The Coded Camera: Investigating the Philosophy of Photographic Instrumentality

Milo Lethorn 

In the act of photographing, the camera may commonly be considered a faithful tool; a mechanical means to a representational end at the whim of its user. Technological advancement might be also thought, throughout history, to have attached itself to new methodologies via modulation, specific variations of cameras allowing new terms of practice. To exist in a period where so many tools are available would imply a certain freedom with regards to photographic representation. But what is the reality of this causal presupposition and what consequences might such have for contemporary photography?

This questioning requires a rigorous deconstruction not only of the camera itself but how particular modes of practice and corresponding aesthetics, now taken for granted, have become synonymous. Examining the technological introduction and cultural induction of photography, this research mobilises canonical lenses and critical debates so as to distil a coherent philosophical account of photographic instrumentality and its practical implications.


PREFACE

Contemporary photographic discourse, the conversation regarding the situation of what it means to photograph today, has centred itself around the explicit external affects of technological change upon the practice and the axiomatic consequences of such (Lister 2013: 3). The advent of the mobile phone as competent camera is said to afford a 'less obvious intrusion' due to its size and increased sensitivity to light that negates an obtrusive and incriminating flash (Bate 2013: 81). It might be deduced then that, as a recipient or reader of the image, recognition of images as ones taken with mobile phones, signalled via a supposedly innate "look" of lower-resolution, transmit a rhetoric of candid authenticity and immediacy (Allan 2013).

 
Figure 1: Damon Winter, ‘Specialist Christian Dupree and SGT. Santiago Zapata Sharing Earbuds To Listen To Music’ from A Grunts Life,

Figure 1: Damon Winter, ‘Specialist Christian Dupree and SGT. Santiago Zapata Sharing Earbuds To Listen To Music’ from A Grunts Life,

 

A popular reference for an examination of 'the past, present, and future of photographic expression’ (Alper 2013: 1234), Damon Winter’s 2010 documentary series A Grunt’s Life (Figure 1), features the use of the iPhone but in conjunction with downloadable application Hipstamatic. Although inducing a semi-random ‘pseudo-photographic flaws, scratches, and smudges’ and implying the aesthetics of a camera more associated with the 1960s (Alper 2013: 1234-1238), the look becomes signature to the app itself, signaling ultimately the use of Winter’s smartphone. Claims that use of this new photographic ‘tool’ allows a new immediacy with the subject (Estrin 2010) have continued to a long history of public consciousness (Palmer 2013: 158) in which ‘new meanings (are) attached to emerging photographic practices and the technologies that make them possible’ (Borges-Rey 2015: 587). Such would suggest that developments of camera-technology engender new photo-methodologies and become literally instrumental to the reception of imagery.

Of course, awareness of digital-photography's ontological potential for this malleability may serve to undermine any persuasive intention; at its commercial inception, the validity of truth in the operation of digital photography was interrogated, most formally perhaps, in William J. Mitchell's The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (1992). The conclusion drawn from Mitchell's writing, that the digital image represented a physical tear from the analogue (what he calls 'normal' photography (1992: 7)), was not entirely shared however. Mitchell's insistence on equating normal photography with straightness and innocence against the mutability of the digital was countered by arguments that such total-innocence is a fabrication in itself, that 'digital technology does not subvert "normal" photography because "normal" photography never existed' (Manovich 1995: 12). This would be to say that one could not consider anything a threat to innocence when such innocence is a construct in itself. Digital photography is, then, the lineal extension of what Mitchell might consider the analogue tradition.

 
Figure 2: Paul M Smith, ‘Untitled’ from Make My Night, 1998

Figure 2: Paul M Smith, ‘Untitled’ from Make My Night, 1998

 

Specific motivation behind this study can be visualised by Paul M Smith’s 1998 series Make My Night (Figure 2). Meticulous collage of multiple self portraits are here made possible by digital post-production means. Indeed, it is only upon close inspection that one recognises Smith to be the only figure in what otherwise appears to be a documentary of suburban lad culture. This commenting fiction is masked by its adherence to the aesthetics of the camera as ‘the signs of photography’, the flash glare in this instance serving ‘to “guarantee” that all these moments existed in the same homogenous instant’ (Sutton 2007b: 22). Further than this, Smith’s aesthetic intervention, in which supposed subjects are bleached by light, poorly composed and resolved is inherent to the snapshot, itself among the ‘aesthetic expectations of the working class’ (Bourdieu 1990: 79). It is in employing the visual associations of an external tradition that a conceptual link to such, within these composite self-portraits, is found.

