute filters. Photos of landscapes,
city life and transit document the mobility of users, while still-lifes
of food, consumer goods and even cash offer glimpses into the
material lives of different strata of Chinese society.
Across this wealth of perspectives and aesthetics of visual content,
we have noticed the emergence of a peculiar genre of We C h at
photography: photos taken with the back camera of a mobile
device that depict the user’s other hand holding, pointing at, or
interacting with, specific objects in everyday life contexts. These
kinds of shots, often characterized by a vertical framing and a
calculated immediacy, augment the first-person point of view
typical of images taken with a back camera through the purposive
inclusion of an arm, connecting the smartphone-holding user
with a foregrounded object through the mediation of the body.
The sample of first-person photographs we extracted from the
Chinternet Archive span over a dazzling variety of objects: candy
sticks, insects, monuments, beverage cans, wads of cash, expensive
fruit, bottles of beer, smartphones, pets, passports, shopping bags,
expandable batons, moisture masks, cigarettes, incense sticks, jade
tablets, plushes, plane tickets, condoms. When interrogated about
this sort of photos, local users describe them through the general
descriptor zhuguan shijiao视角, orsubjective angle’, noting
the absence of a specific descriptor likeselfieorgroup shotto
categorize them.
These first-person photos of everyday objects offer a provocative
inversion of the cabinet metaphor. While the Wunderkammer
functioned as a cabinet of curiosities through which European
aristocrats, merchants and naturalists condensed the world in
microcosms with porous categorical boundaries for a largely
private contemplation, the f leeting cabinets of moments pulled
together by the layered databases and interfaces of contemporary
social media platforms disperse the construction of visual worlds
across hundreds of millions of users, each contributing to a
fluid effervescence of content pinned down, in a pointillistic
manner, by locational and temporal variables. By explicitly and
playfully connecting the imaging device to its object through
the physical mediation of the photographer’s limbs, first-person
photos reclaim agency over the objects pulled into the WeChat
user’s social worlds, quite literally dragging their temporary
audiences in moments of perspectival community. Forty years
after Sontag’s observations on photography in China, it is worth
noting how today, besides the ubiquitousness of private uses and
public surveillance in the country, it is the unanticipated effects
of portable devices with high-definition imaging capabilities that
shape and are reshaped by how generations of users areconjuring
images from darkness and light in an attempt to make sense of
their worlds.” (Roberts, 2013, p.183)
Sources
Abidin, C., 2017. # familygoals: Family Influencers, Calibrated Amateurism, and
Justifying Young Digital Labor. Social Media+ Society, 3(2), pp.1–15.
Arellano, J., 2010. From the Space of the Wunderkammer to Macondo’s Wonder
Rooms: The Collection of Marvels in Cien años de soledad. Hispanic Review, 78(3),
pp.369–386.
Hand, M., 2012. Ubiquitous Photography. Digital Media and Society. Cambridge,
United Kingdom: Polit y Press.
Hein, W., O’Donohoe, S. and Ryan, A., 2011. Mobile Phones as an Extension of
the Participant Obser ver’s Self: Reflections on the Emergent Role of an Emergent
Technology. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 14(3),
pp.258–273.
Roberts, C., 2013. Photography and China. Exposures. London, United Kingdom:
Reaktion Books.
de Seta, G. and Proksell, M., 2015. The Aesthetics of Zipai: From We C h at Selfies to
Self-representation in Contemporary Chinese Art and Photography. Networking
Knowledge, 8(6), pp.1–17.
de Seta, G. and Proksell, M., 2017. V-Day Selfies in Beijing: Media Events and Use r
Practices as Micro-acts of Citizenship. In: A. Kuntsman, ed., Selfie citizenship,
Palgrave Pivot. London, Un ite d Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.29–37.
Sontag, S., 1977. On Photography. London, United Kingdom: Penguin.
Wilken, R. and Goggin, G. eds., 2012. Mobile Te chn o l ogy and Place. Routledge Studies
in New Media and Cyberculture. New Yor k , NY: Routledge.
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The images that make up the project presented here are very much
part ofthe technical universe of images” Flusser has identified
in his book. They were taken over a period of two years with an
automatedintelligent” wearable camera called the Autographer.
