Operational Images and the Interpretive Turn

Over the past several decades, computers have allowed for the increasingly voluminous and rapid ingest of images. These images, made for machine legibility, are called “operational images,” a term coined by Harun Farocki. They are made for machines, by machines; they are not made to represent an object, but are part of an operation. Yet these operational images are only the most recent chapter in a longer history of logistical and instrumental use of images. Through the history of cartography, surveillance, and reconnaissance runs a long tale of instrumentalization, a history of calculable images primed for machine-readability. Before computers allowed for a truly “operational” image that could be harvested and interpreted independently, there were many other logistical images — only these predecessors kept humans in the operational loop. These days, so-called deep learning allows for a new development in the operational image — not only are humans excluded, but machines are performing inscrutable assessments; they interpret images and provide conclusions while their rationales remain opaque. These images are part of an interpretive turn. This sort of image use is difficult to demystify, confront, and confound. To contemplate effective strategies, it helps to look at the broader context of subversion of the logistical image, reaching back to early instances of artistic intervention to help inform the present and future.


Nathan Saucier

About Nathan Saucier

Nathan Saucier is a filmmaker and educator. Returning from two years teaching English and media classes at a university in South Korea, he joined CMS to work with the Creative Communities Initiative while pursuing diverse interests in non­fiction media making and education. Nathan is a graduate of Bard College’s film department, where he created documentaries and narrative shorts inspired by his time in Romania and the Balkans. His background includes work in film production and video streaming in Los Angeles. These experiences helped shape his interest in the culture and capabilities of live streaming. He is further interested in the relationship between filmmaker and subject in the context of participatory documentaries. Thesis: Operational Images and the Interpretive Turn


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