The ontological examination of photography could then, it is proposed, place the image in relation to the process that conceives it. Divided in such a way as "analogue" and "digital" might seem to impose a homogeneity that denies photography of modularity, 'as though there is no difference whatsoever between a nineteenth-century half-plate camera and a twentieth century throwaway snapshot camera either in their condition of use or their cultural effect' (Bate 2013: 86). The tradition of cameras befitting particular modes of representation is certainly not unique to the initial example of the mobile-phone-digital-camera: it could instead be considered as being merely among the latest of these modulations, equipped with rhetoric of its own.

INTRODUCTION

But what is the reality of such rhetoric, or indeed any rhetoric concerning cameras within photography? Arriving at such a question leaves one anticipating a history of photography that could be arranged by technological variation in accordance with cultural practice. However, to surmise simply that particular cameras engender particular modes of practice, and that aesthetic recognition indexes the photograph, is to remain ignorant of the techno-cultural construction of this mediation. This paper seeks to explore the instrumentality of the camera via inspections of its relation to the philosophical bracketing of epistemology, ontology and phenomenology. Simply put, it is a study towards the metaphysical underpinning of the question: what is a camera? Thus, it is proposed that a critical unpicking of image-reading and image-making is required so as to prepare for an understanding of the potential vacancy for contemporary photographic practice in a postdigital environment.

It is important to devise a course of action that allows for both foundational understanding and reflective checkpoints. Whilst this study should by no means be considered a parroted chronology of the camera, it is only through establishing a rigorous understanding of the circumstances under which it was constructed that one can breach the 'objective magic of the photograph' (Baudrillard 1997: 30). The following line of research proposes that, rather than soldering any perception of automaticity to the mechanical literalism of photography, one should instead question why such maintained, or was ever granted, objective weight.

THE SCIENTIFIC FOUNDATION

By definition perhaps, or rather in requiring such in its very chemical operation, photography is rooted in scientific practice: photography, 'as a product of the technological age', it is claimed, is privileged by its adherence within the Cartesian representational schema and creates a visual where ‘truthfulness' is 'underwritten by the scientific procedure that created it’ (Rubinstein and Sluis 2013: 26).

To comprehend this, one must first look at the context into which the camera, as one would understand it today, was conceived and received. It is crucial to establish first that, by “camera”, what is referred to is the technological mediation between real-life subject and photographic document of such. Studies of the first wave of photography in the mid-nineteenth century have extracted the reception of invention based on the environment of inception; within the photographic discoveries of William Henry Fox Talbot, it is claimed, photography arrives within a ‘scientific context in which the question of “truth” not only was related to problems of visual representation but also had significant epistemological and ontological implications’ (Maimon 2015: xi). In his reflection on his invention within this forming practice, Fox Talbot himself co-operates with reception:

‘The instrument chronicles whatever it sees, and certainly would delineate a chimney-pot

or a chimney-sweep with the same impartiality as it would the Apollo of Belvedere’ (Fox Talbot 1844: 18)

Maimon notes the preceding publication of John Herschel’s 1830 Preliminary Discourse on Natural Philosophy, the central ideas of such coming into eventual fruition as the inductive method of science; Hershel engenders Baconian ideas in proposition of a defined methodology as “mechanistic system that regulates operations of the mind” (Maimon 2015: 7). The formulation then, of observation and experiment as necessary “conditions for the rapid progress of scientific knowledge” (Maimon 2015: 8) aids to reasoning power placed emphasis on the validation of this causal empiricism. It is in reaction to Talbot's proposal of such a process that photography was recognised as an 'epistemological figure in itself that provides a “new proof” for the validity of the inductive method and for science as a form of knowledge and practice' (Maimon 2015: 4); the relationship between photography and science is one of cyclical validation of one another.

Noting that photography, in these early days, was considered to be a ‘cataloguing of the real’ (1996: 19) Suren Lalvani specifies the necessity of approaching the writing of Michel Foucault (21). Such a calling to arms itself echoes Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge, in which it is proposed that discursive formations be compared on the basis of specificity to a determined time-scale (1997: 157). As such, the study of photography’s relationship to science continues within the same archaeological frame. Foucault, whilst not directly addressing photography as an act, offers a critical construction of the philosophical architecture model it has so far been seen as being absorbed by. Parallel to the formation of modern science in the nineteenth-century, Foucault describes the transition from classical medicine to clinical classification as being a systematic shift from vision of the physician-as-gardener to the ‘clinical gaze’ (2003: 132). This gaze, in maintaining an ‘empirical vigilance receptive only to the evidence of visible contents’ (Foucault 2003: XIV), signals a shift towards a version of Cartesian ocularcentrism that is refined by dispassionate practice and cataloguing (2003: 131-151). Foucault’s insistence that the clinician’s purpose derives from an adherence to its environment is compacted by a pursuit of objective empiricism; as a ‘speaking eye’ one would:

‘…scan the entire hospital field, taking in and gathering together each of the singular events that occurred within it;

and as it saw, as it saw ever more and more clearly, it would be turned into speech that states and teaches; the

truth, which events, in their repetitions and convergence, would outline under its gaze, would, by the same gaze

and in the same order, be reserved, in the form of teaching, to those who do not know and have not yet seen.’