Originally designed as a mnemonic device for people with
Alzheimer’s, the Autographer was subsequently remarketed by the
OMG Life company as a media gadget tool for thealways-on
generation. On selected days between 2014 and 2016, I wore the
camera in various everyday situations: on a city walk, in a holiday
resort, in an art gallery, in a lecture theatre, at home. Inconspicuous
due to its resemblance to a small necklace yet clearly visible, the
camera randomly took photographs at frequent intervals. I then
uploaded the photos to my computer.
My decision to wear the camera on a given day, switch it on,
and then select and process the images was coupled with the
decision of the camera algorithm regarding what to photograph
and when. The machinic behaviour was nevertheless influenced
by the way I moved my body, enacting a form of immersive,
corporeal perception that broke with the linearity of perspectival
vision and its representationalist ambitions, while also retaining
human involvement in the multiple acts of image capture. The
human element was also foregrounded in the subsequent editing
activities: I was faced with over 18,000 images from which I chose
several dozen. The selection process was akin to making careful
incisions in the image flow, with a view to setting up narrative
connectionssome of which were not necessarily present in the
original sequence.
Following Flusser, a true envisioner should be able to break the
feedback loop between the image and the receiver that generates
ever new versions of the system’s predictable outputs, while also
making images themselvesfatter and fatter.” (Flusser, 2011, p.53)
Active Perceptual Systems thus raises the question of whether, in
the age of such image obesity, the creative photographer can be
seen as first and foremost an editor: a Flusserian in-former who
provides structure to the imagistic flow after the images have
been taken. Working with the algorithm while also being worked
by it, envisioners do not step outside the world they describe.
Their creations are always born in medias res, i.e. in the midst of
the technical setup.
Sources
Haraway, Donna, 1998. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and
the Privilege of Partial Perspective. In: Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn):
575 - 599.
Flusser, Vilém, 2011. Into the Universe of Technical Image s. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
“The ’eyes’ made available in modern
technological sciences shatter any idea of
passive vision; these prosthetic devices show
us that all eyes, including our own organic
ones, are active perceptual systems, building
on translations and specific ways of seeing,
that is, ways of life.
Donna Haraway (1998, p.583)
Developed in an age of constant surveillanceas enacted by
CCTV cameras installed in city centres, on public transport, and in
shopping malls, as well as our own self-monitoring via the constant
recording of our lives with mobile phonesthe Active Perceptual
Systems project was designed as a commentary on the incessant
fabrication of images: of us, but also by us. In Into the Universe of
Technical Images philosopher Vilém Flusser goes so far as to suggest
that photographs, television broadcasting and other mechanically-
produced images alter our existence in the world. Even if the
technical apparatus still seems to remain under our control, Flusser
harbours no illusion about our human ability to manage the process
of production or even perception of such images long term, with
entropy ultimately making any large-scale management of images
and other forms of information futile. Ye t he also outlines a role for
envisioners, i.e., “people who try to turn an automatic apparatus
against its own condition of being automatic.” ( Flusser, 2011, p.19)
Active
Perceptual
Systems
Joanna Zylinska
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[ abstracts ]
The Execution of Bin Laden in Images
Chinar Shah
The photo essay illustrates the politics of
missing visuals from the public domain
and analysis of the artist’s book Bin Laden
Situation Room. The book is a reaction to
the photograph issued on 2 May 2011 by
the American government at the time of
Bin Laden’s execution. The image taken by
the official White House photographer Pete
Souza, depicts president Barack Obama and
his national security team witnessing the
execution of Osama Bin Laden, the leader of
the Islamic militant organization, al-Qaeda.
Apart from this the American government
did not issue any other visual evidence of
the event. The essay explores war strategies
of keeping the visuals mute, and in doing so,
controlling the public opinion. Photography
that prides itself on representing and
uncovering historical moments, completely
fails here. The book Bin Laden Situation
Room, attempts to look for what the
image fails to show. The essay examines
the visibility and invisibility of frames of
references and power to see and not see.
Keywords: Bin L aden, situation room, photography,
photo book, m issing images
Photos Circle: A Short History of the Nepa l
Picture Library
Alisha Sett
This is a short history of the Nepal Picture
Library (NPL), Nepal’s first large-scale digital
photo archive encompassing over 50,000
photographs collected in less than a decade.
It is a rare institution; a catalogued visual
resource open to the public with scores
of intimate family collections, the historic
and the mundane captured over decades
by photojournalists, and portraits made in
photo studios across the country. The essay
provides insight into the strength, scope and
potential of this community-created archive.
