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

The Algorithmic Turn: Photosynth, Augmented Reality and the State of the ImageWilliam Uricchio, Visual Studies. 26:1 (March 2011): 25-35.

The Algorithmic Turn: Photosynth, Augmented Reality and the State of the Image
William Uricchio, Visual Studies. 26:1 (March 2011): 25-35.

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

About 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 a lot about algorithms and archives; and researches cultural identities and the question of "Americanization" in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Documentary Lab, and faculty director of the MISTI-Netherlands Program. He is 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 been awarded Guggenheim, Humboldt and Fulbright fellowships and the Berlin Prize; and was Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. His publications include Reframing Culture; We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identities; Media Cultures; Many More Lives of the Batman; and hundreds of essays and book chapters, including a visual "white paper" on the documentary impulse ( He is currently completing a book on the deep history and possible futures of documentary; and another on games and playing with history and historiography after post-structuralism.


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