(Foucault 2003: 141)

Foucault reveals the clinic as the architecture of epistemological means, the cool subservience to which allows the growth, reservation and reciprocation of knowledge. Tracing the separation of the patient's body from their identity, Foucault establishes an empirical gaze as contemporaneous ideal. Such reasoning of this nineteenth-century restructuring allows photography to be understood as being conceived not only by scientific means but possessing, in its technical ocularcentrism, the philosophical properties imperative to the expansion of epistemology; the camera can be seen as a clinician within the epistemic architecture of photography.

A century forward from Foucault’s periodised philosophy of the clinic, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar conduct an anthropological field study of such in Laboratory Life (1986). Purposed by analysing ‘the construction of scientific facts’ in practical and contemporary setting, they find that scientists constitute a “tribe whose daily manipulation and production is in danger of being misunderstood” (Latour and Woolgar 1986: 29). This misunderstanding is described as pertaining to the rationality of scientists’ practice with regards to technical operation, observation and contribution to scientific knowledge (Latour and Woolgar 1986: 29-32). The presence of inscription devices and apparatus is proposed as promoting a relationship whereby the complex means of extracting empirical information within an experiment is performed with simplicity, offering a translated ‘inscription’ by which the scientist can accept fact (Latour and Woolgar 1986). The scientist is removed from the ‘task of producing ordered and plausible accounts out of a mass of disordered observations’ and in doing so may as well be considered an ‘outsider’ (Latour and Woolgar 1986: 36). Bruno Latour furthers the exploration of this dynamic independently, attaching the word instrument to the inscription device and insisting on the means of such in providing a visual display of evidence (2002: 68). This instrumentality when too complex becomes a ‘black box’ (Latour 2002: 2), its operation closed to its operator aside from a simple communication of input/output.

If Foucault is seen to map out the conceptual ideals for what Latour later describes as ‘laboratory’, a frame within which knowledge is extracted, stored and recycled (Latour 2002: 64-68), Latour details the later workings of such in the field. One must remember the contextual backdrop to each text, however; if Foucault’s setting is retrospective of the mid-nineteenth century, and has been used to explain the initial attachment of science to photography, Latour’s can be used to chart shift. The following observation is thus crucial to the research of this paper: Foulcault’s clinician, though displaying a metaphysical relation to the camera, becomes realised as inscription device, formed from prior work and knowledge extracted. It is in this sense that the historical progress of science and technology become twinned and hide each other in their complexity, becoming ‘darker and darker black boxes’ (Latour 2002: 253). In line with Foucauldian archaeology, one must return to photographic discourse as it exists at the time of Laboratory Life, the late-1970s, and deduce that, somewhere between that, the camera has become black-boxed*. Accepting its facticity as an instrument of science, cultural attitudes frame the camera as 'merely technical', its 'inscriptions' becoming ‘direct indicators of the substance under study’ (Latour and Woolgar 1986: 63). Considering these conceptual extractions, one's next step is to examine the practical relationship between the public, photography and the truth.

*Emphasising the equational isolation of the black-box as an object, the term and its inflectional affixes will henceforth appear unhyphenated.

THE PHOTOGRAPH IN ACTION

For a visual reference of the key critical arguments to be unpacked from here, one might consider Figure 3, Robert Kenneth Wilson's reported photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. With The Daily Mail disseminating the image on April 21st 1934, the public were suddenly made 'student(s) of Loch Ness phenomena' and so 'accepted this picture as depicting the head-neck of a large animal in Loch Ness' (Mackal 1976: 98). This was not the first image to appear of the creature; Arthur Grant sketches his alleged first-hand close encounter, Figure 4, three months prior (Gould 1934:89). Despite publication in the very same newspaper and maintaining a far superior clarity as a pictorial depiction of its subject, it simply did not have the same persuasive weight of the photograph (Kiernan 2017). As John Tagg notes however, what must be interrogated is 'under what conditions would a photograph of the "Loch Ness Monster"... become acceptable as proof of (its) existence?' (1982: 117).