Founded and managed by Photo Circle, a
platform for photography in Kathmandu,
NPL has published books, done several
exhibitions in museums and public spaces
across Nepal, and exhibited their collections
internationally. Tracing the origins and the
impact of NPL through a series of interviews,
the essays reveals not only the transformative
power of their methods of public engagement
but also the deep concern for visual culture
fostered in their volunteers particularly among
photographers serving as amateur archivists.
Keywords: archi ve, Nep al, pub lic his tory, o ral
history, Kathmandu
Parallax Error: The Aesthetics of Image
Censorship
Ronnie Close
Parallax Error is a found photographic image
collection scavenged from well-known art
history publications in bookstores in Cairo
between 2012 and 2014. What makes the
series distinct are the forms and styles of
censorship used on the original images
ahead of sale and public distribution. The
altered images involve some of the leading
figures in the canon of Western photographic
history and these respected photo works
enter into a process of state censorship. This
entails hand-painting each photograph, in
each book edition, in order to obscure the
full erotic effect of the object of desire, i.e.
parts of the human body. The position of
photography within Egypt and much of
the Arab world is a contested one shaped
by the visual formations of Orientalism
created by the impact of European colonial
empires in the region. This archival project
examines the intersection of visual cultures
embedded behind the series of photographic
images that have been transformed through
acts of censorship in Egypt. This frames
how these doctored photographic images
impose particular meanings on the original
photographs and the potential merits, if any,
of iconoclastic intervention. Parallax Error
examines the political and aesthetic status of
the image object in the transformation from
the original photograph to censored image.
The ink and paint marks on the surface of
the photograph create a tension between the
censorship act and its impact on the original.
These hybrid images provide a political basis
to rethink visual culture encounters in our
interconnected and increasingly globalised
contemporary image world.
Keywords: aesthetics, censorship, iconoclasm,
images, representation
From Cheap Films to Museum Collections
The Author’s Significance for the Magnum
Archive: Archiving of Invasion 68 by Josef
Koudelka
Marija Skočir
Translated by Tom Smith
The article is based on an insight into the
workflows of the Paris agency Magnum
Photos. The theoretical framework introduces
a modernist model of the author’s concept,
which corresponds to Magnum’s type of
photographer, based on the specific historical
circumstances of the agency’s founding and
its modus operandi. The concept of the
author as a heroic individual with a unique
photographic career and biography is in a
reciprocal relationship with i.e. the “myth”
which, as the latest study of Magnum’s
history has shown, is maintained by the
agency throughout the seven decades of its
existence. This myth does not exist without
the “author”, while the agency does not exist
without the “myth”, therefore, according to
Foucault, neither the “death of the author” in
a Barthesian sense, nor his replacement with
the “author’s function” is possible. The author,
who makes exclusive decisions regarding
production, distribution, use and archiving
of his photographs, affects all the processes
of the agency’s work. This becomes less
ambiguous in the question of the importance
of Magnums archives, which can be claimed
to have a broader relevance for social history.
The archiving practice is described on the
example of Josef Koudelka’s Invasion 68 series,
which, with its unconventionality, shows
the challenges of archiving and explains the
author’s original solutions.
Keywords: Magnum Photos, pho tograph er as t he
author, Josef Koudelka’s “Invasion 68 ”, analogu e
recovery, contact sheet
A Cabinet of Moments: Collecting and
Displaying Visual Content from WeChat
Michelle Proksell & Gabriele de Seta
The Chinternet Archive is a collection of
tens of thousands of digital images that
artist Michelle Proksell has been collecting
over years of everyday use of Chinese social
messaging app WeChat. These images all
come from public WeChat accounts that
Michelle finds through a location-based
function of the app called “People Nearby”.
By regularly exploring the social media
profiles of individuals in a one-kilometer
radius from her geographical position,
Michelle has been able to collect visual
content shared by WeChat users in several
Chinese cities as well as ten countries
around the world. From filtered selfies to
cheesy graphics, and from recurring themes
of vernacular photography to emerging
genres of postdigital aesthetics, the images
collected in the Chinternet Archive offer
precious and intimate insights into the
everyday lives of Chinese digital media
users. This essay introduces Michelle’s
collection, presents various research
projects and artworks through which the
authors have made use of the archive,
discusses the potentialities of working with
visual content as well as the dangers of
appropriating found images in the era of
ubiquitous photography.
