The Politics of the Networked Image in Collaborative Research

A new research initiative of CSNI and Unthinking Photography (TPG)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Ioanna Zouli
Co-Investigators: Dr. Geoff Cox and Professor Andrew Dewdney

Background: is an initiative of the Digital Programme of The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG), set up in September 2016. The platform’s title, a reference to the canonical text Thinking Photography, edited by Victor Burgin (1982), recognises a need to rethink photographic theory in the light of the ‘unthinking’ nature of machine vision. A fundamental aspect in this approach is to examine more closely the increasingly automated functions of images circulating online, the role of machine vision and algorithmic governance, the impact of the networked ecosystems in the way that images are understood and produced today.

The Centre for the Study of the Networked Image (CSNI) has been closely associated with Unthinking Photography since its inception through the on-going research collaboration established with TPG’s Digital Programme.

Over the past ten years, CSNI has established successful and on-going research partnerships with cultural institutions such as Tate, The Photographers’ Gallery, Rhizome, Gasworks, The Serpentine Galleries, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Ben Uri Gallery and Hammersmith United Charities, based upon the model of embedded, collaborative PhD scholarships. Arts Institutions face enormous organisational and financial challenges in the face of both unprecedented circumstances and the radical shifts represented by online communication. Given the accumulative experience of CSNI in the field of collaboration, it is timely to ask what collaborative research contributes to the art and media field and more broadly what collaborative models of research suggest for the university and funding structures.

New Initiative:
The opportunity to undertake a small, dedicated research project, funded by CSNI in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery has arisen and Dr. Ioanna Zouli has been appointed to undertake a critical review of the work of Unthinking Photography to date, to draw out its themes and create a shared, forward-looking agenda, which will take the form of a dedicated strand of Unthinking Photography over the next 6 months. The project is framed by the recognition that this is a timely moment to look at the models of knowledge production and value contained in collaborative research practice in the context of the current and changing conditions of contemporary cultural institutions.

The common thread across most of the collaborative research has been the recognition that over the past two decades the conditions of knowledge have been radically changed by global technological communication and datafication. The networked image is a focus for the actions of data and their wider ecologies of operation: The network is a descriptor of dynamic social relations as much as technological infrastructure and the networked image represents a conceptual optic through which emerging forms of cultural value can be identified.

It is on this basis that we are initially considering two questions, a) what are the politics of networked images, or, doing cultural politics through images and b) what are the politics of networking and the image as a set of relations of things.

Practically these questions address institutional knowledge production – How managers, administrators, educators, researchers, curators, image makers set the scene as well as how organisations understand and interact with the agency of machines.

The project will launch in July 2020 and conclude in January 2021.

The research will involve a combination of (1) contributions by CSNI researchers’ as well as (2) viewpoints from photo-institutions, museums, curators or curatorial collectives, researchers, artists that work with images, online and in-and-out-of networks, and (3) a final research report. More specifically,

(1) The CSNI strand will be split into key essays on the topic of the politics of the networked image coming from CSNI researchers (a small commissioning budget will be made available, details of which will follow).

(2) Focusing on the suggested research questions Dr. Zouli will address 2-3 main questions* to key thinkers, curators, institutions, and artists and then use the method of ‘snowball sampling’ (or referral sampling as it is also known) in order to locate more actors in the field and therefore create a network of insights. This methodology aims to achieve diversity in the reach of the project, while recognising the inherent limitations and exclusions of the network itself.

(3) At the end of the project, Dr. Zouli will produce an analytical research report reflecting on the process and results of the project.

All 3 threads of the project will be published on Unthinking Photography.

*The method through which these questions will form remains to be decided (i.e. focus group, or feed from the keywords of the CSNI researchers’ essays or other)