 
Figure 3: The Daily Mail, London Surgeon’s Photo Of The Monster, 1934

Figure 3: The Daily Mail, London Surgeon’s Photo Of The Monster, 1934

Figure 4: Arthur Grant, Creature Seen By Mr Grant, 1934

Figure 4: Arthur Grant, Creature Seen By Mr Grant, 1934

 

Andre Bazin wrote of representational images existing and holding different statuses within the differing mediums that relay them from vision to artifact; here the mechanical image is separated from the painted one and claims that the making of images 'no longer shares an anthropocentric, utilitarian purpose' (2005: 10). If the painted image carries within it the burden of 'a human hand' that casts 'a shadow of doubt over the image' (Bazin 2005: 12), then it is supposed that 'only' the alternative 'photographic lens' allows for the satisfaction of pictorial reality (2005:14). Relevant here is the admission that the epistemic automaticity in mechanical reproduction 'has radically affected our psychology' giving the camera 'a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making' (Bazin 2005: 13).

If the photograph then, via the camera, achieves a perfect analogon with reality (Barthes 1977: 17), might we as image-readers interpret such as being so? To question this position requires a closer look at the automaticity of the medium as a mechanical record. There is the matter of deliberation and photographic intent to be dealt with and whilst there remains argument that the photograph presents a sketch of reality from an overwhelmingly specific spatiotemporal point, the photo-reader is always aware 'however slightly, of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights' (Berger 1972). The image-reader in this historical context is aware that they are looking at an image, that the photographer has very carefully framed the world, but trusts in the reality within said frame. Whilst this puts into perspective the epistemological cultural-attitudes towards the camera, questions arise as to what its ontological relationship to reality actually is.

THE OPACITY OF THE PHOTOGRAPH

Continuing this investigation of the photographic instrument, a contemporaneous to-and-fro, launching from the mid-1970s and spanning decades, is met and appears to stymie any consistent preceding philosophy. The conversation orbits the photograph's liberty as a material document of truth and actuality versus recognition as a means of representation through which actuality is neither transmitted nor owed. Though the central arguments within this problem have been recycled numerously in each small new contribution to the conversation, and is by no means our destination, the debate must be expanded so as to appreciate the position from which photographic instrumentality reveals itself. As such one will begin with a concentrated reflection on a specific side of argument before attempting to establish a contemporary resolution in opposition.

Said debate is primarily commented on as being one of objectivity against subjectivity, by those who believe that it is impossible for photographers to 'create' anything and by those who believe that they 'should at least try' (Snyder and Allen 1975: 143). The stance of the former in this case, which has since been branded as being that held by 'photo-realists' (Carroll 1995), promotes that the photograph maintains a causal relationship to the photographed subject, with the supposed automaticity of the camera insuring a consistent, direct and tamperproof viewing (Scruton 1983). This use of blackbox, it is claimed, distinguishes photography from an art such as painting. The photo-realists become sceptics of any artistic implementation of the analogue camera, and in doing so attempt to absolve the camera of any responsibility for fiction (Atencia-Linares 2012). Upon a canvas the viewer is subject to the whim of the artist in their depiction of what is in front of them, what they may see or not see that actually exists and what they might simply embellish or abolish.

The principle would serve to suggest that artistic liberty does in fact exist but as performance within the choice of subject matter and not the material result of photographing such (Scruton 1983): there is no such thing as photographic representation, only the photograph of a representation. Scruton is joined in his position by Kendall Walton, who constructs a hypothetical example of an explorer existing in two parallel states, who navigates parallel jungles and suddenly spots parallel dinosaurs but uses different means of record in each (Walton 1984: 262-267). Walton here stakes claim that, against the image-maker equipped only to produce a drawing of the creature, the camera proves a far superior tool in eliminating the obstacles of perception. The explorer might be technically poor at drawing and produce a poor record, they might have misinterpreted or misidentified the creature, they might have hallucinated and drawn from mental conception or even not drawn anything out of sheer disbelief and dismissal. It is proposed that the camera, at the press of the button, does away with these concerns; it does not necessarily matter if this explorer can draw, actually saw a dinosaur or actually believed that they did. The resultant photograph will show the exact scene in retrospect, allowing for visitation and an unaffected decision (Walton 1984: 265).

Furthering the argument far beyond the idea of visual trust, Walton proposes that the image-viewer actually sees the subject through an image. There is a very distinct request within the text that what is being put forth should not be diluted by any assumption that Walton is speaking in hyperbole (1984: 251) and so we must then, interpret this as a serious consideration. Noting the boldness of his statement Walton swiftly offers 'perceive' as a synonym but ultimately claims that to see a photograph of, say, a deceased relative is to see the relative themselves. Such is to suggest that the photograph transcends parameters of the spatial and temporal parameters to physically present, not represent, that which sits within the frame; as much so as the window glass between panes, the photograph is transparent.

