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The Algorithmic Turn: Photosynth, Augmented Reality and the State of the Image

The goal of this article is to explore one aspect of that change: the algorithmic construction of the image.

I have long been haunted by Jonathan Culler’s Semiotics of Tourism, with its careful parsing of travel vs. tourism’ its astute characterisation of behaviours such as our reflexive denigration of those more tourist-like than we, and its charting of the elusive search for authenticity (Culler 1990). Culler traces the process by which cultural attractions are marked as signs produced by an international system of signification, and responsive to and inscribed within an economic order. Yet he avoids a blanket indictment that would read this process as the mere flattening of the authentic into caricature, complicit with the demands of multinational capitalism (a charge he locates with the ‘sentimental nostalgia for the organic’). His essay instead calls for an exploration of the persistent and ubiquitous semiotic mechanisms central to any social order, a task that this article takes up. It is my contention that we can see evidence of change in the dominant ‘semiotic mechanisms’, evidence that perhaps speaks to a deeper transformation of the social order. The goal of this article is to explore one aspect of that change: the algorithmic construction of the image. While I will not take up the grander challenge of discussing the transformation of the social order, I will address what I take to be one of its key symptoms – namely, cracks in the facade of the subject-object relationship characteristic of the modern era. Let me make clear at the outset that cracks do not a transformation make, but they give us an early warning and an important place to look for further signs of change.

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William Uricchio
Written by
William Uricchio

William Uricchio revisits the histories of old media when they were new; explores interactive and participatory documentary; writes about the past and future of television; thinks about algorithms and archives; and researches narrative in immersive and interactive settings. He is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Media Studies, founder and Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Documentary Lab, and Principal Investigator of the Co-Creation Studio. He was also Professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and has held visiting professorships at the Freie Universität Berlin, Stockholm University, the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Lichtenberg-Kolleg), China University of Science and Technology, and in Denmark where he was DREAM professor. He has received Guggenheim, Humboldt, and Fulbright fellowships, the Berlin Prize, and the Mercator Prize.

His publications include Reframing Culture; We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identities; Die Anfänge des deutschen Fernsehens; Media Cultures; Many More Lives of the Batman; Collective Wisdom: Co-Creating Media for Equity and Justice, and hundreds of essays and book chapters, including a visual "white paper" on the documentary impulse (momentsofinnovation.mit.edu). He is currently leading a two-year research initiative on augmentation and public spaces with partners in Montreal and Amsterdam.

William Uricchio Written by William Uricchio