Keywords: archives; China; found images;
vernacular photography; WeCh at
Ivan Petrović, Photographer, Archivist and
Artist
An Inter view with Ivan Petrović
Miha Colner
Translated by Tom Smith
Ivan Petrović (1973) has been working
in the fields of photography and art for
twenty years as a researcher, creator and
collector. Since 1997, he has been creating
and publishing photographic projects that
reflect the spirit of space and time in which
they are created, while in his works he
uses both documentary approaches as well
as research principles. In 2011, together
with photographer Mihail Vasiljević, he
founded a para-institution, the Centre for
Photography (CEF). Despite lacking its
own premises, infrastructure or funds for
performing its activities, the institution deals
with the search, preservation, collection
and analysis of local photographic materials
from recent history. In the past ten years,
Petrović also moved his artistic practice
beyond mere artistic expression, since he
addresses the phenomena of photography
from an analytical-theoretical point of
view. His interest lies in the nature of the
photographic image and its role in society
and historiography. In this spirit, long-term
projects such as Documents (1997–2008),
Images (20 02–), Portfolio Belgrade (2 015–)
and the latest film production were created.
The interview with Ivan Petrović took place
on 1 September 2017 in Belgrade. The main
themes were the role of photography in the
dominant history, the boundary between
one’s own practice and archival work,
photography as an art and the likes.
Probing
Interview with Peter Koštrun and Peter
Rauch
Nataša Ilec
Translated by Tom Smith
In August 2015, photographers Peter Rauch
and Peter Koštrun took up the roles of
curators at the Celje FOKUS Festival. At the
exhibition, which they named Sondiranje
(Probing), they compiled a collection of
photographs of foreign, anonymous and
unknown authors. The collection consists
of artifacts collected by the authors in
their archives over the years and was, upon
receiving the invitation to participate,
selected on the basis of their fascination with
these artifacts. At one point in time, all the
photos served their particular functions:
advertising, family, propaganda, artistic
expression, etc. The authors highlighted the
alternative possibilities for interpreting such
images, which may have, due to the time
that has elapsed, been exempt from the first
context because of the past time, perhaps
due to the lack of signatures or the manner
of presentation. Their assumption was that
engaging viewers would break up the long,
uniquely justified ways of understanding
photographic material. Visiting authors and
collectors were also invited to participate.
We Nee d More Documentary, and We Need
More than Documentar y
Interview with Art Historian Steve Edwards
Andreia Alves de Oliveira
Steve Edwards teaches history and theory
of photography and is a fiery, self-described
“radical from a working-class background”,
“post-Trotskyist” and “socialist feminist,
who reads “Marx and more Marx”. We met
in 2016 in Lisbon at an academic conference
on Photography and the Left, where he was
one of the keynote speakers. Edwards’ paper
tracked the changes in relation to the Left and
102 103
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104 105
membranamembrana
Chinar Shah is an artist teaching at Srishti
Institute of Art, Design and Technology,
Bangalore, where she is also a coordinator
for photography discipline. Chinar did
her M.A. in Literature and MFA/PGDP in
Photography from NID, Ahmedabad, India.
She has shown her work both in India and
abroad. Some of her recent works were shown
in Tate Liverpool, Birmingham Photo Festival,
and Art Bengaluru and in Material Light
– a collateral exhibition at Kochi Biennale.
She is a co-editor of Photography in India:
From Archives to Contemporary Practice,
(Bloomsbury forthcoming). Chinar recently
received the prestigious Inlaks Shivdasani
Foundation grant to complete a long-standing
project The Real Taste of India.
Miha Colner (1978) is an art historian
who works as a curator and programme
coordinator at the International Centre of
Graphic Arts / Svicarija Creative Centre in
Ljubljana. He is also active as a publicist,
specialised in photography, printmaking,
artists’ moving image and various forms of
(new) media art. In the period 2006-2016
he was a curator at Photon – Centre for
Contemporary Photography, Ljubljana. Since
2005 he has been a contributor of newspapers,
magazines, specialist publications, and his
personal blog, as well as part-time lecturer. He
lives and works in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
http://mihacolner.com
http://www.mglc-lj.si
Steve Edwards is Professor of History
& Theory of Photography at Birkbeck,
University of London. His publications
include: The Making of English Photography,
Allegories (20 06); Photography: A Very Short
Introduction (2006); and Martha Rosler
the Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive
Systems (2012). He is a member of the
editorial boards for Oxford Art Journal;
Historical Materialism: Research in Critical
Marxism; and the Historical Materialism
book series as well as a convenor for the
long-running University of London research
seminar Marxism in Culture. Steve is
currently working on two projects: a book
on daguerreotypes and the capitalist subject
in mid-19th century Britain and a project on
English-language radical aesthetics in the
1970s, see:
https://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/explore/still-
searching/series/31235_the_fire_last_time_
documentary_and_politics_ in_1970s_britain
Andreia Alves de Oliveira is a photo artist,
researcher and lecturer based in London.