Popular retorts to theories of transparency prioritise derailing this notion of the transcendent window and so define the photograph as opaque (Snyder and Allen 1975, Currie 1991, Carroll 1995, Gaut 2008), Gregory Currie proving seminal in his evaluation of image structures with regards to the egocentric information they limit. To be able to class the act of seeing as an act of correct perception, Currie claims, requires irrefutable spatiotemporal information (Currie 1991). Seeing a photograph, he cements, 'does not put me in a perspectival relation to the object it is a photograph of', nor does the act alone 'give us temporally extended information' (Currie 1991: 27). However, it is conceded that photographs most certainly serve to imply the spatiotemporal situation in front of the camera; Currie caveats his conclusion with an admission of the photograph, as isolated frame or, more potently, a series of consecutives, can serve, 'along with information from other sources, in an inference to egocentric information' (1991: 29). Between the photograph and subject sits the camera as mediator and behind the photograph the image-reader as inferential. If the analogue camera can be reasonably argued as a method of faithful reproduction but simultaneously can not produce actual perception, then perhaps the photograph's position is somewhere in between the poles of the transparent and the opaque, occupying the threshold as translucent screen.

Suppose then that one returns to Kendall Walton's dinosaur dilemma in light of this epistemic/ontological debate. It may seem difficult at first to translate the description of the experiment into reality; dinosaurs are long extinct and thus rather difficult to photograph. However, Walton fails to recognise that fifty years prior to his proposition, exactly such occurs. The surgeon's reported sighting at Loch Ness acts out the premise. In line with time-relevant epistemic values of legitimate graphicacy, it facilitated public curiosity to a greater degree than its non-photographic counterparts. Whilst the original hypothetic situation surmised that the intent was to relay a sighting of a dinosaur, it neglects any material consideration of output. That is to say that the explorers' photograph and drawing contain, within their respective aesthetics, allusions to the nature of the reported sighting. One might question the amount of detail in the drawing given the intimidating presence of a dinosaur or similarly why the photograph is so perfect in its depiction, knowing the real life weight and wait implication of the camera necessary to produce such. Indeed, a specific photograph might only appear to be an objective or realistic relay of experience when the making of such conforms to its socially defined function (Bourdieu 1990: 73-95). Therefore, if Wilson's photograph can be seen to adhere to the expectations of his position as witness, he will embody such in transmission, trusted as surrogate 'for the benefit of an audience that was not present at the event and yet must make some kind of judgement about it' (Peters 2001: 709).

 
Figure 5: Robert Kenneth Wilson, Untitled, 1934

Figure 5: Robert Kenneth Wilson, Untitled, 1934

 

Revisiting the Surgeon's Photo then, one can begin to comprehend the inherited visual properties of the image as a collective manipulator of the image's reading and subsequent reception. Despite firm accounts of the much later found original image (Figure 5) being produced via plate camera (Whyte 1957: 7), one could not make such an assertion via the Daily Mail's publication of it. Comparatively, in the published photograph (Figure 3) the proportions are wildly different, subject is much closer yet not particularly detailed. Whilst this cropping hides the scale of whatever is in the water, these differences might also aid in a silent decoding of the process by which it was photographed.

The frame, perspective and quality may be interpreted more akin to the 35mm analogue camera. This recognition leads to the material implications of portability, proximity and responsiveness, prompting its reader to speculate as to the conditions under which the photographer recorded the water and so lending legitimacy to the subject. Coupled with Pierre Bourdieu's remark, that 'it is from its participation within a genre that each individual photograph derives its purpose' (1990: 89), it is deductive that to appropriate this smaller format and to be placed within the newspaper signals its intent as a journalistic photograph that, given the social epistemology previously discussed, allows 'an almost synonymous relationship with truth and reality' (Creech 2017: 1125). This is furthered by the attachment of Wilson's vocation to the literal framing of the image; relaying the cultural perception towards photography as being clinical, the photographer as Surgeon becoming the legitimate operator of an impartial instrument.

Robert Kenneth Wilson, in his apparent capturing of a monster, becomes the hypothetical explorer photographing Walton's dinosaur. There is no evidenced conclusion as to who exactly conformed the original plate to its new values, but such is inconsequential to the visual-verification that Wilson's process is swapped and his camera re-loaded with verisimilitude. Rather than aiding the transparency model, the image in its artificial adherence to the charged visual properties of another format, brandishes the epistemic and ontological conditions of these constructed aesthetic divisions. It is from an understanding of photography as being removed from any perceived automaticity that the prepared instrument (camera) and its inscription (photograph) can be further contemplated with regards to its material operation.

THE OPERATION OF THE INSTRUMENT

Recalling the issues of contemporary photography outlined at the beginning of this paper, one has learned why the ‘objectivity’ of a supposedly mechanic output, the ‘technical image’, is ‘an illusion’ (Flusser 2000:15). Whilst the critical debates and texts looked at have navigated causality, the cause and effect of “what cameras do”, it is yet to look at what lies between. It is yet to establish photographic instrumentality in its most simple question: what cameras are.

