Photography as information technology. Armin Linke's exhibition in Bologna

From Sept. 22 to Jan. 8, 2023, MAST in Bologna is hosting the exhibition "Image Capital," a project on photography as information technology, created d Armin Linke in collaboration with Estelle Blaschke, and curated by Francesco Zanot.

From Sept. 22, 2022 to Jan. 8, 2023, MAST in Bologna will host the exhibition Image Capital, a visual and research project that took more than four years to complete and tells a different story of photography: that of its countless practical uses and its function as an information technology. The result of a collaboration between the great photographer Armin Linke and photography historian Estelle Blaschke, and curated by Francesco Zanot, the exhibition is a project that investigates photography as a system for creating, processing, storing, protecting and exchanging visual information: a capital whose possession corresponds to a genuine strategic advantage.

Linke, a world-renowned photographer, and Blaschke, a researcher at the University of Basel, explore through images, texts and other materials the different ways in which photography is used within different types of production processes, particularly in science, culture and industry: thanks to photography, in fact, the systems of communication and access to information have improved exponentially to the point of enabling the development of global industries and vast governmental apparatuses.

“Within this circuit,” explains curator Zanot, “photographic images take on a peculiar value describable as a true form of capital. The push to use photography as an information technology occurred around the middle of the twentieth century, when the management and administrative processes of companies and institutions were expanding and needed to be optimized.” With digital photography there has been a leap in scale: “Instead of being only the subjects of photographs,” Zanot continues, “the objects of our world are now constructed on the basis of the photographs themselves and their reworkings, reversing a previously unidirectional relationship. These transformations bring with them some fundamental economic and political repercussions: the great masses of images that feed this system have acquired a very high value, giving those who own and manage them equally exterminated powers. In capitalist society, photography dominates not only the imaginary, but much more.”

The exhibition is divided into six sections. Memory is devoted to the capacity of photographs to collect and store information: starting with the idea of mechanical reproducibility, the intrinsic nature of photography as a recording tool is investigated here, the potential of which is being expressed at ever higher levels with the advent of digital technology. It continues with Access, on how images are stored, retrieved and indexed: the association between photography and text (or metadata) is at the heart of the medium’s success as an information technology. Metadata (keywords, geodata, captions...) are not only useful for organizing images into ordered systems, but also for being able to find and use them. Third section is Protection, on strategies for the long-term preservation of images and the information they contain: if images can be regarded as repositories of potentially perishable information, they in turn must be protected so that they do not get lost. Here we investigate strategies for protecting images, from archives, which can grow to monumental size, to back-up systems.

We then move on to Mining, on the analysis of images and their use in automatic recognition technologies: while it is true that photographs contain a great deal of information, likewise systems are needed to be able to extract it(mining). This section is devoted to these processes and the consequent possibility of using large quantities(clusters) of similar images (from which similar information is mined) for the development of automatic recognition technologies, the applications of which are crucial today, particularly in the fields of industry and security. The fifth section is Imaging, on photography as a system for visualizing reality or its design. Photography is observed here as a visualization system, starting from its ability to go beyond the limits of the human eye to its use in the development of digital rendering and modeling techniques. After having long been considered a proof of reality, photography constitutes in this sense the starting point from which reality is designed and constructed. Finally, it closes with Currency, on the value of images: from the association between photography and currency to information capitalism, here we look at the processes of attributing value to images, which today are particularly linked to the ability to accumulate large quantities of them and, above all, to associate large sets of information with each one.

Starting with texts by Estelle Blaschke and photographic works by Armin Linke, creators of the IMAGE CAPITAL project, the exhibition includes a wide selection of interviews, videos, archival images, publications and other original objects. Despite their diversity, all these materials are arranged in the MAST exhibition spaces on the same floor, without hierarchy or priority, with the aim of offering viewers a narrative-experience that is as immersive as it is layered.

Exhibition project in collaboration between FONDAZIONE MAST, Bologna, MUSEUM FOLKWANG, Essen, CENTRE POMPIDOU, Paris and DEUTSCHE BÖRSE PHOTOGRAPHY FOUNDATION, Frankfurt/Eschborn. The exhibition is accompanied by a free information booklet. There is also a program of events with free admission by reservation: talks, screenings and educational activities related to the exhibition’s themes. The exhibition, with free admission, opens Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Image: Armin Linke, Ter Laak Orchids, orchid production line, Wateringen, Netherlands, 2021.

Photography as information technology. Armin Linke's exhibition in Bologna
Photography as information technology. Armin Linke's exhibition in Bologna

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