She holds a PhD (2014) and an MA (2009)
in photographic studies from the University
of Westminster and is visiting lecturer in
Photography at Birmingham City University.
Previously, she studied law and worked as
a lawyer. Andreia’s practice and research
are concerned with the notion of artistic
research, as well as the theory of photography
and theories of representation, in relation to
concepts of space and the everyday.
www.andreiaoliveira. net
Iza Pevec (1987) finished the studies of art
history and comparative literature. She has
been writing about art and culture for some
time, she was writing for Radio Student and
since 2014 she is also working for Radio
Slovenia – programe Ars. As a young curator
she was part of the project Zagon of Gallery
Škuc and in programme of the Centre and
Gallery P74 Incubator for young curators.
Since 2013 she is also writing for the
Fotografija magazine.
Witold Kanicki (1979) is an art historian,
assistant professor at the Department of Art
Education, University of Arts in Poznan
(Poland), and guest lecturer at the Zurich
University of the Arts (Switzerland). He
worked as an independent curator and
critic. His PhD book (Ujemny biegun
fotografii) was published this year by the
Słowo/Obraz, terytoria editorial house.
He is an author of more than 50 articles,
published in scientific journals, as well as
in catalogues of exhibitions and magazines
on contemporary art and photography.
He participated in numerous conferences
(Including: the 2nd International Conference
in Photography and Theory, Ayia Napa, 2012,
Cyprus; the 3rd International Conference
in Photography and Theory, Nicosia,
Cyprus, 2014; Photography and t he LEF T,
Lisbon, 2016, Portugal; Faktizität und
Gebrauch früher Fotografie, Rome 2017).
His scope of interest includes history and
theory of photography, contemporary
art, new museology and curating.
Michelle Proksell is finalizing her research
masters at the University of Maastricht’s
department of sociology in the cultures
of art, science and technology in the
Netherlands. She’s photographed various
world landscapes and staged environments,
performed experimental music and
performance art, curated exhibitions, and
collected vernacular photography in the U.S.
and China. She is the founder of Netize.
net—an archive documenting art and
technology in China—and more recently
has been exploring the creative, social and
phenomenological aspects of Virtual Reality.
Gabriele de Seta holds a PhD in Sociology
from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the
Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica in
Taipei, Taiwan. His research work, grounded
on ethnographic engagement across multiple
sites, focuses on digital media practices and
vernacular creativity in Chinese-speaking areas.
He is also interested in experimental music,
Internet art, and collaborative intersections
between anthropology and art practice.
More information is ava ilable on his website
http://paranom.asia
[ contributors ]
the documentary movement in Britain from
the 1970s to the present day, his argument
consisting in that documentary and social
class are closely entwined. This interview,
done at Birkbeck, University of London, which
he joined as a Professor at the beginning of
this academic year, revisits the main themes
of what was, in many ways, an enlightening
and inspiring talk. Using the two terms –
Photography and the Left – to frame and
anchor the discussion, our exchange covers
Edwards’ political education, the 1970s
emergence of a key period in visual theory
and subsequent mutations in political visual
practice, up to its present status in a neoliberal
society and the forms and intellectual basis of
contemporary resistance to it. Although the
exchange is centred on the British context,
it is done so, however, with total awareness
of it being an instance among others of
documentary photography’s many global
manifestations. It is with these manifestations
that this interview aims to enter into dialogue,
through its publication in a magazine with a
global audience such as Me mbra n a’s .