It is in pursuit of philosophical expansion on the camera that one benefits from the seminal understandings of such as they occurred to Vilém Flusser. When first approaching Towards A Philosophy of Photography, Flusser's hypothesis seems pessimistic and difficult to follow, appearing more a philosophy against photography. Through the research that has been undertaken and shown thus far, however, one can recognise Flussers un-cited wielding of critical ideas that preceded him, of projection and representation, Latourian blackboxing and Foucauldian architecture of knowledge. Flusser’s hypothesis is witnessed in his consolidation and curation of these ideas in relation to his own proposed lexicon. Following an etymological deconstruction towards object taxonomy, Flusser expands on his bracketing of choice: the camera as 'apparatus' (2000: 21-24). A product of post-industrialism, it is claimed, the apparatus separates from an intended changing of the world, instead existing so as to change the meaning of the world (2000: 25). The apparatus abstracts the camera from the simplicity of input-output representation, instead providing housing for pre-programmed use, the photograph being simply the realisation of such; to operate, one plays in the efforts of trying to beat the game, to escape its ‘program’ (2000: 26-32). In playing the camera then, the photographer is provided the sensation of informing via physical control of its exterior, but its impenetrable interior, as a program, shepherds the exchange.

Flusser's alignment of terms offers this study a lens through which the seemingly independent debates researched are seen to converge and, in collation, offer a new avenue for reflection. The text presents the grounds for investigating further, an action Flusser is seen to anticipate and even welcome (2000: 7). In his essay Real Photography, Damian Sutton insists that any 'useable or valuable definitions of photography rely on two things: an equivalence of forms to allow for the identification of a common ontology or "essence", and the observable embodiment of this in any chosen photographic image’ (Sutton 2007a: 163). As a study towards the philosophy of photographic instrumentality then, focus will shift in order to consolidate research, questioning both the validity of equivalence and the relevance of such to image-reading in the present.

Returning to Latour, a photography-specific instrumentality is briefly, in Science in Action, addressed by the distinction that equipment is not a blackbox ‘until it can be made into automaton’ (Latour 2002: 131). Latour puts forward, as literal, that photographers’ ‘opening’ of the camera takes away such status; that it is only in the ‘automatic’ variant, that cannot be ‘opened’, that a ‘large number of elements (are) made to act as one’ and so blackbox-hood is anointed. Flusser, however, proposes that non-automatic cameras are not only blackboxed in their exact moment of use (Flusser 2000: 16) but that it is the effect of programming that what Latour deems as opening (2002: 131) Flusser refers to as an automatic 'feed' or input (2000:27). Aligning the two, one could consider the users' ‘pleasure in the structural complexity of their plaything’ as posing an intoxicating impenetrability (2000: 58). These ‘people taking snaps', for example, 'feel they have gone blind’  (Flusser 2000: 58) and are thus purveyors, not players, of the apparatus in their hands, thinking that their photographs ‘are an automatic reflection of the world’ (59). Pierre Bourdieu concedes that whilst ‘it is true that most occasional photographers have access only to instruments which offer a very limited range of possibilities’, the programmed social use of the camera-for-snapshot becomes sine qua non within its aesthetic (1990: 79). Therefore one supposes that in both the image production and image reception, social functions of the culturally-modulated camera are smuggled within its material output.

THE CODED CAMERA

To bring this study back into the context of contemporary practice, what has so far been referred to as an "immediate" instrumentality, the camera, must be re-positioned in its relation to an even greater apparatus, what Flusser comes to term as ‘the photographic universe’ (2000: 65). Such, when examined, presents a dynamic in which photographers can be considered as ‘believing themselves to be in possession of an apparatus which in reality possesses them’ (Brecht cited in Benjamin 1982: 27). Here then, the apparatus becomes not simply the mechanistic instrument of the camera but what Brecht predicated as the means of cultural production, placing photography within an argument of the socio-economic (Burgin 2018: 248) and mobilising Marxist understandings of state production/consumption. Photography-as-apparatus can be witnessed as an institution appearing to set both the ‘technological conditions of production... the psychic connections and positionings that it enables or determines’ (Cubitt 2004: 144). Such is expanded in John Tagg’s essay The Currency Of The Photograph: Tagg, drawing upon an Althusserian definition of Ideological State Apparatuses, declares that:

‘Photography is a mode of production consuming raw materials, refining its instruments reproducing the skills and

submissiveness of its labour force, and pouring on to the market a prodigious quantity of commodities. By this mode of

production it constitutes images or representations, consuming the world of sight as its raw material.’ (Tagg 1982: 123)

Tagg’s personification of photography relays the Marxist idea of the ‘false consciousness’ of one’s existence; photography is a factory built around the concealment of ‘the value of a commodity’, which ‘depends on the labour invested in it’ (Burgin 1982: 46), from the photographer as factory worker. Althusser’s premise, then, would regard photography as being itself an institution outside state control, interpellating the individual so as ‘to secure the reproduction of ideology’ (Burgin 1986: 196).

Returning to Figure 3, questioning the conditions under which a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster becomes proof of existence can be seen as having lead one to reconsider it in relation to the apparatus. Indeed, it could perhaps be seen to successfully function as such because of its very adherence to a system with the ‘power to bestow authority and privilege’ (Taag 1982: 117). The Surgeon’s Photo is partially validated by its journalistic occupation, but it is the ‘intrinsic nature’ of photographic truth, via concealment of the very same technical function within science as a ‘privileged ideological apparatus’, that is seen to allow this (Taag 1982: 117). Thus, ‘ideology is essentially contradictory, riddled with all sorts of conflicts which it attempts to conceal’ and to study the instrumentality is to study ‘the kinds of devices (which) are constructed in order to conceal these contradictions’ (Macherey 1977: 5).

It is here proposed that one briefly re-visits the hypothesis that headed this research: of technological change, namely the mobile phone, offering new photographic advantages. The mobile phone, in its ability to allow ‘any idiot’ to ‘snap a great news photo’ (Danziger 2005), has been seen to supposedly democratise photojournalism, adding to it the prefix ‘citizen’. Though treated in contemporary debate as a recent phenomenon (Allan 2013), ideological parallels can be drawn with the Surgeon’s Photo of 1934. Though through Robert Kenneth Wilson the clinical illusion of photography is made explicit, in assimilating the public to the role of photojournalist a ‘privileged claim to provide a transparent “window on reality”’ (Allan 2013: 185) is shared. What was once granted upon the insightful individual, the clinical role as ‘the dispassionate relayer of factual truths’ (Allan 2013: 185), is now present via the mobile phone in the pocket. Technological advancement here has been seen not to change the ideological underwriting of photography but to change disguise in such a way that such underwriting is made even more accessible, it’s dissemination spread wider and its reproduction rate increased.

Earlier, in the efforts of understanding the cultural perception of photography, the Foucauldian clinic was seen as an architecture in which dispassionate workers sought to harvest medical findings for its refinement, perpetuation and growth. Such a description seems to place the clinic visibly closer to the concept of ideological apparatus, or dispositif as Foucault is later seen to refer to it, as ‘a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions… philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions…the said as much as the unsaid’ (Foucault and Gordon 1980: 194).

Contemplating that in any apparatus ‘ideology always exists’, be it ‘religious’, ‘moral’, ‘political’ or ‘aesthetic’, and that ‘this existence is material’ (Althusser 2014: 184) in its practice, allows a return to the central enquiry of instrumentality. Having earlier concluded that Latourian instrument-cum-blackbox has become an integral epistemic apparatus within the Foucauldian epistemological apparatus, one can draw equivalence to the cultural means of production in photography as a harbouring of aesthetic ideology. Bruno Latour is seen to later draw similar conclusions from an opposite perspective, deeming what he labels ‘scientification’ as ‘a form of artistic representation’ in so far as ‘there is no dichotomy between factual science and fictional art… a continuous tradition of reference and sign necessitating many mediations are used in both' (Conty 2013: 323). To some degree then, the academic tug-of-war regarding the opacity of the photograph, in the hopes of establishing it as either science or art, becomes largely redundant when the two sides can be seen far closer to one another than once imagined.

This material tradition of reference and sign, in photography, returns us to the very issue of modulation that launched this paper. Though the photographer may believe themself an author of ‘free, creative spirit’, their existence has been shown as a worker within ‘conditions of artistic production external to him/herself’ (Wolff 1981: 62); thinking it an extension of themself, the user makes decisions with regards to how the camera is used, how the blackbox is fed (Flusser 2000: 27), unaware that ultimately ‘his decisions are determined’ (Macherey 1978: 48). Culture, not the camera, can be considered as the mediator that not only 'enables us to successfully decode a message' (Webster 1980: 22) but also to write it. Unwittingly playing within a system of existing codes and conventions inherent to the camera, the functionary is able to use such to ‘spit out’ (Flusser 2000: 27) their idea of an appropriate photograph but in doing so reproduces the 'ideology encoded’ (Wolff 1981: 126). Indeed, within what initially appears to be the individualistic aesthetic expression offered by the camera and an 'atomistic' photographer (Webster 1980: 19) can be seen, in its modulation, to be ideology taking on ‘an infinite variety of forms’ in such a way that ‘its contingency is suppressed’ (Burgin 1982: 46); It is this reproductive material smuggling of ideology within the camera that takes one to the brink of understanding of photographic instrumentality.