Photography at the Fringes
Interview with Simon Menner
Iza Pevec
Photographer Simon Menner is less and less
interested in taking new photographs, the
focus of his praxis has for some time now
mostly been reflecting photography – he
is interested in how we understand images
(and why), its different roles and how
photography fulfils them. With a series titled
Camouflage, he brought into question our
faith in the credibility and truthfulness of
the photographs. The series shows snipers,
hidden in nature. Snipers are not actually
being shown, as it is impossible to see them
in the vast majority of cases. However,
this did not prevent the internet audience
from searching for the snipers in an almost
“Where is Waldo” manner and spotting
them. He addressed a different aspect of the
photography with the Surveillance Complex
section of his work. The photographs from
the Stasi archive are burdened with their
potential as the evidence material. Recently,
Simon Menner has been obsessively collecting
ISIS propaganda. He then analyses it and
breaks it down into such details as gestures,
beards or embraces. Through this procedure
he exposes the often absurd ways of building
a propaganda narration. Menner’s projects
are diverse, but they revolve mainly around
the power(lessness) of photography. We,
therefore, began the discussion with the
question concerning the role of the artist in
today’s world.
Wundercamera Obscura
Witold Kanicki
Translated by Marcin Turski
Archives abounding in collections of
nineteenth-century photographs contain
numerous examples of works dealing with the
subject of bodily anomalies. Information about
such pictures being taken used to be published
on a regular basis in daily press, in which the
readership were notified about photo ateliers
which immortalised a variety of “monstrosities.
Although it would seem that such pictures
were taken solely for scientific purposes, the
many and varied contexts of their use let us
link them to a much older tradition of viewing
and collecting visual curiosities. Having the
above facts in mind, this article confronts the
popular habits of photographing peculiarities
in the 19th century, with museum practice
and the Wunderkammers tradition. The space
of a photograph may substitute exhibition
space, while a desire to watch all kinds of
abnormalities and the culture of curiosity
determines the connection between former
museum visitors and recipients of photographs.
Keywords: photographic archive, wundecamera,
curios , 19ct muse um, co llecti ng
BOOKSTORE AND GALLERY
FOTOGRAFIJA
Photographic literature, overviews,
photobooks, magazines, exhibition catalogues
Levstikov trg 7, Ljubljana, Slovenia
www.galerijafotografija.si
MEMBRANA 3 / 2017 • ISSN 2463-8501 • publisher: Membrana, Maurerjeva 8, 1000 Ljubljana • tel.: +386 (0) 31 777 959 • em ail: info @membr ana.si
editorial board: Jan Babnik (editor-in- chief), Ilija T. Tomanić, Lenar t Kučić, Emina Djukić • adv isory board: Mark C urran, Witold Kanick i, Ana Peraic a, Iza Pevec,
Matej Si tar • a ssist ances to edito rial team: Iza Pevec • a rticl e contributor s: Ronnie Clos e, Miha Colne r, Steve Edwards, Nataša Ilec, Witold Kanicki, Peter
Koštrun, Simon Menner, Andreia Alves de Oliveira, Iza Pevec, Ivan Petrović, Peter Rauch, Paula Roush, Michelle Proksell, Marija Skočir, Gabriele de Seta, Chinar
Shah, Alis ha Set t, Jo ana Zylinska • t ranslat ions: Tom S mith • proofre ading: Tom S mith • image & projec ts contributo rs: Jak a Babni k, Onu r Ciddi, Alberto Fr igo,
Dagmar Ko latschny, Andre a Palaš ti, Sim on Podg oršek , Urša Premik , Horațiu Șovăială, Mihai Șovăială • de sign: Primož Pislak • printin g: R-Ti sk • print-ru n: 500
• all images and texts © Membrana, except when noted otherwise • editorial photograph: Ronnie Close, from the series Parallax Error, courtesy of the author
last pa ge photo from: S imon M enner, fro m the s eries Sur veillance Complex – Images from the Secret Stasi Archives, courtesy of the author.
Alisha Sett is a writer from Bombay. She
is currently pursuing an MA History of
Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in
London. She received an Inlaks Shivdasani
scholarship for 2017-2018 to pursue her
postgraduate education and research on the
history of documentary photography and
photographic archives in South Asia. She
co-founded the Kashmir Photo Collective
in 2014; a digital photo archive preserving
images across the Kashmir Valley. She
was awarded an Edmond J. Safra Network
Fellowship by Harvard University for 2013-
2014 for her work in Kashmir. She holds a BA
in Political Science and English Literature
from Tufts University where she was also
a student of the Program in Narrative and
Documentary Practice.