One’s first reading of Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography may be a frankly sobering experience; not only are the users of cameras considered mere functionaries to the physical apparatus, but behind these, one is told, lords photography as an even greater one. The consideration of this existence within an Ideological State Apparatus presents a Pascalian recognition of one’s nullity (Althusser 2014: 186) in which simply recognising and knowing such is enough. Whilst simply putting down the camera and closing one's eyes to technical images might provide an impression of resistance, it is only when philosophically conscious of this subservience that ‘freedom’ is found in ‘playing against the camera’ (2000: 80). Just as ideology has been exported from within the camera, aiding the reception of an image such as the Surgeon’s Photo, ‘one can smuggle human intentions’ back into the camera’s ‘program’ (Flusser 2000: 80). It is in knowing the socio-historical implications of the camera as an instrument of truth that Robert Kenneth Wilson choses to photograph the toy boat with model neck and head, using such to convince the viewer of its validity.

Though using a far-removed technology in photographing American Soldiers in Figure 1, Damon Winter can be seen to ultimately play to the programmed tradition of photojournalism. Winter may independently choose to use the app, even select within the literal program his simulated lens and film stock, but what one might have initially considered as an individualistic aesthetic and practice is a cultural script that is followed. Technological modulation, the smartphone here, has not allowed or dictated his immediacy, but rather his position of embedded worker steered by photographic discourse. Revisiting Figure 2, on the other hand, heralds Paul M Smith as Flusser’s ‘experimental photographer’ in his visible consciousness of  ‘image, apparatus, program and information’ (2000: 81). Smith’s human intent is smuggled back into the camera, aware that the viewer, unwittingly immersed in this discourse, perceives the image exactly as one had, picking up on the simulated codes and inferring convention and meaning. The idea of overarching apparatuses dictating the operations of those that recur within them does not necessarily damn the act of photography and can, in conscious recognition, be reversed; locating the hidden modus operandi within the camera offers 'the possibility of freedom' (Flusser 2000: 82). It is in its philosophical relation to other apparatuses that photographic instrumentality allows reflection, and play, of ideology itself.

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION

Having followed a socio-historical thread of philosophical instrumentality, a reflection upon what has been found, and how one has arrived here, arises as necessity. The supposedly scientific foundations of photographic practice have been shown as being based upon the conception of photography as a product of science that served to validate and promote the inductive method of such in nineteenth-century Britain (Maimon 2015). These principles of photography as an empirical measure of light and a method of copying, one extracts, became culturally parallel to the Foucauldian clinician within epistemological architecture (2002, 2003). Within such, the camera is blackboxed (Latour 1986, 2000, 2002) and continues to bleed into culture as an epistemic tool in which factual inscription is taken for granted. Although the viewer of an image is aware that there is a photographer and that such can photograph what they want, trust is placed in the camera as empirical relay of subject matter.

Critical arguments which had intended to address the capabilities of photography as a transaction of truth have been examined but found to have been made strictly in relation to causality, both in support of the photograph as transparent (Scruton 1983; Walton 1984; Walden 2008) and against such as opaque. In an unwitting co-operation with this research, such debate, in the efforts of falsifying one another’s claims of totality, left in their wake the idea of duality or, in short, the photograph as translucent screen, one that allows the theoretical and practical co-existence of transparency and opaqueness respectively. Armed with this prior research as context, one has been able to approach Vilém Flusser's plano-convex hypothesis and work around the apparent pessimism of first reading. Comprehending that the causality of the camera is culturally programmed (Flusser 2000, 2011), it has been considered that such a relationship is not specific to photography; in realising the cross-discipline parallels detailed throughout the paper, one can understand photographic instrumentality as a case study for wider ideological instrumentality.

There is modulated rhetoric present in photographic practice, but such is of its own communicative codes, opposing speculation of material reality as first thought. Whilst one's initial approach supposed that new technologies brought forth new methodologies, it has been found that a web of consistent discourse is simply smuggled between these mutations, hidden from the user and priming the image-reader. To either play within the program or resist it completely, however, are not final destinations. In recognising this position within the apparatus, one is able to reverse the equation; photographic discourse, when found, is itself an instrument that can be played and, through the camera, one can both reveal and use its ideology for unexpected resolution.



LIST OF REFERENCES

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LIST OF FIGURES

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  • Figure 3. The Daily Mail (1934) LONDON SURGEON’S PHOTO OF THE MONSTER [online] available from <http://www.donttakepictures.com/dtp-blog/2017/4/19/the-loch-ness-monster-turns-83-the-story-of-the-surgeons-photograph> [24 November 2018]

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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