Ronnie Close is a media artist and writer
living in Cairo, Egypt. His research interests
look at the relationship between aesthetics
and image politics, in particular in the
Middle East. He has worked on a long-
term research project on the Ultras football
movements in Egypt, Brazil and Palestine
and has produced a series of short films on
these marginalized groups. Through visual
research projects, public workshops and
written publications he looks at the role of
the image object in the contemporary world.
He is an Assistant Professor at the American
University in Cairo. In 2010 he was awarded
a practice-based PhD from the University of
Wales Newport, UK for a dissertation on the
1981 Republican Hunger Strikes in Northern
Ireland. He has shown work in film festivals
and exhibitions some venues include: The
Photographers Gallery London (2015),
QUAD A r t Gallery, Derby (2014), Brighton
Photo Biennial, UK (2012). He has published
articles on contemporary image media
theory and culture in international journals
and his writing will feature in two new edited
publications: Architecture and Filmmaking,
Intellect Books and Photography Reframed,
I.B. Tauris.
Marija Skočir, art historian and literary
comparatist, is a senior curator and head
of the Jakopič and Match galleries in the
Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana. She
has curated or co-curated more than
20 photographic and other visual arts
exhibitions (many of those retrospective and
by world renowned photographers, including
Josef Koudelka, Roger Ballen, Lee Miller,
Sebastião Salgado) and managed more than
70 exhibition projects. In 2010 and 2013,
she was deputy commissioner of Slovenian
Pavilion at Venice Biennale. In parallel to
her work, she is currently a researcher and a
post-graduate PhD student in Art History at
the University of Ljubljana, focusing on the
significance of Magnum Photos agency for
Central European photography.
Joanna Zylinska (1971) is a writer,
lecturer, artist and curator, currently
working as Professor of New Media and
Communications at Goldsmiths, University
of London. She is the author of many
books on art, technology and media,
the latest one of which is Nonhuman
Photography (MIT Press, 2017). In 2013 she
was Artistic Director of Transitio_MX05
“Biomediations”, the biggest Latin American
new media festival, which took place in
Mexico City. She has recently co-edited two
open access books, Photomediations: An
Open Book and Photomediations: A Reader as
part of Europeana Space, a grant funded by
the European Union’s ICT Policy Support
Programme. Her current projects involve
photographing media entanglements and
making a short photo-film about the end
of man”.
Nataša Ilec (1992) is currently enrolled in
Master’s studies of photography. She takes
interest in theoretical and philosophical
aspects of the photographic medium and has
also participated in a few group exhibitions
(NovaF: 2013, Overlook / Photonic Moments:
2014 , Flâneur: 2015, ISO0 / Photonic
Moments: 2016). Her free time passion is
bookbinding.
Simon Menner (1978) was born in southern
Germany. He has been living and working
in Berlin since 2000 and received his degree
from the Berlin University of the Arts
(Universität der Künste) in 2007. As an
artist he is fascinated in how images and
perception are utilized as a tool to influence
people. In our more and more image driven
world it is key to understand and emphasize
these mechanisms and by doing so enabling a
public or personal response.
106 membrana
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Chapter
Zipai, or ‘taking a picture of oneself’, is an extremely popular practice across an increasingly digitally mediated China. The principal platforms through which Chinese digital media users share their zipai are mobile micro-messaging and social contact apps such as WeChat. This chapter follows a highly visible media event – the 2015 V-Day military parade in Beijing – and its representation across micro-media practices of spectatorship to rethink the role of zipai in the construction of contemporary forms of Chinese citizenship.
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This article explores the relationship of Gabriel García Márquez's novel Cien años de soledad to early modern material culture. In particular, it argues that we may reread central passages in the novel as a ludic reintegration of the space of the cámara de maravillas or Wunderkammer: sixteenth- and seventeenth-century repositories of objects that were conceived of as marvels or wonders. While this transhistorical relationship appears at first to link García Márquez's novel to modern and contemporary reinventions of the Wunderkammer in Europe and North America, the present article underscores the specificity of Cien años de soledad's approach to the early modern culture of the marvelous in light of the novel's retracing of the affective cartographies of empire.
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Hand, M., 2012. Ubiquitous Photography. Digital Media and Society. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press.
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Roberts, C., 2013. Photography and China. Exposures. London, United Kingdom: Reaktion Books.
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Wilken, R. and Goggin, G. eds., 2012. Mobile Technology and Place. Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture. New York, NY: Routledge. [ www.membrana.si ] ISSN 2463-8501 14 e 12 GB, 18 USD